Buck looked at his watch. Four hours, JD had been in surgery for four hours. He stood and began to pace. Again. He heard Nathan sigh and glanced at the tall black man and shrugged.
"Buck, I'm not going to ask again. Sit down. Your pacing is making us crazy."
"I can't just sit here, Nathan. I have to do something."
"Turn on the TV, read a book. Anything, but pace."
Buck watched as Nathan's eyes glanced over at Casey Wells and back to meet Buck's. The blue eyes looked at the young woman, curled into a ball on the end of the couch and staring at the table of two-year-old magazines. Wilmington went to the couch. Sitting down, he gathered the slight form into his arms. He felt a small hand grasp his shirt as she moved as close as possible to his side.
"Casey," he whispered. "It's okay, little girl. That doc 'll come out in a minute and everything will be just fine." He gently rocked as she silently cried into his chest.
Nathan had risen and moved to the doorway. He looked down the to see Ezra and Josiah headed their way. He caught Buck's attention and pointed down the hallway. When the man nodded, Nathan stepped out and met the two other agents.
"Mr. Jackson, any word on our young companion yet?"
Nathan shook his head. "They took him into surgery about four hours ago. We haven't heard anything since then."
"Four hours?" Josiah repeated. "Doesn't that strike you as a long time, Nathan?"
"No. A lot of damage will need to be repaired. Four hours isn't that unusual." Nathan glanced around and then asked, "How did ya'll get here?"
"We called a cab."
"Sorry. Didn't think about the fact that we stranded ya'll over there."
"Where's Buck?" Ezra asked.
"He's with Casey. Girl's still pretty upset. Chris and Vin went to the police station. Did you hear what started this?"
The two agents nodded. "We were able to interview Mr. Davis briefly at the apartment. He insisted that Mr. Wilmington should be detained as a rape suspect."
"Yeah. Two detectives showed up here. Craig Turner and a young guy, Tom Bracket Bracken something like that. They talked to Casey and made a video of Buck to show to this guy's sister. Chris and Vin followed them back to " Nathan broke off as the two men in question rounded the corner.
The two joined the others, creating an impassible barrier in the hallway.
"Boys." Chris glanced at the three, an eyebrow cocked up.
"We still haven't heard anything. How did it go at the station?"
His face was as somber as ever, but he's voice was soft as he replied. "She cleared him. We don't have any thing to worry about in that respect."
Josiah clapped a hand on Jackson's shoulder. "Thank the Lord."
Ezra's eyes closed as he took a deep breath and he smiled. "Yes, indeed. Might I suggest we go relieve Mr. Wilmington of at least that one burden?"
The five men moved back down the hall to the waiting area. Buck looked up as they entered and his blue eyes met Chris' green ones. Larabee nodded. Every man saw the relief in Wilmington's face. He still held the girl under one arm as he relaxed against the back of the seat and closed his eyes. The five men spread out around the room and made themselves comfortable and waited.
Thirty minutes later, they all rose as Doctor Cope walked into the room. He gave them a weary smile as he explained, "He did really well. The bullet bisected his abdomen from front left to rear right. While there was damage to the intestines, the bullet missed everything else."
Nathan smiled and the others relaxed some at that. "No involvement of the kidneys or liver? No arterial damage?"
Robert Cope grinned and shook his head. "No, Nathan, none. Of course, with JD having lost his spleen last year, we will have to watch for infection, but we've cleaned the site and started him on strong antibiotics. There was perforation of the bowels and some waste leakage into his system, but I'm fairly certain since we got the antibiotics started that we may be able to avoid infection. We'll keep a close eye on his stats for the next couple of days."
The doctor looked at each of the people standing around him. "Anyone have any questions?"
"When can we see 'im?" Buck asked.
Glancing at his watch, Doctor Cope stated, "He's going into recovery at the moment. I would say give them fifteen minutes. I'll have one of the nurses come get you. Two people only, and only for a couple of minutes. He was starting to come around before I left, but he's pretty drowsy. Just let him know that you're here for him."
Buck clenched Casey close to his side as Chris nodded his thanks to the physician. Nathan extended a hand to the man, who accepted it before turning and leaving the room.
The seven people milled around the room. Finally Larabee glanced at his watch. "Alright everyone, there's no need in us all hanging around here." Chris held up his hand as five mouths opened in protest. "Buck, I know you're staying. Vin? Josiah, Ezra and Nathan need rides back to their vehicles. You take the Ram and take them to their cars and all three of you go home. Vin, you come back. I'll take Casey after she'd had a chance to see the kid. Then I'll take you to the office to get your Jeep." Chris had pulled his keys out and tossed them to the sharpshooter as he spoke. "I'll see all of you first thing in the morning after I make sure everything is fine here, but someone has to go to the office and get some work done. We have cases pending and paperwork to file. Go home, get some rest, and I'll see you in the morning."
The four men nodded. Ezra took hold of Casey's hand and placed a light kiss on the back. "I am most relieved that young John will recover, Miss Wells. I assure you that if you have need of anything, you have merely to ring me and it shall be done. Good morning to you."
"Thank you, Ezra." She smiled shyly at the southerner.
"Buck, don't you worry. The boy will be just fine. Robert is an excellent doctor. He'll take good care of 'im" Nathan said reassuringly.
"I'll say a prayer for the lad, Buck. You take care of yourself. JD will need you strong when he comes home."
"Thanks, boys. I'll see ya in the morning."
Vin clapped Buck on the back and nodded. "Chris, I'll see ya in a few."
The room seemed large and silent after the men left. The three remaining people moved to the couch and chairs closest to the door and waited. Wilmington sat next to Casey and slowly became aware of movement. He looked over and saw her twisting a ring. He reached out and gently took her hand and examined the band.
"He finally gave it to ya?"
Casey looked at the band, a blush coloring her face. She looked up at the man and saw a wistful expression. She recognized the deep affection the big agent had for his roommate in that expression. She reached up and stroked his face just once and smiled. No words were spoken as they sat, waiting.
They waited for thirty minutes and Wilmington began to get antsy. He stood and stretched, glancing down the hallway. Turning back to the room, he asked no one in particular. "He said fifteen minutes. What's taking so long?"
His answer was silence. He moved away from the door and stared out into the dark night. The reflection of the door revealed the nurse as she walked in and he spun around to meet her at the chair where Larabee had just risen.
"Teresa." Chris greeted. He didn't know if it was a comfort or a concern that he knew most of the nurses' by name.
"Dr. Cope said two people could go in, but I won't tell if you all three go in. He's about half awake. Just don't expect a coherent answer."
The three followed as she led the way down the hall and into recovery. They entered the cold room and saw that only three beds were occupied. JDs black hair made him easy to spot. Crossing the room, they approached the bed quietly. Buck stretched an arm out to grasp JDs cool hand and rubbed his thumb across the back. There was an IV in the opposite hand and three blankets were piled on top of him. Casey stood to one side of the mustached agent and Chris on the other. They watched as the young mans mouth twitched and his eyes fought to open. Finally, hazel eyes opened, closed and opened again.
"Hey, kid, youre doing fine. Just fine." Buck spoke softly.
"Buck? Is Casey okay?"
"Im right here, JD. Im fine."
The hazel eyes shifted to the girls face. Casey smiled at the sight and she leaned over the placed a light kiss on his cheek. "Get better," she whispered.
He blinked slowly and watched as she backed away. He turned his eyes back to Buck and started to speak. "Buck "
"No, quiet. Well talk later. You rest. Everything is fine." JD nodded and his eyes moved to meet the team leaders as he stood next to the shoulder of Wilmington.
Chris face was stern, but he inclined his head in acknowledgement.
JDs eyes grew heavy, as he looked back his roommate.
"Hey, happy birthday, kiddo."
JD chuckled and then grimaced. "Dont dont make me laugh."
"Sorry, kid." He patted the hand he had been holding. "Rest. Well see ya in the morning."
The dark head nodded briefly and his eyes slid closed again.
The nurse had ushered them back out. "Are you going back to the waiting room?"
Buck answered. "Yes, maam. Ill be in there."
"Ill come get you when we move him to his room. Should be in a couple of hours."
The nurse returned to recovery as Chris clapped Buck on the shoulder. "Lets go take a seat."
Returning to the waiting room, they found Vin Tanner waiting for them. The sharpshooter stood as they entered, the question in his eyes.
"Hes good. Resting." Chris informed him. Vin nodded. Chris turned to Buck. "You staying?"
All three men turned to the petite young woman. She had moved close to Buck and now leaned against him. Buck wrapped an arm around her. "Darlin, you okay?" He felt her nod under his arm. "Chris and Vin are going to take you home." Feeling her tense, he placed a hand on her cheek. "I know you want to stay, but theres no need. Ill keep an eye on our boy. You go home and rest."
"You should go home, too. Hes going to sleep until tomorrow."
"I know, but Ill get some sleep here. Dont you worry bout ole Buck, Ill be fine." He placed a kiss on her cheek. "You go with Chris and Vin and Ill see you tomorrow. If you need a ride or need anything at all, you call one of us. You have all the numbers?"
She giggled. "Buck, I have more numbers than you do."
The big man had to smile at that. He bent down low and whispered into her ear. "I wont tell JD, darlin."
"Buck, you " and she lightly slapped his arm as he laughed. The mood in the room had lightened considerable.
Wilmington gave her a light squeeze as he looked at Chris over her head. Larabee nodded. He would deliver the girl to her door and make sure she got in safely. Buck released the girl and watched as Vin Tanner took her arm, drawing her close. Clapping Buck on the arm, Chris shook hands with Buck.
"You call if you need anything; if anything happens." He looked hard at his old friend and Buck smiled.
"Ill see ya in the morning. Dont worry about me. Or the kid. Well be fine."
Chris led the way out the doorway. Casey followed with Vin supporting her. Tanner gave a quick nod and disappeared. Buck stood with his hands resting on his hips. He took a deep breath and then got as comfortable as possible on the plastic couch. Before too long, the sound of snoring was heard coming from the room.
+ + + + + + +
It was five in the morning when the nurse came to wake the sleeping agent.
"Mr. Wilmington? Sir?"
Buck sat up quickly, looking around. "Yeah?" He squinted as he looked up at the woman. Remembering where he was and why, he jumped to his feet. "Is JD all right? Theres not a problem is there?"
"No. Mr. Dunne is sleeping. Nurse Kimber told me to inform you that we'll be taking him to his room in a few minutes. She said you were welcome to go up with us if you like."
Buck was on his feet before the woman stopped speaking. "You just lead the way, maam. Ill be right behind ya." He graced her with a brilliant smile. Blushing, she turned and led him back down the hall to recovery.
The door opened as they arrived and an orderly was pulling JDs bed out. Teresa was at the head of the bed, pushing. She smiled when she saw Buck. He was rumpled, his hair was standing up on one side, and his beard shadowed his jaw, but he looked all the concerned big brother as he gazed at the sleeping youth. His face softened and his eyes seemed to drink in everything about the condition of the young agent. Accepting that the young man was sleeping easy, Buck looked at the people around him, relaxing and nodding to each one.
He followed in the beds wake to an elevator and up two floors. They moved down the hallway and swung into a room across from the nurses station. Buck stood just outside the door as they set the bed in place and hooked up monitors. A nurse from that station joined them, assisting and checking the readings. Teresa touched Wilmington on the arm briefly as she moved past.
"You take care of him. I dont want to see you boys back in here for a while. Any of you." She gave him a stern look, followed by a smile. He patted her hand as he nodded.
"Well do our best. You just give such good service." He gave a little smile as he joked with her.
After everyone had left, the tall agent crossed the room to stand by the bed. Once again he followed the urge to reassure himself that the young man was breathing easy and resting comfortably. That done, he pulled a chair close to the bed, made himself comfortable and drifted off to sleep watching the young man as he slept.
That was how Larabee found them later that morning. Both JD and Buck were asleep. Wilmington was slouched down in the chair with his ankles crossed. The stitching on his back pocket was about the only thing holding him in the chair. The man was going to need muscle relaxers if he planned on being able to move later, Chris thought to himself.
"Buck," the blond said softly.
"Hmmm?" Buck mumbled. He moved to sit up and found his neck stiff and his tailbone just about on the floor. Running his hand over the frozen muscles of his neck, he moved back on to the seat of the chair. "Chris? What time is it?" He looked at his own watch even as he asked.
"Nine. They been in to see JD yet?"
"Yeah." Buck stated as he stood up and tried to limber up the stiffened muscles. He moved to stand next to the bed. "Doc came in around six thirty and checked 'im out; said everything looked good. Boy can't have any solid food for a while, though. He'll be drinking everything for a few days."
Buck's eyes flicked over at Chris. Larabee's mouth was pinched in a tight straight line. Buck looked away. "Chris "
Buck chuckled softly. "You dont even know what I was going to say."
"You were going to say this was your fault. It wasnt. You were going to say thanks for going to bat for you with the police. It isnt necessary. Or you were going to start with the what ifs. Dont." The blonde looked at the man he had known for over a decade. "That about cover it?"
Bucks eyebrows rose as he smiled and shook his head. "Yeah. I guess that about covers it."
They stood in silence for a few minutes before finally taking up residence in the chairs. Waiting was a boring proposition, but they were rewarded for their patience as JD began to stir. Both men stood and moved close to the bed and watched as the young man struggled out of his drug-induced sleep.
JD rolled his head to the side as he opened his eyes and closed them again. He had caught a quick glimpse of two people next to his bed, but didnt reopen his eyes. He knew one of them was Buck. The other would be one of the team, probably Chris, JD reasoned. Finally, he opened his eyes. After a couple of attempts, he succeeded in keeping them open and smiled at the two men looking down at him.
"Hey. How you doin?" Buck asked.
JD nodded as he licked his lips. Buck picked up a cup and turned the straw in the direction of the dry lips, which JD gratefully accepted.
As the big agent placed the cup back on the table, Chris asked. "How do you feel, JD?"
"Im fine. A little tired, but I feel fine." He tried to push himself up in the bed and a little grunt had Buck reaching out a restraining hand.
"Hold on there, kid. Lets just set the bed up a bit for ya."
JD bit his upper lip as he nodded slowly. As the head of the bed rose, the new angle relieved some of the tension in his lower abdominal muscles. "Yeah, thats better. Thanks, Buck."
JD wiggled around and got comfortable. He closed his eyes as he released a sigh of relief. The contented sound brought a smile to Wilmingtons face and he reached out to place his hand on his roommates bicep. JD turned his head to look at him.
"You remember the guy with the gun?" Chris asked. JDs brow knitted as he tried to remember the previous evening. His eyes flew wide-open and locked with Bucks. The man patted the arm under his palm as Chris detailed the events after the assault. "Buck pulled the guy off of you and Josiah and Ezra held him for the police. We heard his story about the sister."
JD pushed himself away from the pillow. "I told im he was wrong, that you could never do anything like that."
Buck gently pushed him back. "I know, kid. Casey told us everything. You dont have to explain anything to me."
JD blushed as he said, "I know, Buck. I just wanted you to know."
Buck gripped the young mans arm as Chris continued. "The sister cleared Buck last night."
JD visibly relaxed into the soft pillow, smiling. "Good. I was worried that it was a set-up or something."
Chris snorted. Kids starting to think like me.
"Doc was in earlier. Said they would be in this afternoon to get you up and moving a little bit." Buck looked apologetic as JD groaned. "You know the drill. Faster you get to moving around, the sooner you can get out of here."
"Yeah, I know, I know. But it's going to hurt."
"Hey, you're a big boy, you can handle it." Buck reassured him. JD's response was a rolling of eyes.
The two men stood quietly for a few minutes and JD's eyes grew heavy. He fought sleep, but finally gave in to the drugs still in his system. They moved back to the chairs and sat down.
They had been talking quietly for a while when Vin and Josiah came in.
"How's he doing?" Josiah inquired.
"Fine. Sleeping a lot."
Tanner nodded. "That's good."
Chris glanced around. "Ezra and Nathan not with ya?"
Josiah had moved over to stand in front of the window. He leaned against the wall as he explained. "Nathan and Raine had plans this morning. They were scheduled to work the children's health fair. I spoke with him on the way home last night and assured our friend that no hard feelings would result from him fulfilling his promise. I hope that I am correct."
Chris nodded. "I remember him telling me about it now."
Buck chuckled. "There sure isn't any need for all of us to be sitting here watching the kid sleep."
"No need for anyone to watch me sleep." JD mumbled. He put his hand across his abdomen as he sat straighter. "I love that ya'll are here, but you don't have to baby-sit me. Go home." He breathed a heavy sigh of relief at the end of the short, but exhausting statement.
"Now, boy "
"Buck, please. I plan to sleep. You need rest." JD turned to face the man he shared a home with. "Go home and rest. Come back later."
The plea was interrupted as Ezra and Casey entered the room. JDs eyes lit up at the sight of the young woman.
"Hey, JD. How are you?" She approached the bed and placed a kiss on the young mans cheek.
"Hey, Case. Im fine."
Ezra moved to stand next to the bed, studying the youngest member of the team. "Well, I must say, Mr. Dunne, you are looking much improved from the last time I saw you."
"Thanks, Ezra. I feel much better. Just a little tired." He glanced at the men gathered around the room. "Tired of arguing with everyone."
"Why would your friends be arguing with you, sir? Seems they would want to accommodate an injured team member, not cause him undue stress."
JD smiled and waving his hand around at the men. "You need to tell them that."
Buck pushed himself to his feet. "Well, hell, son. I can take a hint."
That brought a chuckle from the others. Josiah shook his head as he said, "Not if it's subtle."
Feigning injury, he placed his hand over his heart. "I am maligned. I I"
"You are at a loss for words." Ezra finished.
JD pushed against his abdomen. "Oh, don't make me laugh. Please."
Casey was standing next to the bed and she reached over to push a lock of dark hair behind JD's ear, absently wiping at the sweat that trickled down his neck. "You hot, JD?"
"Just a little." He lay back against the pillow and closed his eyes. Hearing movement, he wasn't startled to feel a hand touch his forehead. But the next words spoken startled him enough to open his eyes.
"Don't worry, Doc said we could expect a little fever, Vin." Buck informed the man.
JD looked up into the light blue eyes of the team sharpshooter. He could see Tanner's jaw muscle flexing as he removed his hand.
"I'm fine, Vin." But JD saw doubt in the blue eyes. "Really. I am. Tired and sore, but I'm good."
A slight nod was the quiet man's way of saying he would take JD at his word. Vin stepped away from the bed and the space was quickly filled with the form of JD's resident keeper and 'big brother'.
"Listen, kid. If you're sure, I'm going to get a ride home. I need to clean up and take a nap. I'll be back this afternoon."
JD nodded as the man gripped his wrist and squeezed slightly. "I'll see ya later, Buck."
Chris patted the young man's foot and tossed a hand up.
"I'll see you guys later?"
Larabee looked at each man as they nodded. "Game is at eight. You want to watch it with us?"
JD smiled. "Sounds like a plan. I should be awake by then."
"Good. See ya around eight."
Ezra hesitated at the door as the others said their goodbyes. "Miss Wells, will you be accompanying me or should I ring back?"
Casey glanced down to see JD smile shyly. "Ill hang around for a while. Aunt Nettie is going to come by and I'll get a ride home from her."
"Excellent. Should something prevent her arrival, you feel free to call. I will not hesitate to provide transportation for you."
"Thanks, Mr. Standish."
"Yeah, thanks, Ezra."
"It is my pleasure. I shall see you this evening, JD." He then left the two young people alone.
"Sure you want to stay, Case? I'm probably going to sleep most of the day."
"No problem. I brought some work to do. I just want to be close for a while." Her voice wavered on the last word and she brought her hand to her mouth, covering the quavering lip.
JD reached out, taking her other hand in his. "I'm sorry about scaring ya last night, Casey. It wasn't exactly what I had planned."
She took his hand in both of hers and brought it to her face. She kissed his palm as his fingers lightly touched her cheek. Smiling, she placed his hand on his chest.
"It wasn't your fault. Only thing that matters is that you are going to be okay. I can deal with anything as long as you are going to be okay." She rubbed his arm. "Now, you get some sleep. I have some studying to do. You need anything, I'll be right here."
Casey stepped away and moved to sit in the chair Buck had spent the night in. She listened as JD moved around, getting comfortable. Within a very few minutes, his breathing evened out and she knew he was sleeping. With shaking hands, she picked up her bag and pulled out the book she needed to study for a test later in the week. Opening the cover, she told herself softly, "I can handle anything as long as you're here, JD. Just don't leave me. Please." She rolled her shoulders, feeling the muscles relax a little, and began to read the textbook.
Three Days Later
JD was ready to come home. He never liked having to stay in the hospital, especially once he felt better and could move around.
Wilmington walked through the door to find his partner dressed to go and waiting impatiently. It was Saturday morning and Buck had delayed coming as long as he could. He hoped it had been long enough.
"Hey, kid. Well, I guess I don't have to ask if you're ready."
JD hopped off the bed as best as he could and reached for the gym bag that held his things as he replied. "Heck, Buck, I thought you were coming early. I've been sitting here for hours. I was going to call a cab, but you have my wallet."
The tall agent had moved across the room and slapped the young man's hand away from the bag. "I'll get that."
The nurse showed up at the door with a wheelchair and stood quietly as JD shook his head. "You ladies spend three days making me walk, yet when I get ready to leave, you want to wheel me out in a wheelchair."
"That way I have an excuse to be around your sweet little face a while longer."
JD blushed as he moved across the room and took a seat. Buck only laughed as he hefted the bag and grabbed the ivy that the girls from the office had sent.
Once they were downstairs, Buck left the nurse watching over JD and went to get the truck. He pulled up out front and she pushed JD out the door.
"JD, you take care, all right? You were a very good patient, but I don't want to see you back in here again."
"Yes, ma'am." He told her. He climbed into the truck and started to buckle his belt when Buck stopped him.
"Here, kid. I brought this to cushion your stomach."
JD recognized a pillow from the couch. It usually lay in the corner of the room after being tossed at someone's head. Holding the soft cushion in place, he pulled the buckle around and clicked it in place. He realized how good an idea the pillow was as he pulled the belt tight across his lap.
"Thanks, Buck. That really helps."
"No problem. I've been there and those belts aren't too comfortable on an incision."
JD settled back as Wilmington waved to the nurse and dropped the big block motor into gear. They hadn't gone far before JD turned to his partner.
"No one else was coming with ya, today?"
"Well, ya kind'a run us off the other day, so they decided it would be best to not crowd ya, 'til ya felt a little better." Buck explained.
"Oh, yeah. Well that's fine. I was just wondering." The young man's face fell a little with the words, but he smiled slightly and settled against the door.
They continued the trip in silence. The townhouse the two men shared was not far and they arrived quickly. Buck heard the boy sigh as he unbuckled the belt and opened the door. Slamming his own door closed, he rushed around to help if the need arose.
JD staggered a little as he exited the truck. He was not surprised that Buck was there to offer a steadying hand. He smiled at the taller man as he accepted the help.
"You're doing fine. Tired?"
JD nodded as Wilmington grabbed the gym bag out of the back of the truck. The two started up the walk slowly. Buck started having second thoughts about what waited behind the door now, but it was too late to do anything about it. He promised himself to keep a close eye on the kid for the next couple of hours.
They had reached the entry and the tall agent unlocked the door and pushed it open. JD slowly entered, one hand pushed against the tender flesh of his abdomen, while the other reached in and flipped the light switch. The sight before him had him stepping back and reaching for a gun that wasnt there.
Buck was ready and placed a steadying hand against the boys back. To their credit, the people gathered inside didnt jump out at the injured agent, but stood quietly in the front room.
Chris Larabee stepped forward. "Welcome home, JD. We thought we would celebrate your birthday with you today, if you feel up to it, that is."
Once he recovered his breath, the young agent grinned at the blond team leader. "Wow, I was afraid you guys were mad at me."
Buck gave the younger man a little push into the apartment and closed the door after he stepped through himself. "Go on and sit down, kid." He walked past the young agent, tousling the dark hair as he did. He tossed the bag into JDs room and returned to the front room.
All the members of team seven, along with Raine and Casey, were sitting or standing around the room. Casey took a position next to JD as the young man sat down on the couch. She gave him a little peck on the cheek and squeezed his hand.
"What how long you guys been here? Hi, Raine." The young woman came forward with a drink in her hand, which she set in front of him. She bent down and placed a hand on his shoulder, looking him in the eyes.
"How are you doing, JD? Really doing."
He chuckled. "You and Nathan rehearse together? I feel fine. Yeah, Im a little tired and a little sore, but Im fine." Seeing her head tilt slightly, he added, "Really."
"Well, you just sit there and relax. Casey, you keep an eye on him for me."
"Oh, I plan to. Dont worry."
"I was wrong. You two are taking lessons from Buck."
"Hey, I heard that." Buck was in the kitchen getting food set out. He peeked around the corner to see the kid relaxing on the couch with Casey at his side. The tall agent was struck by how comforting the sight was. It seemed so right to have the young agent sharing a home with him. He knew sooner or later, JD would be moving out to start a home with the girl that sat at his side and the thought saddened him, but for now, he planned to enjoy the life that the young easterner breathed into the home.
Vin slapped Buck on the back as he passed to grab four beers from the refrigerator and then head back to the front room. Handing each Chris, Josiah and Nathan a beer, he dropped to the floor and sat cross-legged next to the coffee table. He watched closely as JD reached out and took his cola. He raised the beer in a salute to the only member of the team younger than him. JD smiled and returned the gesture.
Josiah and Nathan carried trays of snacks and chips from the kitchen to the table. A cake was already sitting on the back of the kitchen table next to a pile of presents. The next few minutes were spent with people getting food and finding a seat around the couch were JD remained seated.
"So, what happened with Davis?" JD asked. No one had told him a thing about the man that had accused Wilmington of rape and assault.
Each of the men looked to Larabee. "He pleaded guilty and waived a jury trial. Judge is reviewing the case and is set to hand down a judgment next week." Chris paused and looked at Buck. Wilmington nodded and Chris turned his attention back to JD. "Craig Turner called yesterday. Seems that since the story hit the news, three more women have come forward to report basically the same scenario as Jennifer Davis. Each cleared Buck with the same tape that Miss Davis looked at, so Buck is in the clear."
"Only problem is someone out there is claiming to be Buck and hurting people in the process." JD finished for the blonde.
Heads around the room nodded and the group fell silent. After a few moments, Wilmington jumped to his feet. "Hey, this a birthday party, isnt it? What we need are some presents and then cake."
He walked over to the table and grabbed a package, giving it a shake. "Now whos this from?"
"That would be my contribution and please refrain from shaking it, Mr. Wilmington." Ezra admonished.
"Well, is it going to break, Ez?"
"That is not the issue. Just give the package to the young man."
JD shook his head as Buck handed him the present with both hands cradling it. "Buck. Be nice."
"That'll be the day." Larabee joked as he turned up the beer bottle. Buck's eyebrows raised and his hands went to his chest in a 'who? me?' gesture at the comment and everyone chuckled at the man's antics.
It was a small, lightweight package and JD opened it carefully. Inside the box was a pair of tickets to a concert that JD had been trying to get tickets to for weeks. His jaw dropped as he stared at the tickets. "Ezra, howd you get these? I tried all the contacts I have and couldnt get anything. Wow! Theres backstage passes. Cool!"
"I will have you know that I had a hard time blocking your efforts to obtain these tickets. I had arranged with the promoters to get the passes before they were on sell. I hope you have a wonderful time, JD."
"Thanks, Ezra. These are great." JD turned to Casey and held up the tickets, his eyebrows going up. "Cool?"
She laughed and patted his arm. "Way cool."
Buck moved to grab another present and handed it to the kid.
"This one is from me, JD" Casey told him.
The present was large and flat. He removed the paper and found a matted and framed postcard of Bat Masterson. Actually, it was two postcards. The top one had a Bat Masterson stamp and was post marked from Laramie, Wyoming with the date of first issue, October 18, 1994. The second card showed the reverse side, detailing the life of the famed lawman. JD stared at the framed memento of the legendary gunfighter.
Casey watched him for a minute and finally asked. "JD?"
"This is great, Casey. I mean I whered you find this? This is so cool." He flipped the frame around to show it to the others. Watching the others, he missed the girls sigh of relief and Wilmingtons chuckle to her reaction.
"That is a part of the Classic Collection Set, Legends of the West, that the post office sold. It was a limited set, Casey. There were a total of twenty postcards in the set. A handsome gift, Miss Wells." Josiah spoke quietly.
"How do you remember such stuff, Josiah?" Nathan asked in awe. Then he waved his hands. "Never mind. That was a rhetorical question. All I know is, next time we play Trivial Pursuit, youre on my team."
The group chuckled. And Buck handed over another brightly wrapped package. "This one is from Vin, kid."
JD carefully removed the paper and whooped. He looked at his roommate as he muttered, "Oh, hell."
Pulling the box open, JD read the back. "Thanks, Vin. I was wanting one of these."
"What is it, JD?" Raine asked.
"Its a karaoke machine" he replied with a huge grin. The grin grew bigger at the moan from his roommate.
"Just remember, kid, you cant use it in the shower."
"Heck, Buck, I dont need it in there. The tiles work good enough."
Buck turned his dark blue eyes on Vin. "Tanner, you are a dead man."
The lop-sided smirk told Wilmington that he was not scaring the sharpshooter at all. Larabee just snorted at the implied threat.
The next present was from Nathan and Raine, and Josiah. JD opened the elaborately wrapped package. "I think that Raine must have wrapped this one" JD commented.
She smiled as she replied, "Actually, Nathan wrapped it, but I decorated it."
"I wondered about that. Nathan doesnt usually go in for ribbons and curly-ques and such" Wilmington quipped. "What cha got, kid?"
JD had a puzzled expression on his face. "Well, its a compact camcorder." He looked at the two agents, a questioning look on his face. "Thanks, guys. This is really nice. I mean this is a really great model, but I have a camcorder."
Josiah looked over at Nathan and both men dropped their heads, as Raine laughed softly. Finally, Josiah looked up and met the hazel eyes of Dunne. "Actually, JD, the camcorder that you so generously loaned us to film the youth centers ball team playoff, it had a small accident. Needless to say, you were in need of a new camera."
"We're sorry about the camcorder, JD. In the heat of battle, it was dropped and stepped on. It was most embarrassing, since we promised to take care of it" Nathan apologized.
"Though, actually, the accident did solve the problem of what to do for a birthday present." Josiah added sagely. The admission brought a laugh from the people gathered around.
The last present was an envelope and Buck handed it over to the young man. JD opened it and found a birthday card signed by Buck and Chris. It was a picture of an eagle soaring through a cloudless blue sky. The sentiment inside was short and simple.
May your spirit always soar high.
You are limited only by your imagination.
Kid, you have been an inspiration to us all.
The kids chin quavered slightly as he read the sentiment. "Thanks, Chris, Buck."
"Well, hell, kid. Thats just the card. Hold on a minute." Chris rose and he and Buck went upstairs. A few moments later, Buck called down.
"JD, cover your eyes for a minute."
Wilmington looked down the staircase. "Come on. Play along."
Rolling his eyes, JD leaned back and closed his eyes. "Okay, Buck, theyre closed."
JD listened as the two men moved back down the stairs accompanied by a creaking sound and thumping the wall as they came. He listened as Buck said, "Yeah, sit it right there. Yeah, thats good" Something jingled and then he felt a hand near his face as Buck spoke again. "Okay, kid. You keep those eyes closed for one more minute."
Wilmington got the young man up and led him across the room. Positioning him just so, he rubbed the kids arms and said, "Okay, you can look now."
JD opened his eyes and blinked at the sight in front of him.
"Its from me and Chris. Figured your old one was due a rest. I seen you admiring this one and Chris and I decided to get it for ya." Buck stood nervously, waiting for a reaction. Not getting one, he prodded. "What do you think, kid? You like it?"
JD began to shake his head. Bucks face fell when he saw the reaction.
"I cant believe you bought me a new saddle." JD turned and looked at the two men, one, the model of what JD wanted to be as a federal agent and the other, the family that he hadnt known he wanted. "This is awesome. Totally awesome." He turned back to the saddle and Buck slumped in relief. His attention was drawn back to JD as the youth yelled, "Wow! You had my initials tooled into the skirts."
JD walked over and studied the saddle. It was black with trim strings and silver conchos. It was a trail saddle with leather-covered stirrups, and tooled fenders. Nothing overly ornate, but an attractive saddle none the less. Along with the saddle was a matching hackamore bridle and a soft, woven saddle pad. JD moved closer and ran his hand over the cool leather. Picking up the bridle, he rolled it around in his hands, feeling the suppleness. He raised it to his nose and smelled the aroma of the leather. But when he moved to lift the saddle from the wooden form it sat on, eight people threw up their hands, yelling, "NO."
JD jumped and blinked. "Oh. Sorry. Got carried away." He grabbed Buck and wrapped his arms around the taller man's waist in a hug. "This is totally cool." Releasing Buck, he turned to Chris and stepped forward, but stopped and stuck out his hand. Larabee took it and pulled the youth under one arm, laying his arm across the younger man's shoulders.
"Happy Birthday, JD."
JD beamed. "Thanks, Chris. Everybody. Thanks for a great birthday."
"Well, lets have some cake." Buck clapped his hands together and headed for the table. Everyone followed and soon the cake was history. They were spread out around the room with Buck and Casey sitting on either side of JD.
The conversation and afternoon worn on as the group discussed everything from work to school to the latest movies. Buck didnt realize how long they had been sitting and talking until he became aware of a warm weight pressing against his arm. Looking down, he saw JD leaning against him, asleep. He removed the saucer from the youths lap and handed it to Larabee. As one, the group rose and quietly bid their goodbyes. Casey ran a hand down the young mans face before following Vin out. She had ridden over with him and he offered to drop her off when the party broke up.
They all knew JD would be tired when he got home, but would never admit that to anyone. It had been decided that they would leave when JD gave it up and went to sleep. Waving to them as they left, Buck sat quietly for a few minutes, before easing out from under the relaxed body. He placed a pillow under the sleeping youth's head and tossed a light blanket cover his body. Then, the big man moved around the room gathering plates and saucers. Moving as quietly as possible, he cleaned up the room.
Finally, he turned on the television and settled in for the evening. He sighed, contented with the comfortable arrangement. Things were right in the world of Buck Wilmington once again. Tomorrow, he would worry about the SOB that started this whole affair. Tonight, he intended to enjoy the comfort of home, hearth, and family.
Two Months Later
JD was sitting at the bar. He had been back at work for a week when he, along with Ezra and Buck, had been sent to Angel Falls to assist another team. The work had been easy and was reaching a conclusion. The three men had decided to relax before heading home the next day. JD was waiting for the others to come down for dinner.
Taking his beer, he strolled over the dance floor and sat at a table to watch the couples swaying to the music. Shadows hid most of the tables, but his had a clear view of the doorway. He was just raising the bottle to his lips when a couple walked by.
"Oh, Buck, you're a wonderful dancer."
"Why, thanks darlin. Why dont we get out of here? We could go somewhere a little quieter."
"Id love to."
JD froze in shock. They had spent the better part of two weeks looking for the guy that claimed to be Buck Wilmington, ATF agent and not found a thing. Chris had been forced to pull them away from the investigation as cases began to roll in. They kept in contact with Turner and Bracken, but clues were scarce and evidence old. The case was not going anywhere. Now, here they were hundreds of miles from home and the guy shows up. The young agent snuck a look over the bottom of the upturned bottle. He almost spit the liquid across the table.
Jim Porter? Jim Porter is the one pretending to be Buck? The guy works at the dry cleaners, for heavens sake. JD thought to himself. He grabbed his phone as he sat the beer down. He stood and followed the couple as they headed out of the bar. "Buck, Buck, get down here. NOW!" he whispered urgently.
The couple had stopped at the desk and the young agent stepped behind a pillar as the woman wrote a note and asked the clerk to place it in one of the slots. They turned to leave just as the elevator opened and Ezra and Buck exited.
Porter and the girl were halfway across the lobby as JD waved to the other two. He joined them and quickly explained what he had heard. Grabbing Wilmington by the arm as he started past, JD explained that Porter would recognize him and clam up and then shot a look toward the undercover agent. Ezra gave a quick salute and trotted to the door. JD and Buck followed at a distance.
"Excuse me? Arent you Buck Wilmington?" Ezra glided up to the imposter as the couple waited for a cab, his hand extended. "What a pleasure to see you again. Whats it been? Five years, correct?"
"Ah, yeah, its been a while. A pleasure." The man stuck out his hand. Ezra gripped the hand.
Buck strolled over and grabbed the man by the other arm. "Well, Jim, what a surprise. Hows the dry cleaning business?"
JD dropped the cell phone back in his pocket as he joined the two other agents. He pulled his cuffs out and slapped them around the man's wrists. The woman was standing with hands clutched around her purse as the man was cuffed.
JD turned to her. "Ma'am, my name is JD Dunne. I'm a federal agent with the ATF. So are both of these men. This is Ezra Standish. And this well, this is the real Buck Wilmington. This this jerk," JD spat out, "is a wanted criminal. He assaulted and raped at least four women in Denver. His name is Jim Porter and he works for a dry cleaning service. The police will need you to make a statement when they get here."
Her eyes had been wide at first, but now they blazed with fury. "No problem. I'll tell them everything." She turned and faced JD, a grim look on her face. "That's what he had planned for me, isn't it?"
The young ATF agent glanced over at the man and then back at the woman. "Yes, ma'am, I would imagine that he did." JD frowned when the woman laughed.
"I almost wished he had tried. Almost." She laughed again at the young man's confused look. "I teach Tae Kwon Do at the University of Texas in Austin. I'm a black belt of the third dan, or phase of expertise."
JD grinned. "Oh, man. I 'm glad that it didn't get that far, but, man, that would have been poetic justice."
Buck watched JD and the young woman talk as he stood next to the man that had caused the team such trouble. He placed his arm around the man's shoulders and leaned in close to his ear. "One of the girls that you raped; her brother came looking for me. He found my roommate." Buck tensed his bicep and his voice dropped. "Count your lucky stars that the boy found you first. My plan was to kill you, hide the body and tell God that you died."
Releasing the pressure, Buck stepped away from the now pale and sweating man. "Ezra, can you watch this piece of garbage? "
"Certainly, Mr. Wilmington. I see that the police are only moments away."
The three agents watched as the cruiser pulled up. After introductions, they explained the situation and gave them Detective Turner's phone number in Denver. The young woman thanked JD and returned to the hotel after giving the police a statement.
Buck wrapped an arm around JD's neck, smiling. Ezra was on the phone with Chris, telling him about the evening's events and detailing the young agent's participation in them. Ezra spoke softly and then disconnected. He turned to JD and Buck.
"Mr. Larabee asked me to relay a hearty 'good work' to you both. He said that we should avail ourselves of the local cuisine and entertainment for an additional day and charge the bill to him."
JD looked at Buck and back at Ezra. "You know? I'd like to get home. Maybe we could ask Chris to have us out for a day, go riding, have a cookout. I just feel like having family close."
Buck patted JD's chest before removing his arm from around the younger man's shoulders. "Sounds good to me, kid."
Ezra smiled knowingly, his eyes sparkling in the lights of the hotel entrance. "I believe that Mr. Larabee is expecting us Saturday morning, around eleven."
Seeing the questioning looks of the other's, he informed them. "I took the liberty of informing our infamous leader that our desires ran along the lines of home and friends. He then proclaimed that we were summarily invited to the ranch for a day of relaxation and food."
JD laughed. "Buck, are we are becoming predictable?"
"Maybe, kid." He placed on one hand on the shoulder of each man. "Or maybe he feels the same way we do. That it's just more fun when we're all together."
"Perhaps, Mr. Wilmington. And should that be the case, let's not keep the man waiting. Shall we?"
"Let's not. Pack up, boys. It's time to head home."
"Cool." JD said.
"Way cool." Standish added, getting a raised eyebrow from the others.
Laughing, the three men entered the hotel to pack and head home.
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