Not Again

by Phyllis Loafman

Crossover The Sentinel

It was nearing one am. Buck was tired, but for some reason could not relax. He should go to bed. Instead he wandered around the apartment as if searching for something.

He laughed at the thought. 'Damn right. I keep looking for the kid. Should've told Chris to take a hike and gone on to Cascade and hauled that kid's skinny ass back home.' Plopping down into the recliner, he started flipping through the channels. Again.

The ring of the doorbell took him by surprise. Glancing at the time on the DVD player, he frowned. 'Kind of late for visitors' he thought to himself. He rose and went to the door, peering through the peephole. Buck frowned when he saw Chris and Vin standing on the stoop. He unlocked the door and stepped back as he pulled it open.

"Damn, boys, kind'a late to.." the words froze in his throat. He had not seen that behind Larabee and Tanner stood Ezra, Nathan, and Josiah. All of the men wore somber expressions. Buck felt the blood drain from his face. The next instance his fist slammed into Chris Larabee's jaw. The only person that did not seem surprised was Chris. He threw his arm out and stopped the advance of the agents standing behind him.

Buck stood in the doorway, breathe coming in ragged gasps. Tears formed in his eyes as the words stuck in his throat. Chris saw Buck open his mouth and then snap it close again.

"He's not dead. There was an earthquake. He and Blair are missing. I have a plane waiting. Ellison is meeting us." Buck did not move. Chris stepped forward. and wrapped his hands around Buck's neck, drawing their faces close together. "You couldn't have known. Neither one of us could have; or else we would have gone and dragged him back. I'm sorry I didn't let you go. I thought I was doing the right thing. I'm sorry, Buck. But we will find him."

Buck looked at Chris and nodded. "I got a bag in the truck."

Vin patted Buck on the arm. "I'll get the lights and TV." The sharpshooter slipped past the two men and started closing down the apartment. He glanced around the living area and kitchen Satisfied that everything was off, he locked the door to Buck and JD's home and joined the others in the waiting van. Team Seven headed to the airport and the search for their missing teammate.

Ellison woke early and was dressed before Simon arrived. The Sentinel was waiting for the police captain when he showed up at dawn. The tall black man shook his head when Jim met him at the door.

"I'm ready to go. Doc has been by and I have my release forms. I've eaten and showered and .." glancing at his watch, "..Larabee and his team are due in thirty minutes. That gives us just enough time to get over there and meet them."

Jim strode past the gap-mouthed captain and started down the hall. Simon turned and headed after the detective.

"I hope you came in something besides your car. There'll be six of them plus us."

Simon shook his head at the tirade, his long strides drawing him even with Jim.

"Detective, I believe that I am capable of handling transportation concerns for the men we're picking up. I have done this before."

"Sorry, Simon. I just feel that we've lost so much time. Every minute counts. I have this feeling that we're just cutting it close, really close. I need to be there…we need to be there now."

Simon walked next to the man he called a friend and placed a hand on his shoulder. "We're on our way. Use the strength of whatever kind of bond it is that you two have and tell him to hold on. Blair's strong, he'll make it."

Jim nodded. He followed the man to a large fifteen passenger van. He smiled as Simon pointed to the vehicle with both hands, as if asking for approval.

Looking properly abashed, Jim laughed and climbed into the passenger side of the vehicle. As they drove away, Jim's thoughts were with his guide and friend. 'Hold on , buddy, I'm on the way. And take care of the boy. I'm bringing his family with me."

JD sat quietly watched as the other man slept. He had moved rocks for hours and made only a small dent in the wall of rubble. The flashlight had begun to dim, so he took a seat near the other man and flicked the light off. He was glad that Jim had insisted on extra batteries being carried. He had located the spare batteries and loaded them. JD had used the light to take the notepad and write to his best friend. He hated to say goodbye that way, but if they did not get out, he had to explain. Buck had to understand that he was planning on coming home. The idea of dying and Buck thinking he was still mad was more than JD could bear. He finished the letter, placed it in his wallet, and turned the light off. He sat quietly thinking about the family and life he had left in Denver.

Hearing movement, he turned on the light and shone it on the ceiling. He saw Blair struggling to sit up. JD put a restraining hand on the young anthropologist's shoulder.

"Stay down. You're okay."

Blair coughed and rubbed his hand across his face. He felt the stubble on his chin and guessed it was midmorning. "How long?"

JD glanced at his wrist. "Looks to be about eighteen hours." He handed a bottle of water at the groggy man.

"Thanks, man. I feel kind of out of it."

Nodding in agreement, JD stated, "I'm pretty sure you have a fever. That gash may be infected. Here" and JD handed Sandburg a couple of aspirin. "These will help a little."

Blair took the offered pills and washed them down, grimacing at the bitter taste. "Thanks, JD. Any sign of help yet?" Blair's voice held a hopeful tone.

The young agent was aware of the faith the other had in his partner. Blair had sworn Ellison would come and rescue them. Sadly, JD shook his head. "Sorry, Blair. There hasn't been any sound, no hint of anyone outside."

JD saw the disappointment, as well as the fear, written on the anthropologist's face. JD pasted a grin on his face. "He'll be here, Blair. You just wait and see." He was rewarded with a wide smile.

"Yeah, he'll be here. No matter what it takes, he'll be here."

"Why don't you relax a while longer? I'm going to move a few rocks." JD made to stand, but was halted by a hand on his arm.

"JD, you need to rest. Judging by that pile of rocks, you have done your share. Sit."

JD placed a hand over Blair's. "Any rock I move is one less they have to move. I'm alright, I've rested some. If we don't get out of here, I'll have forever to rest."

Blair watched as JD once again tackled the collapsed cavern ceiling.

"Hurry, Jim. I really need you to come and get us. We need help, big guy."

"Buck, sit still." Chris growled.


"Don't start, Buck. We're going as fast as we can. Jim knows where to start. We'll find him," Chris turned to the large man sitted by him, "I know how you're feeling. Just hang on a little longer."

Buck took a deep breath and released it slowly. He nodded, a quick jerk of his head and turned to look out the window. Chris saw the shadows dance in time to the clenching muscles in Buck's jaw. Worry and guilt had aged his friend in the last six hours.

Jim Ellison turned in the front seat and looked at the two men. He opened his mouth to say something. Chris looked him in the eye and shook his head slightly, halting any statement Jim thought of saying.

Larabee saw Banks glance in the mirror. Their eyes met and Simon told him they would be there within the hour. Chris checked his watch and saw it was ten-thirty. The two men had been missing for over eighteen hours. He fought against the negative thoughts that ran through his mind. He prayed that JD and Blair were okay.

He knew the two had been exploring a cave and, hopefully, were only trapped behind a small cave-in. He hated to think they were on a recovery mission instead of a rescue. He had no clue as to how Buck would react. He remembered the spiral he had gone into after Sarah and Adam had been killed. If possible, Buck was even closer to the kid than he had been to his wife and son.

Chris looked up as the van slowed and entered the park. 'Hold on kid, we're almost there.'

JD listened to the rumbling overhead. It had grown more ominous as the morning wore on. JD felt their time was growing short. He debated on continuing to dig or move further into the cave, where the ceiling might be more stable. The stable roof sounded best. He stood and joined Blair under the small outcropping.

"Blair, I think we should move back to the rear of the cavern."

Blair looked at the exhausted young man in front of him. After working so hard to get them out, the disappointment was evident on his face. "Yeah, that's probably a good idea."

JD reached down and helped him up. Blair was feverish and it left him weak. They had taken three steps with Blair leaning heavily on JD when the tremor started. JD heard the crack and, without looking up, he spun the fevered body back under the narrow shelf. The young agent heard Blair's gasp as he rolled against the wall. JD moved to join Blair, but it was too late. The rumble was his only warning. Rocks rained down around him. Before he could move, they crashed down onto his exposed back, sending him to the ground, unconscious.

The van reached the campsite and the eight men wasted no time in starting up the trail. Jim and Buck quickly found their way to the front. Ellison followed a trail only he could see. And Buck followed Jim.

The others were bringing up the rear. They knew the intensity of the emotions fueling the two men in front. The others stayed close, ready to aid them in any way. But far enough back so as to not hinder either man.

Ellison threw up a hand, halting the entourage. He cast his hearing down the trail and frowned. He could hear the rescuers working at the end of the trail they were following. But he could not hear the one thing he was listening for-Blair Sandburg's heartbeat. If Blair and JD were in that cave, Blair was no longer alive. Jim shuddered slightly, his eyes tightly closed.

"What?" Buck spoke softly.

"Nothing. There's nothing coming from that direction." He turned and faced the mustached agent. "Either they're dead," Both pair of eyes saw the pain reflected in the other man's eyes. "..or they're not up that way."

Banks and Larabee had approached, waiting. Jim turned to his captain. "Simon, that article that Blair read, do you remember it?"

"Sure. Not all the details, but, yeah, I read it."

"Didn't it mention two caves? One south of the big one?"

The black man's brow furrowed as he tried to remember. "Yeah, that seems right. It 's a bigger cavern, but not as much importance was placed on the author. He felt it wasn't as 'rich' a find as the northern cavern. I think that's what it said."

Jim's eyes showed the spark of hope that flickered in his heart. "And that would be the hook for Blair. He loves a challenge."

Simon nodded. He pulled his cell phone and quickly dialed. "Rafe, is Ranger Matthews still there? Good, let me talk to him."

Jim listened as the police captain questioned the park ranger. He heard the ranger confirm a second location and give directions to the site.

Jim turned and headed to the second location and six men moved as one behind him. Simon paused and asked to speak to Joel. The captain wanted to tell the other members of the major crimes unit where they were headed. Having arrived earlier, they had proceeded to the first cavern. Joel, Rafe, H., and Conner had found the cavern completely collapsed, but, until bodies were located, they had refused to give up hope and had started digging.

"Joel? We're headed for a second location. Keep working there, just in case. I 'll call you if we find anything." He placed the phone in his pocket and jogged up the trail the join the others.

They reached the cavern and Buck saw Jim bend forward, his hands resting on his knees. Buck came up behind him, his heart in his throat. 'Oh, kid, no.'

Jim stood up and turned to Buck. "I can hear them, both. I can hear two heartbeats."

Buck's knees went weak. He stumbled as he fought for balance. He regained his footing and smiled at the Sentinel. The men following saw the exchange and hope fueled their eagerness to begin clearing the cave entrance. They quickly devised a plan and set it into motion.

Blair woke, groaning, and rolled over. The light in the cave was dim, but enough for him to see by. He felt blood on back of his leg and knew he had broken the wound open. He felt a knot growing on his head where he had what? How did he hit his head?

Jim? Was he here?

"Jim?" Blair tried to sit up. Rocks surrounded him, leaving him very little room for movement. "Jim? Come on, man. Please be here. Answer me, big guy."

Nothing. Too much to hope for. Okay, I need to think. I can get out of this. I just need to make a plan.

The grad student studied the wall and rocks that surrounded him. The wall in front of him was solid. The roof looked good, a couple of cracks, but strong enough. So far. He saw the rocks were piled up around him, but fell away easily if pushed. So he pushed, gently, one at a time.

The light grew as he cleared the unstable wall. Finally, he could see into the main portion of the cavern. A flashlight lay a few feet in front of him. He crawled out of the small prison and took hold of the light. Moving the light around the cavern, he began to piece together the whats and where's. He remembered exploring the cavern, enjoying himself. Then vibration, an earthquake. Pain. Someone helping him. The kid. JD.

It all came back to him. They were trying to move back, into the cave. There was another quake. JD threw him back under the overhang. After that, everything went black.

Where was the kid? Blair looked around. He spotted a hand sticking out of the rubble. He scrambled over and took hold of the wrist. He breathed a sigh of relief. He was alive.

Blair looked around the cavern. It seemed as if the walls were closing in. He glanced at the watch the boy wore, slightly surprised to find it still ticking. They had been trapped in the cave for almost twenty-four hours. Where the hell was Jim? Was he alright? Please don't be dead, Jim. If I get out of this and you're gone..I don't think I could handle that.

"Please hurry, Jim. We really need help here, big guy."

Blair carefully started moving the rocks that lay on the young agent, praying that someone would find them in time.

Jim stopped working and cocked his head. Blair. Buck was looking at him.

"We need to hurry."

The man nodded at the detective. They doubled their efforts.

The others spelled them. Support was brought in and the entrance shored up as they progressed. The night was pushing the sun below tree line, bringing darkness to the rescue site. The eight men had been joined by the other members of Major Crimes as well as rangers and park emergency personnel.

After three hours, the word came that they were breaking through. Jim and Buck quickly entered the cave and, removing the last of the rocks, climbed through the opening.


Ellison quickly clambered over the rock strewn floor to his guide's side.

"Chief." The relief was evident in the detectives voice. "How are you doing?"

He ran his eyes over the weary man and followed with his hands. Blair reached out and took the strong wrists in his own grimy hands.

"I'll be fine. Just need to get out of here. We need to help JD, now."

Ellison tore his attention away from the guide to see Buck knelt down on the other side of Blair. He saw the black hair, dusted gray, poking out of the rubble. He gripped Blair's arms and pulled him erect. The guide attempted to pull out of the powerful grip, but Jim was having none of it.

Nathan had joined them inside the cavern. He stepped away as Jim practically carried the younger man to the entrance. He glanced back as Blair protested.

"JD.." he began.

" our problem now. You are going to leave this cave and leave this to us." Jim finished for him.

Blair stumbled as he stepped over the crumbled entrance. He felt Jim's grip on his upper arm and turned to see blue eyes close at hand.

"Jim, I want to help. He saved my life." Blair whispered.

"I know, buddy, but I need you outside where I know you're safe." The intense gaze told Blair had this was not open for discussion. He nodded and limped out into the darkening, but clear air of the mountain night.

Jim turned to see Buck stretching a shaky hand out toward the dirty face of his young partner. Nathan uncovered a wrist and felt for a pulse. He placed a hand on Buck's shoulder. He nodded when Buck turned toward him.

"He's alive, Buck. Pulse is weak, but he's alive."

Buck started to remove the rocks that imprisoned the young man. Jim joined the two men and joined in their task. They worked quickly, but carefully, to prevent any further damage on the battered body.

Nathan moved to the boy's head and began to examine him, as the others continued to extract him. He discovered blood on the back of the young man's head and bruises dotted his back and shoulders. JD's hands were bloody and the nails ripped and broken. Nathan cringed at the extent of the damage the youth had suffered in his quest to reopen the cave entrance.

The medic looked at Buck and saw the strain on the man's features. The man was pale and his eyes lacked their normal sparkle. Nathan knew that Buck's well being was directly related to that of the boy. The good natured man would be fine as long as the boy lived. And Nathan would do all he could to insure the health of both.

Jim stopped and cocked his head to the side. Buck glanced up at the man even as he reached for another rock.

"Nathan, get out. Now!" Jim stood and took one of Dunne's arms in his hands. "Take hold, Buck. We're out of time."

Buck frowned, but took a hold of the kid's arm. His eyes asked, 'Are you sure?

"Move. There's another aftershock coming."

They pulled the limp body up between them and headed for the entrance. Nathan was ducking through as they moved toward the opening. The rumbling sound was now audible to even Buck. They heard the others calling as they quicken their pace.

Buck took the boy into his arms as he motioned Ellison to go through the opening. Jim dove through the entrance and stepped out of the way as Buck staggered out into the night. Hands reached out to steady him, but no one tried to take the boy from him. Buck cringed as the mountain rumbled and the opening belched dirt and dust before disappearing behind tons of rock. He never looked back as he carried the cherished load to the waiting medical personnel.

After they checked the boy, he was loaded onto a stretcher and carried to a waiting helicopter for transport to the hospital along with Blair. Chris stood next to his long time friend, a hand on his shoulder. The others stood in a semicircle behind them.

"Come on, Buck. Banks is waiting to take us to the hospital."

The eight men loaded into the van for the drive down the mountain. Chris sat on the seat next to Buck. Larabee was worried about the man sitting next to him. As far as Chris knew, Buck had not said a word since he and Jim Ellison had entered the cave. Chris did not have to look hard to see the haunted look in those eyes. It was a look Chris was familiar with, as he had seen it every day for several years. It was the look he had worn after the death of his family. It was the look of questioning and self-doubt, 'How could I have prevented it? What could I have done? Why?' These were questions he had asked himself every morning as he had stared at his reflection. And again every night as he had stared into the glass filled with amber liquid. He had asked the questions so many times that the sound of his own voice, the one in his head, drove him to the brink. He had drank until he could not stand and prayed to catch a bullet and die, so that he could join his family.

One thing had kept him alive through those times-Buck Wilmington. Buck had protected him from the bullets and knives, and himself until the time that he no longer heard his voice. Instead, he heard Sarah's sighs and Adam's laughter. He saw his wife and son in dreams and not in nightmares.. Dreams in which they spoke to him of their love. They told him they would wait, that he did not have to hurry to meet them. And he began to hear other voices. These were the voices of friends that supported him through those hard years. They were the voices of Orrin Travis and Buck Wilmington. Soon, they were joined by others-Vin Tanner and Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson and Ezra Standish. Mary Travis and her son Billy were there also. All these people drew him away from the dark thoughts. And JD Dunne was a part of that chorus of voices. They all combined to form a lifeline of unbreakable strength, his way back to the living.

Buck had that kind of lifeline. He was friendly and easy-going most of the time. Many people counted him as a friend. Chris knew of very few people who did not like Buck and most of them were criminals. But of the dozens of strands making up that rope, JD's strand was the thickest. JD was Buck's most treasured friend. They were closer than most brothers or even fathers and sons. The relationship was almost symbiotic where one was dependent on the other.

Chris knew the guilt Buck felt. And he knew it was misplaced. But telling the man would accomplish nothing. This was something you had to learn on your own. The best thing Chris could do for Buck was to stick close and protect him until he forgave himself for the perceived injustice done to a friend.

Chris reached over and placed a hand on the man's shoulder. Buck did not turn, but simply shrugged the comforting hand away. He wasn't ready yet. Chris understood and turned back to the scene out the windshield. Vin leaned forward and Chris acknowledged his presence with a nod. The blond team leader felt, more than saw, the sharpshooter retake his seat. While drew his strength from JD, Chris seemed to draw his from Tanner.

The ride down the mountain was long and quiet. No one spoke, no one had the words to relieve the fear and guilt that Wilmington and Ellison were feeling. Until the two men were reunited with their partners, they were as dangerous to approach as the criminals they sought each day.

Two hours later, the van pulled up and parked in front of the hospital. The doors were thrown open and the men piled out the vehicle. Wilmington and Ellison were first through the automatic doors. They found the ER and asked the first nurse they found about the two young men. She told them that she would find out what she could and asked that they take a seat in the waiting room.

The waiting room was a small room and it seemed even smaller as the eight men took seats or stood around the area. Chris kept himself close to his long time friend, but did not crowd him. Tanner joined Chris on the worn couch that sat against one wall.

"How do you think he's doing?" Vin indicated Buck with a tilt of his head.

Chris watched as Buck paced the length of the room. "Won't know until we find out about the kid."

Vin nodded. And they went back to their silent vigil..

Thirty minutes later, a man in surgical scrubs walked in. "Sandburg? Anyone here for Sandburg?" He stepped back as eight men stood and approached.

One man stepped forward from the group. Dirt and grim still clung to the clothes and skin of the man. "I'm his partner, Jim Ellison."

The doctor extended his hand, "Mitch Bonner. Mr. Sandburg is resting easy. We took him to surgery soon after he arrived. We only got out a few minutes ago. It was necessary to repair the gash on his leg. The damage was deep and infected. We had to open the wound and perform a debridement it. There was a fair amount of dirt and gravel imbedded. We closed the wound and he should be in a room within ten minutes. He was slightly dehydrated and running a fever. We put him on antibiotics and, barring any unforeseen circumstances, he should be fine in a few days."

Jim Ellison visibly relaxed. He thanked the doctor and turned to the detective. "Simon, could you find the rest of the squad and let them know?"

Banks gripped the blue eyed detective's arm and nodded. He handed Jim the keys to the van. "I'm going back to the bullpen with the others. We had your truck brought back. It's outside. I'll leave the van. That way Larabee's team can use it, since I know you won't be leaving anytime soon."

Simon shook hands with Larabee and the others. Chris thanked him for the help and followed him out, telling the others he would be right back.

Jim heard Chris as he thanked each member of the Major Crimes squad for their assistance. Ellison smiled as they told the man they were glad to be there and sent their good wishes for JD's recovery.

Jim then turned to see the haunted eyes of Buck Wilmington looking through him to the doorway. Jim had gotten his answer, his guide, his friend would be alright. Buck had not been given that release, that emotional relief. Jim placed his hand on the distraught man's shoulder and gripped the broad expanse.

"He's a good kid, Buck. He saved Blair's life and he never stopped trying to get them both out. I think he'll be fine. His heart is strong. Tell him when you see him, that Blair still owes him a fish fry."

Buck met Jim's eyes and, with a slight smile, he nodded. Jim turned to leave as Chris was reentering the room.

"Detective. We'll see you a little later" Jim nodded and headed down the hall, following the steady beat of the familiar heartbeat.

Jim pushed open the door to Blair's room. He crossed the small expanse and stood at the side of the bed, watching his friend sleep. Blair's leg was propped up and heavily bandaged. Painful looking scrapes adorned his left cheek and forehead. Someone had tried clean the dirt from the long curly hair and scruffy face, but Jim could still make the small particles of earth clinging to the skin and scalp. The Sentinel studied the particles, bits of stone and dirt…

..warmth, a light touch on his cheek, softly murmured words, "Jiimmm..come on big guy. Come on."

Light blue eyes blinked slowly and then came into focus. They met darker blue and locked. A smile crept onto the stern face.

"Hey, Chief. 'Bout time you woke up."

Blair gave a hoarse chuckle. "About time 'I' woke up? Who was zoning on ..what? My hair?"

Jim's smile grew as did the color in his face. Blair was right. He had focused on the grains of dirt and zoned for an unknown amount of time. Glancing at his watch, he was relieved to note that it only been a few minutes. He would need to careful about using his senses until he had time to rest and recover from the effects of the concussion he had received. Jim saw the worry in the young man's eyes.

"Don't fret, Chief. I know I look like hell, but I'm fine. Just tired."

Blair didn’t utter a word, but his expression asked, "..and?"

Jim shook his head. "Okay, I have a slight concussion and some bruises, but nothing serious." Jim heard Blair's heartbeat slow slightly as he relaxed. The younger man glanced down at himself and back to the blue gaze above him. "You're good, buddy. They cleaned the scrapes and scrubbed you clean. Pretty much in good shape, except for the gash on the back of your leg. And that should heal fine."

"I knew you would come, if you could. I was afraid that.." Emotion choked the voice of the guide. "I thought you might have been hurt ..or worse when it took so long. How's JD?"

"He's still being looked at. I really don't know anything." Jim placed his hand on the top of the curly hair, entwining his fingers in the curly locks. "Sorry, Blair. I wish I could have gotten there sooner."

"We were trying to move to the back when that last quake hit. The kid took care of me the whole time. He cleaned my leg and kept me safe. He was working on clearing the entrance every time I woke up." Blair's eyes filled with tears. Jim gripped his hand in support. "He tossed me under the outcropping when we heard the rumble. I don't remember much after that. When I came to, I found him under the rocks." Blair's voice cracked as he recalled the scene.

''Blair, you were lucky to have him with you. As soon as he's up to visitors, we'll go see him." Jim made a mental note to thank the young man when he got a chance. He just hoped he got that opportunity.

Buck was beginning to lose the tentative hold he had on his temper. They had been waiting two hours. It had been almost five hours since they had brought JD and Blair out of the cave. Jim had come back to see if they had any word on Dunne yet. Josiah accompanied the detective back to Blair's room.

Ezra and Nathan went to hunt down coffee and some food for the group. Chris elected to stay close to Buck in case some word came about the kid. Vin sat with Chris and they watched as Buck grew more anxious. The tension was thick in the small room.

When the doctor finally came in , they moved as one to meet him.

"Gentlemen, you are here with Mr. Dunne?"

"How is he?" Buck blurted out. His head jerked to look at Chris as that man took hold of his forearm. Wilmington took a deep breath and released it slowly.

"I'm Chris Larabee, with the ATF. Agent Dunne is one of my men, Doctor..?"

"Stanley." The man took hold of the hand Chris extended and returned the firm handshake.

"This is Vin Tanner and Buck Wilmington. Buck is JD's partner."

The doctor gave a knowing nod to Buck. "Gentlemen, Mr. Dunne is resting comfortably in his room. His condition is guarded. He received several blows to the head. We've run CAT scans and a MRI. He has a fracture of the occipital portion of the skull." The doctor indicated the back of his head. The men nodded.

Nathan Jackson and Ezra Standish came through the door as the doctor continued. Chris motioned the team EMT over as he held up his hand to the doctor.

"Doctor Stanley, these are two more members of our team. Nathan is our EMT. If you wouldn't mind explaining to him about JD's injuries."

The doctor smiled and directed his findings at Nathan.

"As I was telling your companions, Mr. Dunne has a fracture of the occipital lobe. There is no swelling of the brain tissue as of yet, so we're keeping an eye on his pressures. His left scapula is cracked. We immobilized the shoulder and it should heal on it's own. He has multiple cuts and contusions. His hands are very cut up. I understand he was in a cave-in and was moving rocks. They'll be sore for a while and we need to watch for any infection, but again, they will heal." Looking around the room at all the men, he hesitated as he finished his assessment. "For right now, the young man is still unconscious. I don't feel too concerned about this at the moment, but if it continues, we could be looking at a feeding tube. But that's not something we need to worry about just now. He is in room 1109. I'll be in to check on him later this morning and the nurses know to call if there is any change."

"Thank you, Doctor Stanley." Nathan shook the man's hand. Turning, the doctor left the men alone.

Buck headed for the door, not waiting on the others. Chris asked Ezra to locate Josiah and inform him where to find them

"Certainly, Mr. Larabee. I will join you in Mr. Dunne's room in a short while." Ezra nodded to the others and left.

Chris, Vin, and Nathan followed Buck down the hallway.

Buck hesitated as he reached the door. Steeling himself, he pushed the door open and entered. His breath sounded loud in the quiet room. He walked over to the bed and looked at the young man that had become such an important part of his life.

JD looked pale and his breathing was shallow. But he was alive and that was all

Buck cared about right now. He reached out and touched the cool skin of the boy's cheek. Buck didn't move as the Nathan and Vin joined him.

Nathan looked at the monitors. He examined the boy as the two men looked on. Buck stood with a hand on the dark hair, stroking absently. Vin looked on with interest. Nathan finished and stepped back. He felt two pair of eyes on him.

"Well, you can't be too careful." He said defensively.

Vin chuckled. Buck smiled, a weak smile, but a smile.

Vin placed a hand on Wilmington's back. "He'll be fine, Buck. Give 'em a day and you'll be complaining 'bout how much he's talking."

"I hope you're right, Vin. All I know for sure is that it's been too quiet at home. I need him at home. I don't care how much he talks, as long as he's there." Buck never took his eyes off the boy as he spoke.

Chris entered the room and stopped at the end of the bed. Vin looked over.

"Where you been, Cowboy?"

Buck looked over at Chris. He frowned as the blond looked down and then back up. Buck saw his arm extend and the bag that he held.

"Nurse stopped me outside and gave me this. It's JD's personal effects." Chris released the bag to Buck. "She thought we would want to keep them for him."

Buck held the bag out as if afraid of the contents. Slowly, he drew the bag to his body and tucked it into the crook of his arm. He turned back to the figure in the bed.

Chris inclined his head toward the door. Vin and Nathan told Buck they would be in the waiting room down the hall and they would see him later. Buck was vaguely aware of them greeting Ezra and Josiah in the hall.

Chris came around the bed and stood next to his long time friend and partner. "He'll be okay, Buck. You'll see."

"He better be." Buck whispered.

Chris nodded. He stepped back, turned and left the room.

Buck stood a while longer, then pulled a chair next to the bed and sat down. He continued to watch the boy sleep. The man was always took by surprise by how young JD looked when he was asleep Or should he say unconscious. The man decided that he had seen his friend this way too many times. Buck leaned back in the chair and ran his hands over his face, feeling the dirt embedded there.

Glancing over at the bed again, he stood and went to the small bathroom. There, he washed his hands and face. He stood looking at the face that stared back at him. Buck barely recognized himself. His eyes were sunken and ringed in dark circles. Whiskers covered his jaw. Buck hadn't eaten in what seemed like days. He hadn't slept well since JD had stormed out of the office five days prior. No, make that six days ago.

He sighed at the vision before him. 'You look worse then you feel. And you feel like shit.' Buck put a hand over his reflection and bowed his head. He concentrated on breathing deeply and could feel the tension drain away some.

He went back toward the bed and noticed the bag that held everything JD had on him when he arrived. Buck sat down and opened the bag. He reached in and extracted the contents. He picked up and fingered the cloth of the shirt and jeans, then placed them back in the bag. He picked up the watch and fingered the case. He remembered the day Casey gave him the watch. It was Valentine's Day, last year. JD had been so pleased with the gift.

He found change in the bottom of the bag, along with a pack of gum, half empty. There was a gum wrapper with no gum in it, a small pocket knife, two screws, a washer, a wadded up receipt, keys. Buck smiled when he saw the apartment key still hanging off the ring. JD's locker key hung between the keys to the office and his motorcycle. Buck fingered each item before dropping them back into the bag. The black wallet JD had gotten from Vin for last Christmas was the only thing left. Buck caressed the leather and the lettering that was embossed on it- JD.

Buck felt a little guilty, but opened the wallet anyway. He checked the money and found thirty dollars. 'Now, where the hell was he planning on going with only thirty dollars in his pocket?' He rolled his eyes and chuckled. The wallet also held a drivers license, ATM card, two gas cards, and a VISA credit card. Buck flipped through pictures he found behind the cards. The first one had been taken at the New Years party last year. It showed JD with his arms wrapped around Casey. They were dressed to the nines and made a great looking couple, Buck thought. He blinked away the tears that welled up at the sight of the kid so happy and smiling. The image was far different from the angry young man that had stormed out of the office just five days prior.

The next plastic window contained a picture of all seven members of Team Seven. They had been on vacation over the holidays and taken a trip to Chris' cabin. JD had insisted they needed a picture to remember the trip, since it was one of the few in which they all arrived back home healthy. He had gotten the gas station attendant to take a couple of shots. They had come out pretty good and the kid had printed 5x7's for each man. He had presented each one a framed picture the week after they got back to work. The next picture was of JD's mom. It was old and worn, showing a young girl in cut-off jeans and short top. She had the same black hair and bright smile that her son possessed.

The last picture took Buck by surprise. He found his own reflection showing through the window. He had no idea when it had been taken, but he guessed it was out at the ranch. He was wearing jeans and a blue t-shirt. He had a blue plaid flannel shirt over the t-shirt and was standing at the corral with his arms draped over the top rail. The smile he wore, frozen by the camera, hinted of something happening in the corral, but he could not remember what was happening or when it was. He had no idea that the shot had been taken, it made him proud that the boy had singled him out.

Buck started to fold the wallet and put it back in the bag when a slip of paper fluttered out and landed on the floor. He reached down and picked it up. When he saw the name written on the paper, his hand froze.


He lay the wallet in the bag and fingered the sheet of paper in his hand. It was dirty and had smudges of blood on it, meaning it had probably just placed in the wallet. Buck considered not opening the paper, but he decided if it was addressed to him, it was meant to be read by him. He unfolded the paper and read.. 'Hey, Buck..'


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