Characters: JD, Buck, OMC
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
Summary: Walking away is sometimes what it takes to know where you belong.
A follow up to the story The Price of Fame.
'Andy Krystal' belongs to SueM.
Thanks to Sarah for LV/AU
To my mate Mari, who came through again with a most wondrous wall.
And to Antoinette for the beta.
The Montecito Casino and Resort's chief of security, Chris Larabee, was rounding up his troops. Following instructions to meet in one of the penthouse suites, one by one, Team Seven's core group made their way there. Still dealing with a customer query, junior security officer and resident computer whiz JD Dunne, promised he would be there as soon as possible. Twenty minutes later, he was knocking on the door of the suite.
"Elspeth?" JD stared at the smiling woman at the door. He had last seen her a few months ago, when pop icon Andy Krystal had stayed and performed at the Montecito and JD had acted as his double, resulting in him being mistakenly kidnapped. It had been a difficult period for the young tech, but after a generous, though unaccepted offer from Andy, and many emails and phone calls between them later, the two young men had become firm friends.
The pair embraced, laughing. "You're looking well," she commented, now holding JD at arms' length.
The young man beamed at Andy's manager. "Wow, so are you." Looking around he realized all his teammates were in the room, too. He frowned as he addressed Elspeth. "What are you doing here?"
"Well," she replied. "You may recall Andy's mom was taken ill and he canceled his vacation."
JD nodded. A new but familiar voice had JD craning to see around Elspeth, his gaze meeting that of Andy himself
"Well, I decided she needed a vacation, too, to recuperate, so we came here."
JD grinned, broadly. "Dude! You never mentioned you were coming to Vegas."
Grinning, both young men embraced for a moment, suddenly pulling back when they realized what they were doing.
"Last minute plans," he replied. Andy stepped back. "JD, I'd like you to meet my mom." A pretty girl wheeled a woman in a wheelchair toward them.
JD extended his hand. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am."
The frail woman smiled and held onto his hand. "Likewise…John, is it?"
JD nodded, his gaze flicking toward the girl that had pushed the wheelchair forward. She had an odd quality to her gaze and he was curious.
"And this…" Andy announced, taking the girl by the arm. "…Is Jenna. I have three sisters, triplets. Millie and Chloe are back in college, Jenna has graduated…early…and is gonna become a big part of my management team."
"Hi." JD smiled. As Andy's mom released her hold, his curiosity grew. Jenna moved toward him and raised her hands.
"Hi JD. You may not have realized, but I'm blind. Would you mind if I touched your face? It helps me build a picture of you in my mind."
A little taken aback, JD nodded. "Sure." He held still as her fingers moved over the contours of his face, gently mapping out his features.
Buck leaned in to Chris and whispered. "Can't help noticing she didn't do that to the rest of us." He grinned at Chris's mild warning look.
Jenna took JD's hands in hers. "Andy tells me you have dark hair and eyes."
JD nodded, blushing on realizing she couldn't see him do so. "Uh, yeah. My hair's really dark…like my mom's." He took in a sharp breath as her fingers reached out and carded through his hair.
"Mmm…nice." She sniffed. "Coconut conditioner? "
The people in the room chuckled as JD's soft blush grew redder. "Hey…don't give these yahoos any more to rib me about," he mock scolded, grinning at her giggle.
"Sorry, I love to do that."
"Okay, sis," Andy interrupted. "Enough with the finger poking. Guys, there's food and drink here, will you all join us?"
Looking to Chris, the team saw him nod. "I called in a favor and we're off the clock as of…" he checked his watch. "…Ten minutes ago." Clearly pleased, the group spread out and helped themselves to the sumptuous buffet Andy had provided, taking time to chat with Andy's mom Bryony, and Jenna and Elspeth. Chris smiled as Andy approached him.
"I was wondering if I could have a private word with you soon. I have a huge favor to ask."
Andy smiled, nodding. "Great, thanks."
Watching Andy progress toward Josiah, Larabee gave a slight nod to the Texan who had just moved next to him, shaking his head in amusement at the mound of food on Vin's plate.
"Somethin' on your mind, cowboy?" Vin grinned as Chris scowled at the teasing appellation.
"Let's just say I sense a change in the air." Chris's gaze fell on JD then flicked over to Buck, who was talking and laughing with the kid. Chris's gut was telling him the change might come sooner than he would like.
Rapping on the chief of security's door the next morning, JD stepped in. "You wanted to see me, Chris?" He was surprised to see Andy also in there, sitting on the sofa. "Oh, hey…" He took the seat Chris directed him to. "What's up?"
Nodding to Andy, Larabee sat back and watched events unfold.
Andy stood. "JD…you'll recall I made you a job offer last time I was here?" Andy waited for JD to nod. "Well, Elspeth and I have decided she's gonna be my business manager…a sort of combination of tour manager and business administrator. Jenna's coming on board to control the finance and legal side of things…"
JD smiled. "Cool…keeping it in the family."
Andy nodded. "Yeah. Eventually Millie and Chloe are joining us. Their degrees in media and business management will be perfect for what we need." He paced a moment, eventually glancing at Chris before continuing.
"Here's the thing. I missed out on my vacation, so Elspeth organized a small European tour…a sort of working vacation." He grinned. "I have fans in Europe…go figure. Anyway, for the six weeks I'm touring, Jenna will be getting used to being `in the business', and I could use some technical advice and support on the kind of compatible programs we can use for her…or upgrade what we have…you know?"
JD nodded. "Sure, I can help set you up…" He saw Andy shake his head, slightly.
"What I need, is to have you with us while we tour." He took a seat while JD mulled over his words.
"I…" JD swallowed. "Sorry, dude…I have a job, here…I already said…" He stalled on seeing Chris raise a hand.
"JD…this is a hell of an opportunity. Andy explained, it's just a kind of…loan. Think on it. I'm prepared to keep your position open for two months. If, after the tour, you decide you want to stay with Andy's team…that's fine."
"S…stay?" JD's stomach did a flip.
Standing again, Andy grinned and placed a hand on JD's shoulder. "No pressure. Think it over. I'm here for a few more days." He tilted his head. "I know it's a lot to ask, but all I want, is for you to consider it. I'm not expecting you to stay, though I won't lie, that'd be neat." He gave JD's shoulder a little squeeze. "Your choice. For my part, I just want someone with us I can trust…really liking that person's a bonus, too." He grinned wider, and released his grip. "Thanks for listening. Whichever way you decide, just let me know as soon as you can, okay? The tour kicks off in two weeks." With a nod and smile to Chris, Andy left.
Chris eyed his junior officer. "Looking a little stunned there, JD." He grinned at the astonished expression on the younger man's face. Chris leaned forward in his chair. "I don't want to lose you, Kid. However, I'd be churlish to stand in the way of a great opportunity like this. You're one of us, Kid, that'll never change. You'll always be welcome here. At least think about it."
Nodding as he stood, JD left the office, not even looking at Vin as he exited the security bullpen. Tanner glanced up at Larabee's office. He could now sense it too. Change was in the air.
Having ridden in with Buck that morning, the Montecito's hospitality host was driving the young tech home. Buck kept glancing at the guy he considered a kid brother, and who, right now, looked like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
"Penny for `em?"
JD glanced at Buck. "I wish it were that simple," he sighed.
"Try me." Buck pulled into his allocated parking space and the pair exited his Mustang. The brunet draped an arm around the smaller man's shoulders. "C'mon, kid…it can't be that bad."
Stepping into the lobby of their apartment building, JD turned to Buck and spoke after a long pause. "Okay…on a scale of one to ten, ten being the pits, where personally would you rate me leaving the Montecito for a while?"
Straightening from his relaxed position, Buck stared at JD. "Leave? What do you mean, leave? We…we need you, okay? You can't just leave."
JD turned perplexed eyes to his friend. "It would only be for six weeks, you all can manage without me for six weeks. You managed okay before I got here, didn't you?"
"Managed…yeah, that's a good word for it. You want to leave?" He stopped JD with a hand on his arm. "Okay, well then…*I* need you. You're my friend. What will I do with myself without you to rag on?"
JD paused at his mailbox, unlocked it and picked up his mail, before heading with Buck to the elevator for the apartment floors. He smiled, thinly. "Aah, you'll think of something."
"So…you've made up your mind?"
JD shook his head. "No, not yet."
Watching JD jump off at his floor, Buck swallowed as he recalled JD's earlier question. The elevator doors slid closed and he sighed. "Then, I guess I'd rate your leaving us as a ten, Kid," he whispered.
The day Andy left the Montecito to prepare for his tour, he and JD said their goodbyes. The young pop star smiled at his friend.
"JD, whatever you decide will be cool. I won't deny that I hope you'll say yes and join us, but I truly will understand if you say no."
JD nodded. "Thanks. I promise you'll have your answer before the week's out." With a firm handclasp, the pair parted. Andy walked over to Buck and the rest of Team Seven.
"I know you'd probably like to choke the life out of me, but…I just wanted to say…I didn't bullshit him. JD's just what I need right now, as a friend, and a crew member." He sighed at the sadness in Buck's eyes. "I promise, if he joins us, I won't do anything to persuade him to stay on. That'll be down to him. I just hope you can forgive me one day for making the offer."
Buck's gaze softened. "I don't hate you, or blame you. Hell, this is a great opportunity for the kid. Do I want him to take it? One-half of me says yes, the other, no. But I would never stand in JD's way…no matter how I felt."
Smiling, Andy extended his hand and the pair shook on it.
JD turned at the sound of something behind him. He smiled at Bryony as Nathan wheeled her forward. "Safe journey, ma'am."
She looked at him. "I try not to interfere in Andy's business, but I just wanted to say this. Go with him…have fun, see the sights, and then…come home to your family. If you don't go, you'll regret it. If you do go, I believe you'll find your heart will call you home. You'll realize where you are most loved and needed, and will appreciate what you have all the more." She beckoned him closer. JD leaned in and Bryony kissed his cheek. "Take care, John Dunne."
Straightening, JD smiled. "You too, ma'am."
While Andy's cars were surrounded by and consequently chased after by hordes of screaming girls, Team Seven went back to work. Vin glanced at JD. He could sense the mood. JD had made up his mind. The kid hadn't realized it, yet, but Vin knew. Emotionally, and professionally, the team had a tough six weeks ahead.
A week later, JD watched as the driver of the very big limo put his bags into the trunk. He turned to look at his teammates, his friends, touched that they were all here to see him off. Travis had arranged a small party for him, and rooms for them all to stay over the previous night, so JD's traveling gear had come too. He had initially imagined a quiet trip from his apartment to the airport; and while this was real nice, it was cracking his resolve. He swallowed to dislodge the lump that had taken up permanent residence in his throat, failing miserably. No one knew what to say, which was funny, seeing as the previous night, alcohol had helped them considerably in making their feelings known. So, apart from an embrace from Josiah, JD just shook each man's hand until he was standing in front of Buck.
"I can't believe you're gonna miss Thanksgiving."
JD nodded. "I know, but I'll be back by Christmas…providing you'll still want me around." He yelped, then grinned and relaxed into the bear hug Buck was providing.
"Idiot," Buck hissed in his ear. "Stay safe and keep in touch, you hear?"
Pulling back, JD nodded. "You too."
Six men with heavy hearts watched him get into the limo. In his head, Chris was telling JD he could change his mind if he wanted to, but chose to leave it as thoughts. Why add to the confusion? Besides, he had already given his blessing; JD was leaving, no time for regrets.
As the huge vehicle rolled from under the canopy of the Montecito, JD looked back at six men who had become family to him. While excited about the trip, JD hadn't felt this kind of sadness since his mother died. Until they were no longer in view, he kept watching the unmoving group, eventually turning in his seat to face front. This was really happening. John Daniel Dunne was leaving behind all he was comfortable and familiar with and heading to Europe. He smiled as he released a nervous breath. `Bring it on'.
Despite the limo being long gone, Buck stared after it. He turned when Josiah's hand grasped his arm. "Come on, Buck, we have to let go…but we sure will miss him."
Buck gazed into the big man's moist, blue eyes, his own full, and threatening to spill. "I already am, preacher, I already am."
Entering the security bullpen, the six men stared as a young man stood from his seated position and smiled at them. No one missed Vin's small but sharp intake of breath, guessing it was due to the man being in JD's seat.
"Hi, I'm Drew Wilson, Mr. Travis has assigned me to you for the next six weeks." He leaned in, conspiratorially. "Don't worry, I'm not a hotshot hothead like JD…I'm here to bring some stability to the team."
Chris made a noise in his throat and moved past the man and onto his office. Buck glared, the rest nodded, though were sure they heard Ezra whisper `what an ass', before heading for the break room.
Vin gripped Drew's shoulder before he could retake his seat. "Not there." He pointed to a station several seats away. "Work from there."
Despite not understanding why, Drew agreed and moved over. He knew of this team, aspired to be one of them. Currently Team Three's tech, he felt confident that if he could just get a foot in the door, he'd be a shoe-in. After all, what could a twenty one year old know that he, at thirty three, didn't?"
From his office, Chris stared out through the huge glass wall and onto the casino floor below. He could see his team returning to their stations and sighed heavily at their slumped demeanor. He knew it would get easier as time moved on, he also knew it was the right move, to allow JD to make this trip and keep his position open. His mom always said, `don't cling and they'll always come back'.
He knew she was right…that this was right…so why did he feel so damned bad?
At Newark airport, in a special room set aside for press conferences, JD stared nervously at the long table bedecked with all manner of microphones, and the waiting press seated just in front of it. A large photo backdrop of Andy, with several images of identifiable European icons and the words `Krystal in Europe', and a list of venues and dates, brought it home to him where they were heading. Andy and Elspeth took their seats and talked the press through their plans. Before JD realized, it was over and they were being ushered to their private plane.
Andy put an arm around JD's shoulders. "Excited?"
JD nodded. "Kinda…and nervous, too. I've never flown before."
Andy grinned. "You're gonna love it."
JD felt sure he would. First stop, Moscow. He could hardly wait.
The next evening, having been in Moscow for the day and needing some recovery time from jet lag, Andy, Elspeth, Jenna and JD, complete with bodyguards and dressed in thick winter clothing, visited The Kremlin and Red Square. Jenna had latched on to JD and he was describing to her the ornate towers of the impressive buildings; from their gold tops, to the surrounding cathedrals and the giant Tsar Bell and Tsar Canon.
"JD, what does the square look like?" Jenna asked.
He leaned in. "Well, it's not red." They both laughed.
"I'm really glad we came here tonight," Andy commented. It's awesome." They all agreed.
After eating, they got an early night. The concert was the next day and they were flying to Munich straight after.
Next morning saw the entourage in the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow. As they stood on the stage and stared out at the massive arena, JD gaped in awe. He turned to Andy. "Man, this is huge. This will be full, later?"
Andy nodded. "Uh huh…around 80,000 tickets sold, I'm told."
JD whistled. "Shoot. And that doesn't scare you?"
The young man laughed. "Hell yeah, but once I sing the first note…the nerves disappear." He nodded to Elspeth, who eased JD toward the sidelines where Jenna was sitting, and the trio, along with the rest of the group, watched Andy run through his repertoire, while all around him, people worked to prepare the venue.
That evening, the noise from inside the arena was deafening. JD had heard them screaming at the Montecito, but this was surreal. He peeked out at the hordes bathed in colored lights, and gasped. It was…thrilling. The intro played and in seconds, Andy was next to him, dressed up and raring to go. He winked. "Later dude." With a hi-five to Elspeth, he disappeared, to re-emerge again from a trap door in the center of the stage in a flash of smoke and lights.
The performance was flamboyant and energetic and Andy did not stop for almost two hours, including an encore. When he finally came offstage, soaked in sweat, he looked drained. Wrapped in a huge robe, Andy and the others were ushered along tunnels running underneath the stadium, and shepherded into waiting SUVs. In less than an hour, they were airborne and Andy was showered, changed and asleep. Still catching his breath, JD turned to Elspeth. "Is Andy okay?"
She nodded. "Oh sure…just tired. When we land, he'll drink more Gatorade and then have a meal. He drops around fourteen pounds when he tours."
JD glanced at his slumbering friend. Andy *lost* weight? From where? He was hardly in need of it. He relaxed and looked forward to their next stop. When in Munich, they planned to visit the Christmas markets and do some shopping. JD also decided he would email the guys and catch up a little.
Buck glared at Drew Wilson and earned a nudge in the ribs from Vin for it. He had tried to like him, he really had, but in the week that JD had been gone, the man became increasingly cocky and way too familiar for someone they barely knew. Buck sighed. Yeah, he knew a lot of it was to do with missing JD, but even others had commented on Wilson's stance on not getting involved in the security assignments beyond watching the monitors…despite encouragement from Vin. Nothing but a direct order from Larabee would do it, and Chris had stated if the man was not prepared to put in the effort willingly, he would rather not have him walking his floors.
During a break, Wilson joined the other six core team members, desperately trying to endear himself to them. Josiah leaned in. "Quit trying so hard, son. Less is more."
Drew frowned. "I wasn't aware I was, old man. I guess it's going to take time for these people to realize what an asset I can be to them."
"Oh, I don't know," Josiah shot back. "They're a pretty shrewd bunch. I'm guessing they already have an idea."
Wilson smiled. "Good. I heard Larabee likes strong men. Well, he need look no further. I'm as tough as they come. JD's a nice kid and all, but he's not really in my league, is he?"
Sanchez smiled and stood to join the others. "I was just thinking the same thing."
"Hey, the kid's emailing."
Vin's exclamation as he peered over Ezra's shoulder to see his laptop screen, drew the others to gather around.
"What's he got to say?" Buck asked, eagerly.
Ezra spoke without looking up. "He says he's emailed us all individually, but sent a general communiqué to me in the hope I will open my email during the day."
"Ezra…" Buck whined, impatiently.
Standish grinned and read aloud.
Ezra paused and looked up. "It appears he is writing in the vernacular…"
"Yeah, yeah," Vin said, making a wind-on motion with his hand. "Keep goin'."
"Hey guys…hope you're all okay. We're fine here. Got into Munich yesterday and took a look at the markets this morning. They're pretty awesome."
Looking up for a moment, Ezra smiled at the grinning expressions on his friends' faces, even Chris's. He continued.
"Loved Moscow, but man…it was freakin' freezing! Andy performed for over 80,000 screaming girls…at least, I think they were all girls."
The six men chuckled as JD's words washed over them.
"The traveling's exhausting, but so far it's been a blast. Next stop, Rome. Jenna and me have promised ourselves a real pizza while we're in Italy. I'll think of you, when I'm stuffing my face, Vin."
Tanner's eyes glistened. He had missed his `pizza partner'.
"I got you all real steins from the Munich markets. Can't wait to see you all chug down a full one of those. Hey Buck…European ladies have huge…feet. LOL."
Buck laughed, softly and hoped no one noticed his watery eyes.
"I'm writing backstage, Andy's rehearsing. Apparently, he drops almost fourteen pounds when he's touring. Can't think where from. Anyway, I'll leave you with that thought…oh, no…better yet, think on that pizza I'll be having. LOL
"Later. Oh, BTW…at the risk of sounding a wuss…I miss you all.
The room was silent as each man's heart warmed to hear from their youngest member.
"There is an attachment." Ezra turned the laptop so everyone could see a picture of JD, Andy, Elspeth and Jenna in Red Square and bundled up so tight against the cold they were hardly recognizable.
"Well, he said it was cold," Nathan reminded them.
"He sounds happy," Chris stated. They all nodded.
"I'd be happy, too if a millionaire pop star was paying my way around Europe," Drew commented before exiting the break room.
"What's that supposed to mean?" Buck asked, straightening. "Hey…what's that supposed to mean?" He called after Wilson.
Chris squeezed his arm. "Let it go, pard. Sounds like he's a little green-eyed, to me."
Buck glared after the man. "Asshole. That boy's worth fifty of him."
"Somewhat exaggerated, " Ezra smiled. "But not by much."
Into week three and now in Rome, the group was enjoying the sights. They had been to see Vatican City and Saint Peter's Square and traveled to Giancolo Hill, and Parco Savelo to enjoy panoramic views of the city. They also managed to fit in a trip to the Colosseum, and the Pantheon, before stopping to eat.
During lunch, while Andy and Elspeth talked over the next day's concert at the Olympic Stadium, Jenna and JD enjoyed their pizzas and chatted together, eventually getting onto the subject of relationships.
"So, JD…do you have a girlfriend?"
JD shrugged. "Define 'girlfriend' ."
"I'll take that as a no," Jenna smiled.
"Well, there's this girl I like…a lot…but I can't quite figure out what she wants from me."
"Have you had sex yet?"
JD blushed. "That's kind of a direct question."
Jenna's eyes flashed with mischief. JD was always amazed that her eyes were so expressive, despite her being unable to see. "I'll take that as a no, too," she commented. "You know, maybe it's time to step over the line she's drawn…or cut loose."
"Or…maybe she's worth waiting for," JD mused.
"Hmmm, interesting. Are you friends?"
"Yeah, I reckon so."
"Do you have any other female friends apart from this girl?"
JD studied Jenna's face. He didn't understand why, but she seemed genuinely interested. "A few…of them all, Candice is closer to my age."
"You're not keen on her, then?"
"Sure, she's been chasing my tail for a while, but there's Casey and…"
Jenna grinned. "You know what? I reckon what you need is…" she raised her hands and 'air quoted' with her fingers. "…A real 'girl-friend' , one who just wants you for…you."
JD frowned. "You lost me."
"I may be wrong, but it seems to me, you can't separate your feelings while you're 'teetering on the brink', so to speak." She squeezed his hand. "Maybe I'm the girl that can show you how having a girl-friend should be."
"Is that a subtle way of telling me you don't fancy me?" he laughed.
She leaned in. "I like you very much, but you're not my type."
"You don't go for cute, dark haired, perfectly proportioned short-asses? "
She laughed. "I don't go for men."
"Oh…right." JD glanced at Andy before leaning in. "Does your family know?" he whispered.
"Uh huh…but we're keeping it quiet, for now…or at least, I am. Andy was happy for me to be open about it, but the press are so cruel…I'd hate to think how they would rag him on it."
JD pursed his lips. "If you've had relationships, there's a chance they'll tell."
"That's a chance we're willing to take. I've only had one, and she's a pretty cool girl." Her thumb stroked his hand. "Have I shocked you?"
JD laughed, softly. "Girl, since working at the Montecito I've met drag queens, gay guys, strippers and hookers. Nothing surprises me…well, not *that* much." He leaned in closer. "But I'll say this. You're a beautiful person, Jenna, both physically and spiritually. Whichever lady ends up with you, will be a very lucky girl."
Jenna gasped, softly. "Damn…with a line like that, how have you not had girls falling at your feet?"
JD looked hurt. "That wasn't a line…I meant it."
The girl laughed. "Okay…and now I see why you're struggling. Stop taking women so seriously. We like to tease."
JD sat back. "Yeah well…I need a damn manual. I don't know how Buck does it, but he's got schmoozing with the ladies down to a fine art."
"It's an acquired skill."
"You're not wrong," JD agreed.
"You guys about done?" Andy asked, looking over to them.
JD nodded. "Yeah. That was a great pizza. Vin would have loved it." As he guided Jenna out of the restaurant, he didn't notice Andy approach the Pizzeria's manager.
"Vin…there's a really big parcel for you."
In the security bullpen, Tanner looked up from his monitor and took the package from Buck. Curiously, he ripped at the cardboard to reveal a cool box. Opening the box, he laughed as he pulled out three huge pizzas. "What the hell?"
Buck spotted a note and fished it out to read it.
JD reminded me how much you guys like pizza. The manager promised me this would take no longer than two days from Italy, by express mail. Enjoy.
Buck checked the date. It had only been two days. "Holy shit…Pizza all the way from Italy. Cool."
Vin grinned. "I guess it's your place for supper, huh?"
Buck nodded. "I guess it is."
Wilson watched from his station. Not once in four weeks had they invited him to join them. He wasn't sure why it bothered him, it seemed only the six men…seven with Dunne…appeared to socialize outside of work.
In two weeks, Dunne would be back to claim his place on the team. Drew huffed to himself. He would see about that.
France had been fun. Their French chauffeur had been amused when JD commented that their bus stops were cool, with chairs provided for people to sit and wait…though, he had noticed they were always women. The driver explained that they were not bus stops, but places to pick up ladies of the night, who would sit and wait for their client to pull up, then the next girl would move to the head of the line.
JD had turned to Jenna and taken back his words…there *were* still things that shocked him.
London, and the concert venue was the new Wembley Stadium. With a 90,000 capacity, this concert would be huge. Through their first day in the city, they shopped in Harrods and Oxford Street, went sightseeing, and Andy did some TV and radio interviews. That night, Andy and JD visited Stringfellows nightclub as Peter Stringfellow's guests, and danced well into the wee small hours. Back in their hotel suite, the pair sat and chatted.
"Man, this has been a great trip."
Andy smiled at JD. "I haven't had this much fun, ever. I'm real glad you came along."
"Me too. I really miss the guys, but I wouldn't have missed this for the world."
"Enough to stay with us?" Andy looked apologetic, but he really wanted to know. He had the answer before JD even opened his mouth. His face said it all.
Andy raised a weary hand. "Don't be…your friends are amazing men; and even though I'd love for you to stay…I don't blame you for wanting to go back. With friends like them, I'd want to be with them, too."
"Jenna's up and running…she's adapted to the new programs and software really well. She's got a great head on her shoulders…you shouldn't have any problems," JD assured.
Andy nodded. "Thanks. You've been a Godsend. By the time I tour again, we'll have Chloe and Millie with us, too."
JD sat up and rubbed at his eyes. "You're touring again?"
"Yeah…late next year. I'll do some writing…put out a new album, then tour on the back of that."
JD swigged at some bottled water. "Do you ever want to just…stop?"
Andy smiled. "Every day…but a second after that thought, I can't wait to get out there again. I guess I was just born to sing."
Wearily, the pair got up from their chairs and headed for their beds. By this time tomorrow, London would be behind them and they would be preparing for Slane Castle in Ireland…then on to Canada.
Week five and Buck was in his apartment and anxious to know when JD was actually due back. The kid had been vague. They were returning on Andy's tour bus from their final venue in Montreal, but would likely delay their departure by a day for Andy to do some TV interviews. JD promised he would let him know soon. Buck re-read the email JD had sent him and he had printed out. He always read it when he was missing the kid, and that was a lot more, lately. He smiled at his favorite part.
"…and don't let this go to your head, but I miss you, you big lug. Yeah…even the damned bear hugs."
Buck chuckled. "Just as well, 'cause I got me a big ol' hug with your name on it, little bro."
Andy looked around at his weary entourage. It had been a long and exhausting trip, and now they were on the final leg…by bus. For the first time in five weeks, he was really looking forward to sleeping in his own bed. He looked toward his dressing room door as Elspeth popped her head inside the room.
"They're ready to interview you now, Hon."
"I need to run something by you, later."
She smiled. "Sure."
Four days to Christmas, and while JD's apartment became festooned with Christmas garlands, five of his friends couldn't help grinning as Buck belted out Christmas songs at the top of his voice. JD had called and promised he would be home before Christmas, and, knowing the boy would have little time to decorate before the big day arrived, Buck had drafted in 'the gang' to help make JD's homecoming extra special.
Buck sighed. God, he'd missed the little fella; but while his gut remained knotted about where JD's future lay, he vowed to make the kid's return as happy and memorable as possible. If this was to be their final Christmas as Security Team Seven, Buck would make sure it would be one to remember. However, he secretly prayed the kid had decided to turn Andy's permanent offer down.
Buck glanced toward Ezra and Nathan as they debated how the small synthetic Christmas tree should look. Vin and Chris were just putting up the final garlands, and Josiah was stenciling fake snow onto JD's windows. It was looking good.
Finally done, Vin flopped down onto the sofa and fired up the 42" flat screen TV. The Texan grinned. "This damned TV's way too big for this place. The kid must watch it from the hallway."
Joining him, Chris chuckled. "You know JD; he loves his gadgets and gizmos." The pair went silent as a breaking news story showed a gray, floodlit view from a camera aboard a chopper, and a very excitable voice describing the disaster scene below. As the searchlight cut and scanned through the darkness of early evening, it was picking up images of a shattered bus that had rolled down an embankment, and the surrounding area littered with wreckage, personal items, and…was that a body? The next words from the reporter seemingly froze the blood in the six friends' veins.
"This is terrible…horrible, disastrous. No one yet knows exactly why the Andy Krystal Tour Bus veered off the road and rolled down an embankment, but early reports say there's so far no sign of life…and…oh God…I can see about three or four bodies lying on the ground down there…this is terrible…back to the studio…"
While five men stood or sat stock still watching the drama unfold, Buck paced, his cell pressed to his ear in between sporadic cursing, glaring at it, and redialing. The newsreader in the studio talked, while relayed pictures of the disaster site, and overlaid with a picture of a smiling Andy Krystal, showed on a screen to one side of him. The five men watching the report suddenly jumped into action.
Chris dialed and called in favors from his FBI days to get information, while Ezra fired up JD's computer to gain details, Nathan made coffee, and Josiah hovered close to an increasingly distraught Buck…all five startling and turning toward the Hospitality Host as he howled out his distress and frustration at his cell phone.
"Pick up kid, damnit…PICK UP!" He turned moist eyes to Chris. "We should never have let him go. He was happy here…maybe by not fighting him too much, by letting him think we didn't care enough if he stayed or went, JD felt he had nothing to lose by going on that damned tour."
Closing his own cell, Chris approached his long time friend and squeezed his shoulder. "JD knew how we felt about him leaving, Buck, and you also know Andy offered him the chance of a lifetime. The Buck I know would never have willingly stood in the kid's way…" he bobbed his head to catch Buck's watery gaze. "…Would he?"
Hanging his head, Buck agreed with Chris. "No."
"The guy on TV confirmed Andy had finished the tour with the Canadian concert, and he and his crew were heading home." Vin's words cut through the tension like a scythe. The entourage had been on their way home. JD was actually coming home. Buck's gaze met Vin's. This couldn't be happening. The men stared at the TV while the images flicked between gatherings of distraught, female teenagers, and the wreckage of the vehicle their friend was traveling in.
JD yawned as the charter plane touched down in Newark. In two hours he would be on his way to McCarran International Airport, Las Vegas. Back to a group of men he had grown to think of as family, and a job he had missed more than he ever thought possible. His time on the road with Andy had been phenomenal, and he would be forever grateful to the young superstar for giving him such a wonderful opportunity,
However, he had missed home, friends and routine. He had missed Vin's sense of humor, Josiah's caring advice, Nathan's gentle concern, Ezra's sharp wit, Chris's guidance and Buck…God how he'd missed Buck. It just wasn't the same without the brotherly teasing, affection, caring and concern the man showed him every day. His stomach did a flip…he could hardly wait to get there.
As soon as they were off the plane, an airport official guided the whole entourage into the empty VIP lounge, which surprised them all as no one had tipped off the airport staff of Andy's arrival. Within minutes, police had arrived, turned on a TV and talked them through what was happening.
"We need a press conference," Elspeth announced. Everyone agreed.
"How's Cameron?" Andy asked of no one in particular.
"Who's Cameron?" The airport liaison asked.
"The bus driver," Elspeth answered.
A cop approached. "He's injured, but it's not life-threatening."
Andy went white. He noticed JD staring at his cell phone and also pale. "What's wrong, dude?"
"I had nine missed calls while we were flying. I need to call Buck."
"Go ahead; I'll call you when we're ready for the press." He turned to Elspeth. "No matter what, I want to get to where Cameron's being taken care of."
"Understood, " she answered.
"And I need to call Mom."
JD walked away toward a window and staring out into the darkness, he dialed. "Buck? It's me."
Buck pointed to the TV. "I need to get out there."
Chris nodded. "Ezra's checking out flights as we speak." They watched a replay of the driver being stretchered up the embankment, then jerked as Buck's phone rang to the tune of `He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother', causing the man to lose all color. With four men staring at him, Buck shakily answered. "Kid?" He closed his eyes and a tear squeezed out and rolled down one cheek and into his mustache. "Oh, thank God." His eyes still closed, Buck perched against the back of JD's sofa and allowed the youthful voice to wash over him. He nodded. "Okay Kid…see you soon. JD…!" There was so much Buck wanted to say, quickly realizing there would be time later.
"Sorry nothing, except…it's good to hear your voice." As he closed his cell, he took a huge shaky breath, finally turning to the others. The brunet laughed, softly. "He said 'sorry'."
Still transfixed to the TV, the six friends took seats and watched a live relay of a news conference, interspersed with images of teenage girls crying…seemingly now, with relief. The men became animated when Andy and Elspeth came into shot, and took seats at a table with dozens of mics on or in front of it; quickly followed by JD, who was leading in Jenna. JD sat her next to Elspeth, and then took a seat next to Andy.
Buck's eyes glistened. It was the first time they had seen JD in five weeks. "He looks good," he beamed.
Josiah nodded. "He certainly does…a little thinner in the face, but with some color in his cheeks."
They watched as Andy explained how he decided to charter a plane to get his crew home faster after a long trip, while their driver Cameron, drove the tour bus home, alone. When asked about the 'bodies' at the scene, Andy stalled for a moment. JD scribbled something down and pushed it in front of him, to which Andy nodded and gave JD a friendly pat to his arm by way of thanks.
"Mannequins, " he explained. "A few of my stage clothes are a bitch to press, so they go on a mannequin."
Eventually Elspeth wrapped it up. "Thanks for your concern. As you can see, Andy and the rest of us are fine. I apologize for the slight delay to the start of this press conference, but Andy and Jenna, and several others needed to call their families to assure them they were well." The group got up and made their way to a waiting limo to visit with Cameron.
In JD's apartment, Buck choked back a sigh as he watched his surrogate little brother disappear from view. JD said he would hopefully get a connecting flight sometime in the morning. Buck could hardly wait.
It was a difficult farewell for the small remaining group the next morning, but learning Cameron would soon be discharged from the hospital, made it somewhat easier. Jenna touched JD's face tenderly, and then hugged him. Elspeth hugged him hard and long, too. Andy faced him.
"I can't begin to tell you how much fun this tour has been with you around. I'm not gonna even attempt to try again to persuade you to stay, but just remember, you'll always be welcome to join us…any time."
JD grinned. "Thank you for giving me such a great opportunity…" he laughed. "…And for paying me while having the time of my life. Jeeze, it's been such a blast, I'd have done it for free."
Andy punched his arm, playfully. "*Now* you tell me." They stared at each other for a long time before Andy stepped forward and embraced JD. He spoke close to JD's ear. "I'm gonna miss you, dude."
Returning the clinch before pulling back, JD nodded. "I'm gonna miss you too." He looked at the three of them. "All of you. I hope you can get back to Vegas one day."
Andy nodded. "You can count on it."
Two hours later, JD was in the air and heading home.
The day before Christmas Eve and the Montecito's 7:30 am security briefing was almost over. To give his staff as much family time as possible, Chris arranged the rosters to make it fair on everyone. The previous year, Team Seven had taken on the worst shifts, to enable colleagues with children time with their families on Christmas morning; but with JD's arrival home imminent, Chris figured it was time to include themselves in the deal, too. He knew there would be much catching up and celebrating to do. The security detail teams were Three, Four and Seven and their team leaders had joined Team Seven for the briefing.
"So, this year, Team Seven stop at 2 am on Christmas morning, Team three go through from 2 am until 1 pm and Team Four from 1 pm until 11 pm then Three will pick up again from there, as it's their turn to double-shift this year. Any questions?" Relieved there was none, he nodded to the group. "Thank you. Let's have a good one."
As the group dispersed, Drew smiled at Nathan. "That's worked out nicely for me. If I'd been with Team Three, I would have pulled a double shift over Christmas."
Nathan looked at him. "Much like we did last year," he replied. "Only in order for other colleagues to enjoy Christmas with their families, we worked the shifts back to back."
Drew nodded. "Yeah, I recall, But then, it's not like any of you guys had other plans, did you? Being single men and all." As he left for the monitor room, Nathan shook his head. He turned when a hand lit on his shoulder.
"Don't dwell on it, my friend. I fear men like him will never fully understand that one does not have to be a blood relation to claim a brother." Ezra's eyes twinkled and he smiled wide enough to reveal his gold tooth. He turned to Buck. "Any news of our young adventurer?" he asked.
"Only that he's heading home this morning. I offered to go collect him from the airport, but he knows things are busy here, and insisted he'd get back himself." It didn't take a genius to work out how much Buck wanted to meet JD.
"What time's he due in?" Chris asked.
Buck checked his watch. "Midday."
Chris looked between Buck and Josiah. "If you leave at 11 am, you should have plenty of time to get there."
Both men beamed at their leader. Buck's eyes met Chris's in a silent 'thank you'. Larabee winked and left the room.
JD yawned as he waited in line to get through check-in. Newark had vetted him and Andy's group thoroughly, so this check-in was a mere formality. He could hardly wait to get home as, still on European time, his body was screaming for sleep. From the luggage carousel, and pushing a stacked luggage cart, he ambled toward the exit, already mentally prepared to call for a taxi. Bleary-eyed, he stared at two familiar figures grinning at him, and holding up a card that said 'Dunne Roaming' on it. He grinned widely as the pair approached.
"Hey…I thought you guys were on duty." He laughed as Buck pulled him into a tight clinch and just held on for dear life. JD's arms came up and hugged the man back. He'd really missed this…not that he'd be admitting that any time soon.
Buck finally pulled back. "Good to see you, Squirt." His voice was thick with emotion, while trying not to dwell on the horror of the memory from the news report the other night.
"Ditto." JD grinned, peeking around Buck to smile at Sanchez. "Hey, Josiah."
That was all the invitation the big man needed and JD relaxed into another embrace. Josiah's large hand cradled the back of JD's head. "Good to see you, John Dunne."
A minute or so later, the three were heading for Buck's Mustang. "So, how come you're here?" JD asked.
"Ahh…I got Chris wrapped around my little finger," Buck joshed, laughing at the noise Josiah made in his throat. He glanced at JD. "I got so much I want to ask you."
JD nodded. "I got loads to tell you, so that works well for me." The pair laughed.
"You got enough energy left to check in with the guys before heading home?"
JD almost said no, he truly was exhausted; but the thought of seeing the others got the adrenalin flowing. "Sure."
From the rear seat, Josiah leaned toward the front passenger seat and squeezed JD's shoulder. "They'll be thrilled to see you."
It took JD, Buck and Josiah a good twenty minutes to get through reception as colleagues approached the group and welcomed JD home. The young tech's heart swelled at the unexpected attention. A squeal went out and Candice hurtled toward JD from Lord knew where, and jumped on him. With an 'oof' as he caught her, JD laughed and spun her around before setting her down on the floor and accepting a very lengthy kiss on the lips from the girl.
"I see you haven't missed me then," he grinned.
Candice swiped at her eyes. "No, not at all," she teased. Promising her they would meet up after Christmas and catch up, JD, Josiah and Buck headed for the security level.
Entering the bullpen, the monitor room jumped to life as the staff fussed over JD's return. Drew sat unmoving, observing the commotion, while not attempting to join in. He truly could not comprehend why this 'kid' was so highly thought of…deciding it was more to do with who he knew than what he knew.
From his office, Chris looked at Vin as they were going over a report. He stood and looked down into the bullpen to see why there was so much noise. As Tanner joined him, the pair chuckled and exited the room to join the others.
Word had gotten around fast, and Ezra and Nathan were now with them. Each man had pumped the boy's hand or squeezed his shoulder, their delight on seeing him plainly evident. JD was genuinely overwhelmed by the response, and barely had time to catch his breath when he noticed Chris and Vin walking toward him. The group eased back to allow their leader and his second in command a clear path. JD straightened and nodded to the two men as they stopped in front of him.
Vin grinned and gently punched JD's arm. "Did you bring any more pizza?" The pair laughed and JD shook his head, gesturing to himself. "I figured pizza *and* me coming back might be too much for you to handle in one go."
Tanner made a face. "I reckon you're right. You okay?"
JD nodded. "Yeah," he said softly, a hint of emotion in his voice as events began to catch up with him.
"Just as well," Chris cut in, grinning as JD looked at him. "Go home and rest, you're working tomorrow." The group laughed and JD beamed.
"Yes, sir." He watched Chris lean in and shake his hand.
"Good to see you back, you've been missed," the man said, sincerely.
Worried his wavering emotions might not last much longer, JD swallowed hard and looked around at them all. "I'm not gonna lie, I had a blast, but…there's nothing quite like coming home."
Realizing JD's dilemma, Buck put a hand on the young man's shoulder to guide him out of the office. "Well, dunno about you all, but I don't have all day, so, if it's all the same to you, I'm gonna get this sorry excuse for a traveler home to his Snoopy PJs and way too big bed and let him catch up on his beauty sleep." He bobbed his eyebrows at JD. "'Cause Lord knows, you need it. I'd forgotten how ugly you are."
Ignoring the laughter, JD frowned as they began to leave, the pair's conversation as they exited causing more hilarity. "How do you know what PJs I wear?" He huffed. "Those were a gift, anyway…I don't wear 'em."
Buck grinned. "Been picking up your mail, haven't I?"
"And what…putting it in my PJ drawer?"
"What can I tell you? I'm organized."
"Nosey, more like."
"Nosey…organized… tomayto, tomahto…"
Larabee shook his head as he watched them leave. "Didn't take those two long, did it?"
Tanner chuckled. "Am I the only one who's missed that?" The silence that greeted him said it all.
JD laughed aloud as his apartment door swung open to reveal a twinkling Christmas tree and an apartment festooned in lights and decorations. He turned to Buck. "Did you do this?"
"With a little help from our friends," Buck grinned, his smile fading as the memory of that evening edged out the happy thoughts. He looked at JD as they walked in. "When I saw that bus…"
JD swallowed. "I know, I'm sorry. It was all last minute and I was hoping to surprise you…"
Buck approached, and raised a hand to squeeze the back of JD's neck. "Let's forget it. I don't want to think about how the guys and me felt that night."
JD nodded. "Fine by me, Bro." He yawned.
"Hey…catch some 'Zs'. You want to ride in with me tomorrow? We're in 3 pm through to 2 am."
"Sure, that'd be neat. Thanks." In less than fifteen minutes, a happy Buck was on his way back to the Montecito, and…dressed in his Snoopy PJs…JD was in bed and asleep.
The buzz in the briefing room at 2:30 pm the next day was way beyond what the Chief of Security normally tolerated, but the grins on JD's and his fellow co-workers' and friends' faces persuaded him to let it ride…for a few more minutes. Finally, as JD, Vin, Ezra and Buck started on a line Chris knew would quickly go from bad to worse, he called the meeting to order.
"Okay…" He nodded to the outgoing Team Four's leader Jack Partridge for the handover. When the man was finished, Chris continued. He looked directly at JD.
"I'd like to officially welcome JD back to the Montecito Security Detail…" Despite fighting it, Chris allowed himself a small grin. JD beamed back at him. "Due to his return, there'll be a slight roster change. Drew will return to Team Three as their in-house tech…" He stopped abruptly when Wilson stood. The man was clearly not happy.
"Just one minute…sir…" he glanced toward JD before returning his angry gaze to Chris. "Over the past five and a half weeks I have worked diligently alongside Team Seven…" he paused briefly at a contradictory noise from Buck. "…and, due to the roster you issued yesterday, have now made plans with my family for Christmas, based on the hours which I understood I would be on duty. I feel it is grossly unfair that JD has not only returned unannounced, but is now expecting to slot back into his previous position with little or no regard for myself or the colleagues of Teams Three and Seven."
Shocked by the outburst, as were the others in the room, JD opened his mouth to speak, but was beaten to it by Buck.
"Hey fella, your appointment to the team was always temporary until JD's return, so what's your real problem?"
Drew raised his eyebrows as he looked at him. "Really, Buck? I will be genuinely surprised if all of you can look me in the eye and tell me you were truly expecting JD to return to work here."
Before turning their gazes from JD, none of his six friends missed the pained look on the boy's face on hearing Drew's words. Only Vin maintained eye contact, but eventually even he couldn't bear to see the hurt expression. Chris cut in quickly.
"Not that I need to explain my reasoning to anyone, but, for the record, I allowed JD a six-week, unpaid sabbatical, and he not only returned within the time, but agreed to resume his position instantly…" JD raised a hand and gestured for Drew to sit, drawing Larabee's attention.
"Hey, look…Drew, right?" Wilson nodded. "Yeah, I remember you, from the meeting Travis called for IT when I first joined, and he told you all to report to me for any IT issues…" JD hated one-upping anyone, but he was still reeling from Drew's revelation…well, it was a revelation to him, anyway. JD looked around at his friends, resting his gaze on Chris.
"Drew's right. If the Christmas rosters are out, and he's made plans based on them, it's only fair he should continue his rotation as intended." He smiled, but it was nothing like its usual wattage. "I can easily slot in with Team three until the new rotations are issued." JD shuffled his things together and stood, continuing to address Chris. "If it's okay with you, boss man, I'll head home…got a few things to do before my shift starts tonight."
While a little taken aback, Chris couldn't help but admire how JD had jumped in and resolved a potentially ugly situation, not to mention eased the burden of Chris playing fair, or telling Drew to go screw himself. He simply nodded. "I'll call you later."
Now JD was nodding. Smiling at the occupants of the room, and with laptop and paperwork in hand, he left.
Drew was suitably satisfied with the outcome, deciding he should put the next part of his plan into action directly after the meeting. Fortunately he was oblivious to the angry stares directed at him right then, only looking up when Buck mumbled something and left the room.
Chris glanced at Vin and pursed his lips in thought. He looked up. "Okay, I'll leave it at that. Let's make it a good one. Dismissed." As Chris was leaving, Drew tapped his arm. Larabee glared at the hand on him, before looking at the man himself.
"Mr. Larabee…Chris… may I speak with you before our shift begins?"
The blond nodded. "Technically, we've already started, but come to my office in ten minutes."
As JD entered the elevator and turned to hit the button for the lobby, Buck jumped in and held the doors. "Kid…glad I caught you."
JD raised one hand. "If this is about the meeting, Buck, forget it." He frowned as Buck pulled him from the cart and directed him to the break room. Minutes after they entered, the other five of their friends came in. JD stared at the floor, unsure how to proceed. Finally, he looked at them all.
"You really thought I might not come back?"
Josiah spoke. "It crossed our minds, yes."
Ezra continued. "Andy's lucrative offer was mostly the reason behind our concerns. It would have been understandable for you to want to continue with him after spending so long with him and his associates."
"And a hell of a lot more exciting than here," Nathan pointed out.
JD swallowed. "Is that what you think it was all about? And my place here…you think it's just about the job I do?"
"Of course not," Buck answered. "But…hell Kid…it was the offer of a lifetime…"
"Jeeze…" JD shook his head. "I admit…I had a blast, I truly did. It was everything I dreamed of, and more. But…not a day went by that I didn't think about you all, about home. It was never about the money."
Chris stepped forward. "We kind of thought so, too, however…mentally, I think we were preparing for the worst."
JD brightened a little and swallowed. "Worst?"
Vin looked at Buck and the brunet smiled and nodded. JD watched the exchange and turned to Vin when he spoke.
"The worst being you tellin' us you wanted to stay on with Andy. Gotta tell you, Kid, it's been real quiet without you bein' around. Drew's idea of gettin' involved is tellin' us where the trouble is while playin' solitaire on his laptop in the monitor room." Vin blushed and looked back to Buck.
"What Vin's trying to say, is what we all felt…we missed you." Buck's grin grew in correspondence to the dazzler JD was offering right then. The grins were infectious, but after a while, Chris broke the spell.
"I have to get to my office." He turned to leave. "We'll wait on you for dinner tomorrow, Kid."
JD nodded and watched his friends return to duty. Buck squeezed his shoulder. "Sometimes it's best to plan for the worst…it helps with the heartache that inevitably follows." They stared at each other; no need for words, their eyes said it all. Buck winked. "I'll see you at the handover later…then for Christmas dinner at Chris's, tomorrow. If you like, I can wait for you…"
Shaking his head, JD smiled. "Nah, you go on over, I'll join you after my shift." Finally alone, JD released a huge breath. He had been afraid his absence would change his relationship with men he regarded as brothers, deeply relieved to find, if anything, their relationships had intensified.
It was good to be home.
When Chris entered his office, Drew stood up from the chair he occupied, opposite Chris's, and waited for his boss to sit and then gesture for him to do likewise.
"I'm busy, Wilson, what do you need?"
"It's about my position with you."
"What about it?" Chris eyed the man with mild interest.
"I want it to become permanent. I believe, after the last five weeks, I've more than proved my worth to you. JD's a nice kid, but he needs more experience. I already have that experience, not to mention the knowledge the job requires."
Chris knew he could tear this man in two and not even bat an eye, but decided on a more restrained approach. He leaned forward in his chair and addressed Wilson.
"Firstly, let me thank you for the last five weeks." He watched Drew smile. "Secondly, I'm not sure why you think JD's any match for you…" Chris enjoyed watching Wilson's smile grow before firing both barrels.
"…that boy could jump over your head ten times and still have enough *knowledge* and energy to do it again ten times more. Your skills are adequate, your knowledge, limited, your personality is zero and you clearly believe there really *is* an 'I' in team, as your lack of teamwork reflects nothing but. As for experience, JD's on a learning curve…and I like it that way…it keeps him sharp. As of the 26th, JD will resume his position with Team Seven, and you with Team Three. Dismissed." Larabee moved some papers in front of him.
Wilson's mouth hung open. Recovering, he stood. "Sir…"
Not looking up, Chris spoke. "Close the door on your way out."
Returning to the bullpen, Drew's cheeks burned with embarrassment. Though no one said anything, he felt sure his conversation with Larabee was known. He seethed, inwardly. Fuck Larabee…fuck Team Seven…*they* would be sorry they didn't take him on…not him. Good riddance to the lot of them.
On Christmas day, by the time JD arrived at Chris's, it was 1:30 pm. Greeted warmly by everyone, he was soon sitting, holding virgin eggnog, and recounting tales from his trip; interspersed, from the others, with events in Vegas during his absence. Dinner was consumed with relish; waiting for JD had given the men good appetites, fueled by alcohol consumption, which continued when JD handed over the individually imprinted liter steins he had bought them from Munich, and they proceeded to see if they could chug down a full one.
Chris dragged a small cast iron fire pit into the yard and after firing it up, lay chestnuts along its edges to roast. They laughed until they cried when, while all seven sat around it to wait, the chestnuts' skins split and the nuts shot away from the pit and into the unsuspecting men. There was much yelping and howling, amidst gales of laughter, as the small, red-hot projectiles pinged off body parts. Never missing an opportunity, JD and Vin grabbed two small planks of wood and when the chestnuts hurled towards them, they batted them away as if playing some bizarre outdoor Wii game.
All too soon, JD had to leave for his second shift. As he approached his car, he looked back at the disheveled, inebriated group, and laughed. "Chris, don't let Buck drink any more, he starts to get all 'lovie' and emotional." JD laughed harder when, as if to prove his point, Buck weaved toward him, grinning like a loon, and leaned heavily on the younger man, his face only an inch or so from JD's.
"Ssssorry, you've got to go…Squirt. Jusssst remember…I think you're the bessst…you hear, me?" He whispered, but it was louder than he had been speaking. "You're the bessst li'l brother…" he gestured widely with his arm. "…In the whoooole world."
Still grinning, JD squeezed Buck's arm. "Ditto, big brother." He wagged a finger in Buck's face. "Don't drink any more."
Buck straightened and saluted. "Ho-o-okay…"
JD looked back at Chris for help. The blond nodded. Larabee knew exactly why Buck was three sheets to the wind, but JD didn't need to know just how much Buck had missed and worried about him, while he was traveling…at least, not today.
Two in the morning and the Montecito's casino was pulsating. Thousands of people had taken advantage of the many holiday deals that had been available, and the whole strip was operating as if in high season. In the casino, and watching the LVPD haul away an opportunist who had been attempting to steal guests' wallets and purses, Team Three's leader Tyler Macintyre turned to JD.
"Good work, Kid, I'd heard you and Tanner are formidable security sweepers." He pursed his lips. "I hate to talk ill of people, but Drew has never been what I call 'hands on'. Dare I hope Larabee and Tanner taught him a few things?"
JD shrugged and decided not to share some of Buck's anecdotes about the man. "Chris hasn't said much…not sure, sorry."
"Well, for what it's worth, I'm glad he acted like an ass and insisted he stay on Seven's roster over Christmas. If he'd seen what you saw tonight, he'd've just called it in." Tyler laughed, but there was no humor in it. "He sure as hell wouldn't have come down here and stalked the guy, like you did."
JD smiled, thinly. He couldn't imagine doing his job any other way. A call came through over the com. "I've got a guy on the phone insisting he speak with the Chief of Security."
Tyler and JD glanced at each other before the former answered. "Well, that's me, for tonight."
"Not sure that'll do it, but I'll try."
The answer was unexpected, but soon forgotten as Macintyre spoke when the phone call was patched through to his cell. JD frowned at the clipped answers and urgent tone.
"What? Right here? Do you have any idea…? Wait, just calm down. There's no way we can arrange that so quickly. Listen, fella, we want to help, but you have to give us more…" Tyler exhaled, took a calming breath and put his hand on JD's shoulder. "The guy on the phone says he's planted a detonation device in one of the rooms and will set it off in an hour if we don't pay him $5,000,000."
Licking his dry lips, JD tried not to show the nerves that had just kicked in. "Could he be bluffing?"
"Probably, but we can't take any chances. We'll have to evacuate."
Nodding his agreement, JD looked around. "Travis and Chris need to know."
"Yeah." Tyler paused for thought. "Okay, you round up the troops, divide them up and start clearing the rooms and the casino. I'll contact the cops, Orin, and Chris and then take over the ground detail while you continue to sort out the overnight guests." With a parting nod and both speaking into their coms, the pair separated.
In the darkness of his bedroom, Chris roused from a deep sleep and slapped out at his alarm clock, soon realizing it was his cell ringing. Sleepily, he snatched it from the nightstand and growled out.
"Larabee…this better be good…Orin?" Sitting up to listen, Chris rubbed at his eyes and ran fingers through his bed-mussed hair. "I'll be right there." Deciding it was too urgent to shower first, Chris dragged his naked form from his warm, cozy bed and padded through the house to rouse his houseguests. He checked his watch. They pretty much finished drinking when JD left, so they would be clear to drive now…providing no one was worse for wear. He approached the couch, snapped on a lamp and couldn't help but smile at the blue eyes staring back at him.
"I'm real flattered and all, Cowboy, but you ain't my type."
At first, Chris frowned, and then chuckled on realizing he was naked. "Get dressed, there's trouble at the Montecito." His words were barely out before the Texan was up and pulling on his jeans.
Buck was in one of the spare rooms and Chris debated whether to wake him…he'd been pretty drunk last night. However, recognizing the trouble the resort was facing, and that JD was still on duty, the blond knew Buck would need to go, too. He nudged the bed with his knee as he turned on a lamp.
Buck groaned and turned to face Chris. "Shit, Larabee, what have I told you about pointing a loaded weapon at me in the middle of the night?"
Chris got to the point. "I need to know if you're up to traveling."
Buck squinted back at him. "Why, where we going?"
"The Montecito…" He didn't need to say more, Buck was out of bed in an instant.
"Tell me the kid's okay…"
"He's okay, but they're in serious trouble. I'll fill you all in on the way there."
By the time Chris re-emerged fully clothed; his bleary eyed, but concerned team was in the living room waiting on him. In minutes, they were in Chris's Ford Expedition and heading for the strip.
Hoping the hour offered by the threatening voice on the phone was what they actually had to work with; JD divided the team into groups. He sent one group to the casino floor, while the others, armed with a printout of occupied rooms and master keys, worked through the guest levels. He decided to take the top floors himself and work down, leaving more people to go through the rooms below him.
With alarms sounding, guests were at first pissed, then confused, moving to fearful while assured it was merely a formality to leave the hotel. The bottom line was everybody out, but with no panic if possible. Not being allowed to use the elevators added to the anxiety, but the security team maintained order. Hearing of the successes over the com, JD couldn't help thinking how proud Chris would be of his security detail. He doubted Team Seven could have operated much more efficiently.
Occupied rooms that didn't answer when the security people knocked, were opened to ensure the room was empty. Guests of the resort would often play in the casino through the night, so a vacant room wasn't unusual…but its lack of occupants still had to be substantiated.
Three floors down from the top, and JD was relieved to receive no trouble moving people out. The alarm had drawn attention, so at this point checking the rooms was merely a safety concern. Checking his list, he knocked on a door.
"Hello…this is security. I'm holding my ID to the peep hole if you'd like to check. I need you to clear the room please, Mr. Dennison." JD waited for a reply, when none was forthcoming, he tried again while he prepared to use the master key. "Hello…my name's JD, I'm with security, I need you to evacuate your room, sir." A few seconds later, he placed the master key over the slot.
On pulling up at the security tape the LVPD had set up, Team Seven exited their vehicle as they watched the resort's customers gathering in a garden area assigned for them, and well away from the hotel. Some were dressed in their finery, and some in their nightwear, while all were agitated, anxious or frightened. Travis and Lieutenant Fuentes approached the men.
"It's all under control," Fuentes assured. "So far, all but a few guests that were in the casino have been accounted for. All the staff are out; we're just waiting on three from security to confirm the rooms are clear."
"Which three?" Chris asked.
"Tyler Macintyre, Chirav Saijee, and JD…the bomb squad, paramedics, and the FBI are en route and has ordered everybody out, regardless," Travis replied, glancing at Buck as the big man groaned. Orin grabbed Chris's arm to stop him from passing him. The blond frowned.
"Orin, let me through."
"No need," he insisted.
"Then why call me?"
"You really have to ask? Besides, the caller initially asked for you, so your presence is doubly required in case he calls back."
"He asked for me by name?"
Travis paused. "I'm not sure. I'll ask Macintyre when he gets out here."
"Was there a purpose to the threat?" Ezra asked.
"Five million of them," Fuentes replied, his gaze moving toward an agitated Buck.
"What's taking the services so long to arrive?" Vin enquired.
"We're the fifth hotel on the strip to be threatened this evening," Travis replied. "They have to draft in reinforcements. "
Buck had been staring up at the building and could stand it no longer. He looked at the others. "Aah, to hell with this, we've still got people inside there…"
Travis called out in alarm as he saw the six men start to move. "Chris, NO!"
Larabee turned to him, his eyes flashing. "Until help arrives, we're all you've got. No one gets hurt tonight!"
As one, Team Seven surged forward and passed through the line. Fuentes went to stop them; quickly realizing he was out of personnel with the mass evacuation, and so decided it was easier to let the experts deal with them when they arrived. No one argued with the bomb squad and the FBI. Chirav exited the building, so he concentrated on questioning him, instead.
Inside the quiet, deserted lobby, the six men glanced around. From the casino floor, the abandoned giant slots winked and flashed at them as if willing them to play. Chris was about to address the men when a shout went out.
In seconds, firefighters and men in flak jackets swarmed the lobby. One man approached the team. "What the fuck are you doing in here?"
Chris approached. "Name's Larabee, I'm head of security here."
The man raised his eyebrows. "Well, that's real nice, but I want you out of our way…now! We have a job to do."
Chris conceded. It was no less than he would have done as an FBI agent, but he didn't go quietly. He shoved an animated Buck toward Vin. "Alright, we're leaving, but just for the record, most of us are ex-military or ex-Feds, so don't look down your nose at us, *pal*."
Before the man could reply, the building vibrated and a roar sounded from somewhere above. They ran outside and looked up. From high up, one of the hotel windows exploded outwards in a ball of fire, smoke and glass. Screams went out and the hundreds of people milling around instinctively ducked. Team Seven, the firefighters, FBI, and bomb squad barely moved away in time before debris rained down on where they had been standing. It went eerily quiet, and everyone stared up in horror at the flames billowing out of the damaged window.
Chris paled, Buck groaned. "Oh God…"
From the terrified throng, Orin's voice cried out. "Early…it went off early!" He grabbed the arm of one of the FBI men. "There were still two people in there making their way out…Macintyre and Dunne…and six more security on the ground floor." His relief became evident when he spotted Chris and the others moving away from the building and looking up. At least *they* were safe.
A minute earlier inside the building, and before he could de-activate the room's door lock, JD looked toward the approaching team leader. "We clear, Mac?"
The man nodded. "Yep. I came up to give you a hand."
"This is almost the last room," JD reported. "I was just about to check it…no one's answered, but it's listed as allocated to an Aloysius Dennison."
Macintyre grinned as he drew alongside JD. "'Aloysius'? Didn't his ma like him?" They both laughed as JD pushed in the keycard and the door opened. A deafening roar greeted them. The door was blown from its hinges and hurtled the pair back against the corridor wall, ensuring neither man got up from the resulting blast.
Still looking upwards, Team Seven staggered back in shock as fully kitted out firemen raced into the building. Buck would never remember what went through his mind at that moment, but he instinctively went to follow them in. FBI agents attempted to stop him and it became loud and animated, causing the rest of his friends to snap back to what was happening around them.
Buck was fighting like a maniac. "Get the fuck off me…GET OFF! I…need to…get in there…LET ME PASS!" He growled as arms tightened around his chest and hauled him backwards. Furious, he twisted to turn wild eyes to the man holding him, his voice menacingly low. "Josiah…let go."
Chris was right in his face. "Quit it! I know how you're feeling, but this isn't the way to help anyone."
Buck wanted to scream at him 'no, you don't' but if there was one man here who knew the despair Buck was experiencing right now, it was Chris. He finally looked at all his friends and realized emotionally, they were struggling, too. He patted Josiah's hands. "It's okay…really…thanks."
The big man released him and nodded his support. They all looked when an FBI agent drew next to them and held out a phone to Chris.
"It's the bomber, he wants the Chief of Security…try and keep him talking."
Larabee snatched up the phone. "You fucking waste of skin…if I ever find you, I'll…"
>>"Listen up, I know how this works…the place will have been evacuated, but I wanted to be sure you people took me seriously, so I set off your hotel's device…as a little warning. As for the ones planted in the other hotels; I will detonate them…one by one if I don't soon see some money going into the electronic account I set up."<<
Chris swallowed. "Yeah, well *you* listen up, the hotel wasn't clear. I have people in there, and if anything's happened to them, there's no place on this earth you can hide from me…you hear?"
For a while, there was just dead air and Chris thought the caller had gone. He glanced around. The agent listening in was visually instructing him to stretch the conversation further. Larabee jumped slightly when the man spoke again.
>>"I…didn't realize there would be anyone in the building. That is…unfortunate. "<<
He clicked off and Chris looked toward the agent to learn if they had traced him, smiling thinly as a thumb went up. "Go get the mother fucker," he urged, before turning his attention back to their own personal hell.
Despite climbing eleven flights of stairs in full gear, the firefighters soon had the fire contained. Paramedics worked on the two unconscious men, securing them to spinal boards before they manhandled the pair down to the lobby, where the waiting fire chief received a radio communication and approached the group.
"The fire's out…looks like it was fairly localized, maybe one or two other rooms affected by smoke. Once we've analyzed the scene, you're gonna need a structural engineer up there."
"Did they find…" Buck began.
The fire chief nodded. "Two men were found unconscious in the corridor outside the room. They're bringing them down now."
Vin looked at Nathan, unsure whether to be relieved or not. The guy hadn't said 'dead', but unconscious…that could mean anything. The doctor nodded back at him, anxious to see for himself just what they would be dealing with. When the bearers and stretchers exited the building, no one moved at first, then, as if suddenly awakening, Buck hurried over to JD's side, his heart pounding as he stared at the sooty, bloody, battered features of his best friend. He stood still and watched the men put JD into the ambulance, Nathan jumping in with him and instantly beginning an examination. Travis and Team Seven stood between the two ambulances, waiting for news.
After what seemed like a lifetime, Jackson jumped out of the vehicle and squeezed Buck's shoulder. He addressed them all. "Definitely a concussion, some smoke inhalation, and I'm pretty sure a broken clavicle." He touched his collarbone to illustrate. He patted Buck. "They're ready to go…said you can go too, if you want." He couldn't help grinning at the look from Buck before the man jumped into the ambulance and took JD's free hand, just as the doors slammed shut. The vehicle moved off with full lights and sirens.
Nathan was already inside the other ambulance, relieved to see Tyler had come around briefly. Five minutes later, he was back with his friends. "The paramedics think, based on their positions, Tyler's arm broke from the door hitting it when it blew out, and JD's shoulder struck the wall when he flew backwards. X-rays will tell us more. I'm going in with Mac…I assume you'll be following us?"
With a nod, the semi-relieved men watched as the second ambulance pulled away. Chris turned to Travis, not missing that there were several news vans dotted around and interviewers almost hanging off the tape to get Travis's attention. "What do you need?"
Orin waved him off. "Go. I've already called my insurance broker and he's setting things in motion to sort this mess out. We'll have to close, for now, but Shirley arrived an hour ago and along with Sally and Sandy, has already placed half of the guests with other hotels…and, providing the others under threat get an all clear, hopefully they can take some, too." He sighed, suddenly looking old. "God, what a mess."
"You sure you don't want me to get hold of a structural engineer…"
Orin smiled. "All in hand, go, and Chris…thanks. I'll get to the hospital as soon as I can."
Larabee nodded. Less than five minutes later, four men were heading for Las Vegas Memorial Hospital.
The tension in the hospital waiting room was heavy, as six of Team Seven, Tyler's fiancé, Fiona, and occasional visiting resort staff, waited for news. They all looked up when Drew Wilson entered the room.
"What the hell do you want?" Buck growled.
The man glared. "I sincerely hope that tone wasn't directed in an accusatory way, Buck. I merely stood my ground over the rosters. I could never have known Team Three would undergo such a traumatic shift."
Larabee sighed. "So…what *are* you here for?"
"I came to offer my condolences and ask after Tyler and JD."
Chris's tense shoulders relaxed slightly. "That's good of you, thanks. We're still waiting on news. It does look as though both men suffered with a broken arm and shoulder and concussions…what else, if anything, has yet to be determined."
Drew shook his head. "Oh dear…let's hope that's all it is."
The group nodded to him, pleased to find this guy could actually give a damn about someone other than himself.
Wilson brightened. "Despite being informed you no longer wanted my services, under the circumstances, I'm prepared to put any unpleasantness behind me and assume I'll check in with you when Travis gives us the nod?"
The tension returned to Chris's shoulders. He glared at the man, oblivious to Vin and Josiah holding onto Buck. "What?"
"I also came here to tell you I'm ready to resume my position with Team Seven for the duration of JD's sick absence…" he raised one hand. " …God forbid it be any more serious or long-term than a fracture, but you can never tell with those sort of injuries, especially of the head…" Drew gasped in shock as Chris launched himself off his chair and snatched at the man's jacket.
"You arrogant, self-centered piece of shit."
The room descended into chaos as Vin and Josiah struggled to contain Buck, and Ezra and Nathan pulled Chris off Drew.
"What the hell are you doing, are you crazy?" Wilson whined.
Ezra stepped in as Nathan dragged Chris away. "My first impression of you has never wavered. You're an ass. While I can fully appreciate a desire to ascend socially and professionally, you, sir, have all the charisma and subtlety of a drunken elephant. Get out!"
"All I did was try to help." The man insisted. "I've worked with you, I know what's needed and you know I can deliver."
Vin stood. "Actually, all I've seen is you constantly underminin' the people around you, while sittin' on your butt all day issuin' instructions to the rest of us." He looked at Chris. "If I get a vote, I'd rather wait on JD and be a man down than have this guy back."
"There won't be any vote," Chris said, finally calmer. He pointed at Wilson. "Get out, before I bust you back to the IT pool."
Still clearly not accepting others' estimation of him, Drew looked back at them with disdain and left. Finally free, Buck stood and went to go after him. Chris grabbed his arm.
"Drop it, pard."
Buck's eyes flashed. He spoke through gritted teeth. "That kid…our kid, is in the ER injured, along with another friend of ours, and that prick walks in here…"
The two men suddenly turned to Fiona. "Oh…sorry, honey," Buck mumbled; now a little embarrassed.
Fiona waved it off. "Forget it. I've never met the man, but Mac often would talk about some jumped up little dweeb called Drew." She smiled, thinly. "I see he was pretty accurate."
They all turned when the ER doors opened and a familiar face smiled at them. Buck moved forward to shake her hand.
"Doctor Latimer, isn't it?"
Jessica nodded. "We meet again…and under similar circumstances. " She made an exaggerated look around. "No Andy Krystal this time, though."
Chris shook his head, his arm bringing Fiona into the circle. "No, not this time. I'm assuming by your manner, it's good news."
She smiled. "Yes, in a way. X-Rays confirm concussions for both men, with a broken collarbone for JD and a broken arm for Tyler. They're pretty banged up, and took in some smoke, but nothing life threatening, though we'll probably be keeping them in for forty-eight hours to monitor their head injuries." She smiled. "You'll be happy to know they both regained consciousness, though JD's struggling a little, his head injury has him confused and agitated, but it's looking better than we feared."
Nathan's grin and nods helped ease the tension considerably.
Jessica continued. "They're just going up to a room. Once they're settled, I'll let you know."
Their collective relief was obvious as they took their seats to wait to be called.
Several hours later, and rising above the nausea and horrible ache in his head and shoulder, JD quickly recognized the person staring down at him. He blinked. "If this is Heaven…the angels need facelifts…" JD's slurred words brought a huge grin to the face of the man leaning into him.
"I'll have you know I'm perfectly proportioned for a thirty-five year old, Squirt."
JD looked at him with his good eye; not registering yet the other was swollen shut. "Yeah, but…you're only…twenty-five."
Buck laughed and softly ruffled JD's hair. "I wish. How are you feeling?"
JD winced. "My head and shoulder hurts like a bitch. What did I do?"
Buck glanced at the others. Nathan gave a slight shake of his head. It was important JD remember than be told. "Don't worry about that for now…just rest. Doc says you can come home tomorrow."
JD yawned. "Cool."
Buck watched him drift off to sleep. Resting a hand on the younger man's good arm, he sighed, looking up when Vin stepped next to him.
"You okay, Bucklin?"
The brunet smiled and looked at JD. "I will be, and so will he." Seeing that Tyler was awake, the men visited with him before all but Buck and Josiah left. The others returned to the Montecito to check on what was happening there.
When JD next fully awoke, Tyler was already discharged. He looked around him. His room was filled with fruit, flowers and balloons. A stuffed bear in a sparkly suit sat on his nightstand. "What the hell?" he rasped out.
Vin leaned in, offering him a drink. "Andy heard about the incident at the resort. He called Travis and…" he gestured around. "Well, you can see what happened next."
JD smiled."The guy's crazy." He frowned. "I didn't dream it then? The bomb really went off?"
Tanner nodded. "Luckily, it wasn't the most powerful device, but it took out the room, and the rooms around it have smoke damage." He smiled. "The good news is, there was no structural damage, and the hotel will fully reopen in a month." He sat back.
quot;Five other hotels were threatened, too. They traced the guy to a motel, a pretty seedy one, but the bomb squad had already deactivated the devices by then. If there's any justice, the bastard'll rot in jail for the rest of his life."
JD swallowed some water. "The Montecito…it *is* open, then?"
"Sure. They just closed off the top five floors." He checked his watch. "Buck and Chris are on their way in. We're waiting on the doc to check you out, and then hopefully you can go home." Vin smiled. "Papa Buck's got your bed all ready for you."
JD groaned, but inwardly, was relieved. He was a little concerned how he would get by with one functioning arm. The little smile from JD told Vin he was not as bummed out as he made out. He tilted his head back to look at the window just as JD spoke.
"What's all that noise?"
Shrugging, Vin stood and looked out. "Holy crap, the parking lot's full of…"
"I can't leave you alone for a minute, can I?"
Both men looked toward the door, grinning as Andy walked in.
"You been taking lessons from Buck?" JD laughed. "That's usually his line."
"You better believe it," Andy grinned, before going all serious. "Are you okay?"
JD nodded. "Yeah, I'm okay, thanks."
"You look like shit."
JD Laughed and shook his head. "Jeeze thanks. I had no idea…me lying in a hospital bed and all. Why are you here?"
Andy relaxed into a seat. "Duh…I thought I'd come check out hospital décor in Nevada…what the hell sort of question is that?"
JD pointed. "Hey, head injury…give me a break."
Andy nodded. "Alright, I'll give you that one." He grinned at Vin, who was still looking out of the window at the sea of screaming girls. "I'm relying on you to get me out of here, later," he joked.
"Better start diggin' a tunnel now, then," Tanner replied.
Andy laughed and turned back to JD. "I want to help. If there's anything you want…anything I can do…"
JD smiled at his friend. "I think I'm good, thanks. Just the fact you came here…means a lot to me."
"No sweat," Andy assured. "Where the hell else would I be when a friend's in trouble?" He leaned in. "If you think of anything, let me know."
JD's eyes glistened. "Thanks, I will."
The three chatted for a while before Doctor Latimer came followed by Buck and Chris. Leaving to allow the doctor to examine JD, the others talked outside.
Buck looked at Andy. "Are you staying?"
Andy shook his head. "Nah, this is just a flying visit; I'm hoping to come back in a few weeks and visit a while longer."
Chris nodded his approval. "Good, we can catch up then."
They all looked when Jessica re-emerged from JD's room. "He's all yours. Oh! Uh…oh…hello Andy."
Andy flashed a dazzling smile. "Hey there…you remembered me."
Jessica blushed. "Mmmm…" she giggled. "Would you uh…could you…" she patted her pockets and thrust a pen and notebook at him. "For my sister."
He grinned. "Sure, be happy to. What's her name?"
"Jesssss…ita…Jessita, but…just put to Jess."
"No problem." He grinned wider, reciting as he wrote. "To…Jess…with all my love…Andy." He handed back the pen and pad. "Is that okay?"
"Yes…" Jessica coughed to clear the squeak. "Yes, that's lovely, thank you." She blushed. "'Bye then." She turned, then spun back around, fishing into her top pocket. "Oh! Almost forgot, here's JD's prescription. He can leave in the morning."
Buck nudged him. "Damn, boy, you should bottle whatever it is you got there."
Andy shrugged. "Aah, it'll all be a distant memory when I'm old and gray. But enough about men your age…"
Chris and Vin laughed, Buck howled. "Hey! You been taking lessons from the kid?"
Also laughing, Andy followed them back into JD's room. "Funny…that's not dissimilar to what JD said when I first got here."
Several nights later, disturbed by something, Buck got out of his bed and padded into the living room. He could see JD, silhouetted against the window. He approached softly, but JD spoke before Buck reached him.
"Sorry, did I disturb you?"
"Nah, 'course not. Are you okay?" He gestured to JD's strapped arm. "Are you in pain?"
JD sighed. It had only been three days; of course he was in pain, and he was sick of it. "A little, yeah." He felt a warm hand rest on his back.
"Come on…sit down and I'll get you some warm milk and one of your strong pills."
JD turned to look at him. "I don't want to rely on them, Buck."
"Hey…you're not. It's just to get you over the hump, okay? Trust ol' Buck, he'll keep you straight."
Sitting, JD smiled. "I know, thanks." When Buck returned with the drinks and a pill, the pair sat in silence for a while.
Finally, Buck spoke. "I really missed you while you were away."
JD smiled as he sipped his milk. "I missed you too. I had a great time, but I found myself looking forward more and more to coming home…" He turned to Buck. "…and seeing you all…especially you."
Buck grinned and instinctively reached out for JD. The younger man leaned in. Only Buck and his mother ever made him feel safe and cared for, like this. He felt truly blessed to have had two people in his life that cared about him so much.
"Hey kid…you're shaking. Are you cold?"
"Nah…I…it's just…I was going over the other night. I can't seem to shake it off just yet." He took a deep breath. "I asked Ezra what odds he'd give for Mac and me to have been at that door just as the guy decided to detonate the bomb."
"Mm hmm. And what was his answer?"
"I believe the word he used was insurmountable."
Buck chuckled and nodded. "Sounds about right. I guess, looking back, it's been a tough couple of months."
"No shit! That said, traveling around sure taught me something."
Buck looked at him. "Yeah?"
JD gave a slight nod. "Yeah. It taught me to never take what I have for granted. Knowing I could come back to Vegas, made being away all the easier. Hell yeah, I was having fun, but I also had something to look forward to. I'm sure glad you guys felt the same way."
Buck smiled. "Boy…you have no idea."
A few minutes of silence and Buck pulled himself from his thoughts to glance at JD, grinning when he saw the youth asleep. Getting up, Buck took away his glass, covered him with a blanket and sat in the recliner close by. Five minutes later, both were softly snoring.
The resort celebrated New Year's Eve as initially planned. Due to five floors being off-limits, the guests were fewer, but the atmosphere did not suffer. On light duties, JD had thrown himself into combating terrorism, and now there were solid, yet decorative pillars in front of the main doors to prevent vehicles crashing through, valet-only parking for the guests, number-allocated parking slots for staff, state of the art luggage scanners at the check-in desk, and random ID checks.
Working with a British company, but modifying it to their needs, JD was close to completing a photo-electric device for detecting incendiary devices. The equipment, when ready, would be part of the security at the check-in desk and would also comprise of hand-held wands for room-checks. JD had never been happier; and while his friends always knew JD loved to 'create', they were never more proud. JD thrived on this kind of challenge, and his efforts ensured the insurance company, satisfied with the new precautionary measures, paid in full for the damages to the Montecito.
What hit hard, was the additional cost for all the new paraphernalia and procedures. For one, the hiring of the parking valets that was now operational. However, JD had an idea for that, too, recalling a recent promise from a very good friend.
Two weeks later and the Montecito was buzzing, due to the imminent arrival of Andy Krystal. JD's request for help had set the wheels in motion to stage a huge concert at the Sam Boyd stadium in Las Vegas, accommodating 50,000 fans, all but 4,000 seated. It had sold out within an hour of the tickets going on sale, prompting Andy to offer a second date, but Orin politely declined. Andy was offering his services freely, while paying personally for the expense of setting it up. The arena's owners had also offered the venue for free, so the money made would not only cover the Montecito's expenses, but there would be ample left over to distribute between the other five hotels on the strip that were targeted by the bomber, and enable them to pursue additional security measures, also.
The young pop star's arrival was very different from his first time at the Montecito. This time, publicity was the name of the game, and it was all the LVPD could do to contain the thousands of fans lining the approach and clamoring around the hotel when he arrived in his limo. Getting out of the car, and surrounded by bodyguards, the young man stepped away from under the canopy to wave, grin and showboat to the screaming crowds. While he did that, Elspeth, his three sisters and mother were escorted into the building, to be warmly greeted by Team Seven, Orin and Evie.
Jenna and JD chatted excitedly, quickly joined by Millie and Chloe. While the triplets were not identical, there was no doubt they were sisters. JD, though laughing, seemed a little overwhelmed by their attentions, grateful when Bryony was wheeled toward him and the team. Finally, Andy stopped just outside the doors, gave a final wave, and then entered. JD grinned at him and Andy patted his unstrapped arm.
"How's the shoulder?"
"Pretty good, thanks. Are you ready to go to your suites, or are you gonna wiggle your ass one more time?"
Andy laughed. "Yeah, I'm done."
He greeted each member of the team, talking all the way to his accommodation with Ezra as the pair revisited his business affairs and went over what he had achieved. Andy hoped Ezra would have a few more thoughts on the matter. He had helped him so much last time. After settling Andy and his group into their allocated suites, Team Seven went back to work.
Later that evening, the seven men, Orin and Evie, Andy, Elspeth, Bryony, Jenna, Millie and Chloe enjoyed a meal at the resort's own Steakhouse, followed by an evening in Mystique. Rain performed, much to Nathan's delight, but as she acknowledged applause for her last song, she took the mic in hand and gestured toward Andy.
"I know he's relaxing this evening, but I wonder, if I ask nicely, whether Andy would do us the honor of singing a song for us this evening?"
Despite being happy to oblige, the rapturous applause would have made it impossible for the young man to refuse. Climbing onto the stage, he asked the band if he could borrow an acoustic guitar, climbed onto a stool, and after tuning the instrument, smiled at the waiting audience.
"This is a song I wrote for my new album. In the last six months, my life has changed dramatically… for the better, I might add," he smiled. "No one but my mom, my sisters and my manager have heard it…and I dedicate it to people I have come to consider close and trusted friends. I hope you like it."
Elspeth looked at her companions, her eyes shimmering. "This is inspired, and in my opinion, is the best song he's ever written."
The song was hauntingly beautiful, its pace enhancing a rich, melodic voice that was often lost in the more powerful, energetic songs Andy belted out on stage. The whole group got goose bumps on realizing, though a little abstract and cleverly construed not to make it too obvious, his words were about them. He finished to thunderous applause, politely declining to sing again, before re-taking his seat at the table. He looked around at them all.
"Okay, enough of the sap. The concert's in two days, tomorrow's clear…let's get drunk!"
The group Andy had dined with, initially minus JD, was joined by Nettie, Casey, Inez, Rain, Tyler, Fiona, Candice, Mary and Billy and were seated in a prime location to one side of the stage. Andy had arranged a box, but JD insisted they be out in the arena to soak up the atmosphere. Andy had asked JD to join him backstage, for one final time, and with a hi-five to JD and Elspeth, the intro kicked off and the roar and screams of the audience echoed around the horseshoe shaped arena as the young superstar belted out his first song. JD watched his friends' reactions with delight. It was going to be a great night.
At the after show party, Andy finally wriggled away from the press and local dignitaries to join his new friends. They all congratulated him, even Nettie admitting, while not usually to her taste, she had thoroughly enjoyed the performance. The champagne was flowing, and soon, both Andy and JD were getting a little tipsy.
Andy nudged JD. "So…you still wanna stay here and pass up…what did you call it? Oh yeah…the offer of…a lifetime?"
JD widened his eyes to focus on his friend, oblivious to the concerned looks of the six men who were as family to him, and who were anxiously waiting on his reply. "You know…I've been thinking on that…and…while you made me a great offer…" he animatedly patted Andy's arm."…You truly did…I guess…for me, the real offer of a lifetime came when I was asked to join Chris's team." He drained his glass. "Ooh…I'm empty." He looked up to see six grinning faces staring at him. He frowned. "What?"
Andy patted his knee. "Good choice…"
Turning to him, JD's frown deepened, his recent words spoken from his heart, not his head, and so not registering at all. "Huh?"
"You were saying…something… "
Buck chuckled, softly. "That's our boy."
Chris nodded. "Yeah, well, we'd better get 'our boy' home; I think he's sinking fast."
Courtesy of a limo from Andy, the seven said their goodbyes and headed for Chris's place for some private time. The next day, Andy was heading home and JD was returning to almost full duty. It was time to reflect and reconnect. Seven teammates, friends, brothers...seven men who, not too long ago, were mostly strangers, but were mostly now, and happily so…inseparable.