Characters: Buck, JD
Author's Notes: JD owies; Buck angst. Thanks to Chris for the beta work. Any remaining mistakes belong to me.
Buck Wilmington paced nervously outside the conference room door. He did not want to be here. He shouldn't be here. Hell, it was a Sunday; the weekend; it was supposed to be a day of rest. He snorted to himself, a bitter laugh with no little unpleasantness behind it. Rest. Now there was a word; a word he was no longer sure that he knew the meaning of. He rubbed a hand over his face, stopping to gently massage his burning, bloodshot eyes. He could feel the grittiness of too many sleepless nights. His hand paused a moment, shading his eyes from the harsh glare of the fluorescent lights. The minute that he closed his eyes, a wave of suffocating weariness flowed over his exhausted body. He slumped against the nearest wall. God, he could just about sleep right here, right now, standing up in the middle of the hallway of the ATF offices.
He removed the hand from his eyes, straightening his shoulders. He glanced warily toward the outer office, waiting to see if any of his teammates had had the gall to follow him to the door of the conference room. He wasn't sure if he was relieved or disappointed to note that he was alone. No one had witnessed his surrender to a momentary bout of weakness. It was just as well. He'd been trying his damnedest to convince his friends that he was perfectly fine. If he couldn't convince himself of the fact, how in the hell was he going to convince them? More importantly, how was he going to convince the man who waited for him on the other side of the conference room door?
Taking a deep breath, he tried to calm his jittery nerves. He rubbed his hands along the seams of his trousers, trying to restore some circulation to his frozen fingers. Despite the chill, he could feel a light sweat begin to form on his brow. Shit. He quickly swept an arm across his forehead, removing the telltale evidence of his anxiety. He silently admonished himself, "C'mon, Buck, you can do this. You've talked to head shrinkers before, you know how the game is played. The first rule is that you never let 'em see you sweat." He took a deep breath, and another, feeling a slight lessening of the tension in his tautly drawn muscles. "Okay. Good. Now, get your ass in the conference room before the Doc thinks you're maybe scared of him." Truth to tell, he was scared to death but there was no way he was going to admit that fact to anyone, least of all himself.
He reached out a hand to the doorknob, planning his entrance. He debated whether or not to attempt a smile in greeting. He quickly discarded the idea when he realized that he couldn't unclench his jaw muscles enough to produce the desired effect. No matter. This was hardly a social call. He was here under protest, a fact that both he and the doctor were well aware of. Fine. He could just approach this as a business deal. The sooner he got it over with, the sooner he could get back to work.
Buck entered the room, taking stock of the man who rose to greet him. The doctor was middle-aged, his dark hair lightened with a scattering of silver steaks. He was casually dressed in khakis and a blue polo shirt. Buck was pleased to note that when he rose to shake his hand, the man lacked a good six inches in height to Buck's own six foot-plus frame. At this point, he'd take any advantage he could get over his adversary.
They exchanged the usual pleasantries. "I'm Doctor Stanley Livengood, but you can call me Stan."
Buck gave the man's hand a brief shake, stating, "Buck Wilmington." He paused, then continued, "But you already know that." Buck took his hand back, crossing his arms across his chest as he remained standing.
Stan raised a brow in question. "Is it all right with you if I call you Buck?"
Buck stated bluntly, "Why not? It's my name."
Stan retreated to the other side of the table, giving Buck a bit of breathing room. He sat, gesturing to the chair across from him. "Okay, Buck, why don't you sit down, make yourself comfortable?"
Buck glared at the indicated chair, grumbling quietly to himself. "'Make myself, comfortable,' he says, like there's any chance in hell of that happening while I'm stuck in this room." Buck looked at Stan looking at him, and felt his hostility lessen as fear tried to take hold. Shit. The last thing he ought to be doing is antagonizing this man. Buck reluctantly folded his lanky frame into the indicated chair.
Stan began, "So, Buck, you want to tell me why you're here?"
Buck snapped back an answer, his anger evident in his every word. "Because my roommate's got a big mouth."
Stan gently replied, "He's worried about you."
Buck waved a hand in denial. "He's got no reason to be."
Stan continued, "He's not the only one. All of your friends are. And I think that you know why."
Buck sighed. "I know why. It's just that it doesn't make any sense." Buck looked Stan straight in the eye, trying to impress the man with the utter conviction of his words. "It really wasn't anything. All that happened was that I had a little temper tantrum over a broken window. It was no big deal."
Stan sought further information. "Didn't the broken window involve someone getting hurt?"
Buck reluctantly admitted the truth. "Yeah."
Stan pressed on, "Didn't you and your roommate end up being treated in the Emergency room as a result of the broken window?"
Buck's "Yeah," was mumbled as he looked away from the doctor's probing gaze.
"And are you still planning on sitting there and telling me that it was it 'no big deal' when JD broke the window?"
Buck slumped lower in his chair. "Sorry. That was a bad choice of words." Buck had no desire to continue this conversation. He squirmed nervously in his seat but remained silent.
Stan tried again. "Buck, what happened when JD broke the window? Were you there?"
"I was there." Despite his reluctance, Buck heard himself begin to speak as the scene replayed itself in his mind. "We had finally gotten around to repainting the apartment . . ."
+ + + + + + +
Buck wielded the paint roller like the old pro that he was, timing his strokes to the beat of the rock song blasting from the radio. He didn't mind painting. In fact, the summer when he was thirteen years old, he'd made a tidy sum of cash helping to repaint apartments in the old building he and his mom rented space in. He quickly absorbed the lessons from the building's maintenance man and was soon trusted enough to handle the job on his own. Being underage, he was paid under the table and didn't have to worry about things like filing income tax reports. Even better, Buck was able to help contribute to the family income.
The only thing that Buck didn't like about painting was the time consuming piddly-ass brushwork of cutting in. When JD volunteered to do the brushwork, Buck was ecstatic. "JD, I owe you for this, big time."
JD shrugged off Buck's thanks. "Hey, it's my place, too." He looked at Buck and his paint-splattered clothing. The younger man couldn't help but comment, "You know, if you worked just a little bit slower, maybe you'd be able to get more paint on the walls and less on yourself and everything else."
Buck blithely ignored JD's advice. "If it gets the job done quicker, I don't mind the mess. Everything in the room is covered with drop cloths. Me, I don't mind a few paint drips on my clothes here and there. That's why I'm wearing my oldest rags. Not to mention a hat that's almost as bad as yours."
JD smiled as he took in Buck's headgear. It was a faded ballcap with the words "Ask Me About My Tools" emblazoned on the front. The words were thankfully almost covered by paint. JD rolled his eyes. "A few drips? R-i-ight."
JD himself had opted to wear a battered ballcap pulled from the depths of his closet, as well as old jeans and a t-shirt. He himself had very little paint on any of his attire. Mostly that was due to the fact that he was smart enough to stay on the side of the room opposite from Buck. JD was currently perched on the uppermost step of a six foot ladder. The young man turned away from the distraction offered by Buck to observe his own handiwork. He had just finished cutting in the last corner. JD frowned when he noticed a spot that he'd missed. The younger man didn't want to go through all of the trouble of moving the ladder again just to fill in one tiny little gap. Decision made, JD recklessly began to stretch the right side of his body away from the ladder, trying to reach the spot.
As he made the final brush stroke, JD felt the ladder begin to wobble. Frantically, he threw himself back over onto its support. Unfortunately, he did so with enough force to topple the ladder completely. He gasped as he felt himself begin to fall. Rather than ride the ladder down to the ground and painfully smash into it, JD pushed himself away as he fell. That proved to be an even bigger mistake. He thought he heard screaming as he fell backwards through the old plate glass picture window. He gasped in agony as the glass shards cut through his thin t-shirt and into his back.
With the radio playing at its current volume, there was no way that Buck could've heard anything prior to JD's spectacular crash through the plate glass window. Nevertheless, some sixth sense, some instinct compelled him to turn toward JD in time to see his roommate's frantic leap back onto the ladder and its disastrous consequences. Buck was too far away to do anything more than watch, horrified, as the events unfolded.
+ + + + + + +
Even now, retelling the story, if he closed his eyes Buck could see, hear, and feel everything in harsh clarity, as if it were happening at this very moment instead of some three weeks ago. He paused a moment, his throat too dry to continue. He reached for a glass of water. The distraught man felt disconnected from his body, staring at his hand as if it belonged to someone else. It must, as Buck's hand would not be trembling with the simple act of holding a glass of water. His left hand joined his right, and together accomplished the task of assuaging his thirst. Mission accomplished, he sat back, letting out his breath in a sigh. "So, anyway, JD ended up needing a few stitches, and that was that."
Stan shook his head. "Why do I feel like I'm missing part of the story, here?"
Buck looked up from his contemplation of the surface of the table. "Maybe because I don't want to tell it? It was bad enough living through it the first time around. Now you want me to go through it all again."
Stan prompted, "How did you feel, when you knew that you were too far away to help?"
Buck angrily replied, "How the hell do you think I felt?" He had no words to describe the feeling. He just knew that he felt sick inside, having to relive it in the retelling.
He thought he heard a scream. Whether or not it was himself or JD, he would never be able to recall.
+ + + + + + +
Buck stood frozen in horror as he watched the ladder fall into the room while JD's body fell away from it, into and finally through the picture window. The sound of the crash echoed in his brain like the concussion from an exploding bomb. He could no longer hear anything, could no longer feel anything, could no longer see anything. His sudden tunnel vision allowed nothing visible beyond the broken glass where once had been a window.
He had no idea how long his paralysis lasted. His hearing returned in a rush of sound at JD's cry of "Buck!"
His feet were moving before he was aware of it. The anxious man hurried to the window, nauseous at the thought of looking out but knowing that he had no choice. This was his fault. Buck's eyes refused at first to focus on the scene. JD seemed to be much farther away than where he actually was: immediately below the level of the window. Buck blinked once, twice, and staggered as he was momentarily overcome by a sudden wave of dizziness. He gasped, only then realizing that he had been holding his breath. His vision cleared and the scene came into focus.
JD was struggling to free himself from the shrubbery that had cushioned his fall. Not only had the shrubbery provided for a softer landing than the pavement would have, but it had allowed most of the glass shards to fall away from his body, avoiding further impalement.
What Buck could see was bad enough. He hauled himself up and over the window frame, heedless of the remaining glass cutting his hands. Buck started to reach out to help his friend but then stopped, his hands held anxiously over the struggling figure. He was fearful of causing further injury by touching where he shouldn't. "JD, kid, take it easy. Don't try to get up."
JD had been moving gingerly, determining for himself that he'd broken nothing other than skin. Once he'd satisfied himself regarding the extent of his injuries, he began trying to extricate himself from the spiky greenery surrounding him. When Buck told him not to get up, JD turned a pain-filled gaze to his friend. "I don't have any intention of staying in the damn bushes. If you ain't gonna help me, get out of my way."
Buck continued to hover anxiously, finally laying his hands on JD when the kid refused to listen to his advice. "God, JD, you could've been killed! How do I know you ain't bleeding to death, right now?" While they talked, Buck supported JD and together they got the injured man up and away from the shrubbery. Once he was able to get a good look at his friend, Buck stared, horrified at the numerous cuts on his back as well as the injuries scattered over the rest of his body.
JD declared, "Trust me, I'm not bleeding to death." His back hurt like hell and he felt like shit, but he didn't think that any of his injuries were life-threatening. He looked at his arm where Buck was supporting him and frowned. "Hey, you're bleeding on me."
Buck quickly removed the offending hand, apologizing. "Sorry about that."
Once the extra support was removed, JD began to sink to the ground.
Buck panicked as the little color JD had in his cheeks rapidly faded to a ghostly shade of pale. He helped JD to sit before he fell over.
It took a minute or two, but JD finally decided that he wasn't going to pass out. He muttered, "I'm okay," trying to reassure both himself and Buck.
Buck shook his head at the blatant lie. "Look, I gotta leave you for a minute and call 911."
JD couldn't help the whine in his voice. He didn't want to go to the hospital. "Can't you just call Nathan?"
Buck didn't want to scare his friend, but he needed to let JD know that he was suffering from more than just a scratch. "Kid, if you could see your back you wouldn't be saying that. You're gonna need a few stitches. Now, stay put. I'll be right back."
JD had ended up spending eight hours at the hospital, getting glass removed from his injuries and a patchwork of stitches to sew together the deepest of the lacerations. Joining the remaining members of Team Seven in the waiting room, he declared, "Thirty-two. That's how many stitches I got." His friends offered appropriate condolences.
To Buck, his own six stitches to the palms of his hands were inconsequential in comparison.
JD noticed the bandages on Buck's hands. "You okay?"
Buck waved off his concern. "Yeah. Just found a little of that glass myself."
JD sighed. "Now we gotta do something about that window."
Buck had some good news on that front. "Actually, Chris and Josiah got bored waiting for us. They boarded up the window and made arrangements to have someone come out tomorrow to put in a replacement."
As usual when one of their number was hospitalized, Team Seven was reluctant to part. Therefore, they proceeded en masse to Buck and JD's apartment.
JD got a little teary-eyed when they entered. Chris and Josiah had understated their activities. Not only had they boarded up the window, but they'd finished painting the room.
Buck, too, was touched by their actions. He'd been dreading the prospect up cleaning up the work area, wondering how he'd be able to manage it with both of his hands bandaged. He looked around at his friends. "Thanks, guys."
JD echoed his words. "Thanks. You guys are the best friends a guy could ask for."
JD included Buck in that statement with a nod of his head.
Buck felt his guilt dig in a little bit deeper.
+ + + + + + +
Stan addressed the feeling. "You know there's nothing in that incident that should leave you feeling guilty about any of it. You do know that, right?"
Buck slouched lower in his chair, refusing to look at Stan. Buck didn't want to lie, but neither did he want to talk about it. Knowing that Stan didn't believe his words any more than Buck did, he answered, "Right."
Buck was unsurprised when Stan called him on his alleged 'agreement.' "Buck, I'd be more likely to think that you were telling me the truth if you could look at me when you say that." Stan leaned forward, staring until Buck responded by raising his eyes on a level with Stan's own. Once he was sure that he had Buck's complete attention, the doctor stated firmly, "You're not to blame."
Buck fidgeted and his eyes once again strayed from Stan's face.
Stan rephrased his words, trying to get his message through. "You did nothing wrong."
Buck wished with all that he had that he could believe what Stan was saying. In his head, it made sense. In his heart, deep down where his conscience dwelled, Buck disagreed. He pushed away from the table, no longer able to sit still. He began to pace. "You don't understand. JD is my responsibility. When he first joined Team Seven, he was greener than the rawest rookie, an accident just waiting for a place to happen. Somebody had to look after him, to make sure he didn't get hurt." Buck stopped in his pacing, turning to face Stan. Holding his fisted hand over his heart, he pounded his chest and declared, "That somebody is me."
The doctor replied, "When I talked to JD, he impressed me as a mature, intelligent adult. He freely admitted that it was his own error in judgment that resulted in his falling off of a ladder and through a window. It was his decision, Buck. How do you think you could have prevented that?"
Buck shook his head and resumed pacing, his hands agitatedly illustrating his words. "The only reason he was on the ladder in the first place is because he was doing a job I didn't want to do."
"You didn't push him off of the ladder."
Buck countered, "No, I pushed him on to it. Maybe if I would've told him to be careful, he wouldn't have done such a goddamn brain-dead stupid thing!"
Stan questioned, "Are you saying JD doesn't know how to use a ladder? Did he give you any reason to think that was the case?"
Buck angrily slapped at the table. "No, of course he knows how to use a ladder!" The agitated man could feel his anger mounting with each word. His breath came in shorter and shorter bursts as the words boiled out of him. "But he forgot, and he got hurt." His voice rose steadily in strength and volume so that he was practically shouting. He felt a wave of an emotion he didn't care to put a name to wash over him, leaving him shaking in its wake. He leaned toward Stan, invading the man's personal space. He shook his fisted hands to emphasize his words. "I've been trying to tell him, he's got to listen to me!" He glared, ready to pounce on Stan with his next words.
The doctor obviously got the message that it was time to change the subject. "Okay. That was three weeks ago. Can you think of anything else that's been going on that might have caused your friends to be concerned about you?"
Buck's ears were still ringing with the vehemence of his previous words. It took a minute or two for Stan's question to register. Shit. He guessed he'd let himself get a little out of control. He scolded himself mentally. "If you want this guy to think you've totally lost it that was a great start." He tried to calm himself, shaking out a little of the tension in his body as he resumed pacing. What the hell could he say now? After a minute of pondering, Buck chose to pretend that nothing out of the ordinary had just happened. He reflected bitterly that it was too bad that there was no way the doctor would do the same.
Buck decided to answer the question with one of his own. "You mean why do my friends think I'm crazy?" He waved a hand in dismissal. "That's nothing new."
Stan turned a stern gaze on Buck. "Let's make something clear right now. Your sanity has never been in question."
Buck opted not to take the out given to him by Stan. He replied, "Yeah, there's no question about it. Everybody knows I'm crazy."
Stan disagreed. "That's not what I meant. I think that if you were to walk outside this door right now and ask them, not one of your friends would refer to you as 'crazy.'"
Buck shook his head. "Well, Doc, I think that's something you and I will just have to disagree on."
Stan refused to let Buck's declaration lie. He rationalized, "Just because someone needs a little help getting things straight in their head is no reason to refer to them as 'crazy.' When you're in pain physically, it's perfectly acceptable to see a medical doctor to obtain help. Please, do yourself the courtesy of cutting yourself some slack when the pain is emotional rather than physical. You're allowed to see a doctor, or you wouldn't be here."
Buck looked Stan straight in the eyes. He still resented like hell the fact that Chris had confined him to desk duty until and unless Stan declared him to be fit to resume his full duties. Damning Chris under his breath, Buck declared, "I wouldn't be here unless I'd been forced to be. You know that, right?"
Stan nodded. "I know that your friends seem to think that some of your behavior lately is not typical for you. Can you think of anything specific that might have given them cause for concern?"
Buck shrugged, trying to ignore the subject. "Nope. It's just been business as usual."
"Your friends don't seem to think that it has been."
"Well, my friends need to mind their own damn business." Buck abruptly cut himself off, not wanting to unleash his anger in front of the doctor.
After a few minutes of silence, Stan said, "You don't impress me as a person who gives up easily, either on himself or his friends." It was Stan's turn to remain silent, giving his words a minute to sink in.
Finally, Buck resumed speaking. "If I choose to end this now, will you give the okay for me to go back out in the field?"
Stan answered with another question. "Do you really need me to answer that?"
Buck sighed. "No, I guess not." After a pause, he asked, "What was the question?"
Stan looked down at this notes, then back up at Buck. "Why do you think your friends are worried about you? What else has been going on besides the window incident?"
Buck took a few minutes, trying to decide what he was willing to share that wouldn't make it sound like he was nuts. The problem was that the more Buck tried to recall of events since the broken window incident, the more hazy and fractured they seemed to become. Of course, next to the sight of his best friend plunging through the window, it was no surprise that everything else would pale in comparison. Buck sat, trying to remember. "Well, after JD damn near got himself killed, it's no surprise that I was probably acting a little bit overprotective . . ."
+ + + + + + +
JD circled the apartment he shared with Buck, obviously searching for something. Rather than ask and possibly involve himself in the search, Buck ignored his roommate, focusing his attention on the flickering television screen. Besides which, Buck already had a pretty good idea what it was that JD was searching for.
JD passed in front of the TV, finally planting himself in front of it, obstructing Buck's view. Hands planted firmly on his hips, he declared, "I could use a little help, here."
Buck stated, "So could I. You're blocking my view. Do you think you could move over to the side?"
JD refused to budge. "I've looked everywhere, and I can't find the keys to my motorcycle."
Buck questioned, "And this is a problem because . . .?"
JD frowned. "Come on, Buck, let's not get into this again."
"Why not? You didn't seem to listen the last time we had this discussion, so I think it's about time we had it again."
JD moved away from the TV, invading Buck's personal space. "Discussion? Is that what you call it? I seem to remember it being more of a lecture than anything else. Anytime that I tried to get a word in edgewise, you ignored me or talked right over me."
"Well, I wouldn't have had to if you'd 've just listened to reason. Motorcycles aren't safe at any speed. You can be the most careful rider in the world, but if other traffic on the road decides to ride right over you, you don't stand a chance."
JD's eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Could it be that the reason you don't want to help me look for my keys is because you already know what happened to them?" When Buck refused to meet his eyes, JD had his answer. He pounced on his roommate, arms on either side of his chair. "Buck, dammit, where are my keys?"
Buck raised his hands defensively. "Now, JD, after your little accident, don't you think you ought to take things a bit careful-like?"
JD, temporarily clueless, echoed, "My little accident? What the hell are you talking about? I have never in my life had so much as a scratch while riding my bike."
Rather than the guilty look he was expecting from the culprit, JD noted the look of defiance on his friend's face, and he knew. "This is about the ladder thing, isn't it? I don't know what the hell has gotten into you, but it's really starting to get on my nerves!" He continued, "I can't so much as turn around lately without you getting in my face. It's one thing to play the big brother, but when you start acting like you can't trust me to run my own life, that's where I draw the line."
Buck quickly denied the accusation. "I never said I didn't trust you. Do I worry about you? Yeah, you bet. Especially when you do things like toss yourself out a goddamn window!"
JD began to sway from foot to foot, trying to restrain his anger. "You're talking like I did it on purpose! It was an accident, plain and simple. Dammit, Buck, get over it!" He began to walk away then stopped himself to add, "And give me back my keys!"
Buck bit off the angry words that wanted to escape, knowing that he would just be wasting his breath. He ignored every instinct of his body that was practically screaming at him not to give in to JD's demand. Instead, he jumped out of the chair, heading for his room. A minute later he reappeared, keys in hand. "Fine. You want to kill yourself, go right ahead." He threw the keys in JD's general direction before he stormed back into his room. The apartment echoed with the sound of the slamming door.
JD's anger left as quickly as it had arrived. He stared worriedly at the closed door. The young man supposed that he should be glad that Buck chose not to continue their argument. Yesterday, Buck had forced JD into a discussion on the subject of JD's ride. Buck refused to listen to any of his roommate's rationale as to why it was none of anyone else's business what in the heck JD chose for transportation. The discussion quickly deteriorated into a shouting match, with Buck being the one who'd done most of the shouting. JD thought that he'd had the final word on the subject when he told Buck that it was his motorcycle and he'd do with it as he damn well pleased. For the older man to have blatantly disregarded JD's decision with the theft of the motorcycle keys was taking the overprotective big brother act to a whole new level of weirdness.
When JD thought about it, Buck had been building up to this ever since the unfortunate incident with the ladder. He was constantly hovering, wanting to know JD's whereabouts every minute of every day, offering tons of unsolicited advice, and being a general all-around pain in the ass. JD sighed when his roommate did not emerge from his room. Walking out the door, he reflected that he sure was feeling lousy for somebody who'd just won an argument.
Buck leaned against his closed door, his body so tense that he was shaking. His brain was telling him that JD was a big boy who could take care of himself. His heart refused to listen. It was screaming at him to stop JD before something terrible happened. He closed his eyes, remembering that it already had.
He shook his head as the vision began. Oh, God. It was the same dream, the same nightmare that he'd been having steadily ever since JD had fallen through the window. Buck shook in fear and terror as he tried to stop what was happening. God, it was daytime, he wasn't asleep, this shouldn't be happening. His subconscious self refused to listen to his pleas.
Buck was no longer in his bedroom. He could feel the fear rising to choke off his breathing as he stood helplessly watching the events unfold in his new/old surroundings. The physical details of the room were blurred, fading off around the edges into a dream fog. The only clear details were JD and his all too close proximity to the window. Buck stood across the room, much too far away to have any effect on the events that were about to unfold.
He tried to call out a warning but the words stuck in his throat. He tried to move, to physically stop what he knew was about to happen. His body refused to obey his commands. Buck wanted to close his eyes, to look away, to do anything that he could not to have to relive the nightmarish scene over again. Instead, he was forced to watch and relive every painful moment.
Rather than unfold in real time, the scene replayed itself in terrifying slow motion. Buck had to watch as JD's expression of surprise turned to fear as he unbalanced from his precarious perch on the ladder. The young man desperately pushed himself away from the ladder as it fell. In doing so, he changed the trajectory of his fall so that he was now heading toward the window. He had only enough time to pull his arms up to protect his head before his body crashed backward through the glass. The glass shards flew around him in a rain of deadly slivers as he fell.
Buck moved without conscious thought toward the broken window. When he reached the sill, his stomach rebelled in nausea as he was subjected to a sudden change in perspective. The window sill shifted from waist level to chest level. The window frame became taller and narrower. In order to check on his friend, he was forced to strain to make himself tall enough to look over the edge. God, he didn't want to look, but his dream-self continued until he could see.
JD lay in the shrubbery just below the level of the window, struggling and in obvious pain. Buck became dizzy as the scene abruptly changed perspective. JD had initially been within arms' reach. To Buck's horror, his young friend began to fall away. What had been a simple one story fall was now a much more serious two story fall. Buck stared helplessly at his friend's broken body, now a good fifteen feet farther away than he had been. Buck could no longer simply climb over the window to help the kid. At the current distance, doing so would only result in Buck's injuring himself. Even at the current distance, Buck could tell that his friend was seriously injured. Amid the terror and confusion, one other thought rang crystal clear in Buck's mind: it was all his fault.
And so the dream ended as it always did, throwing Buck back into his current reality. Buck stared around his darkened bedroom, still wrapped up in the horrific images. Sweat was pouring off of his body and he was shaking uncontrollably, barely able to remain standing as he leaned against the door. Giving up on the effort of remaining upright, he slid down until he was seated on the floor. He pulled his knees up to his chest, resting his arms across them. He bowed his aching head onto the supporting cradle of his arms, and wept.
Buck jumped, startled, as Stan's voice intruded on his thoughts.
"Buck? What else happened?"
Buck's throat was too dry to speak. He reached for a glass of water then stopped when he noticed that his hand was shaking. He looked up guiltily, hoping that Stan had not noticed the trembling. By the man's concerned expression, Buck could see that he had.
Buck had told Stan about the incident with the motorcycle keys. He had stopped his narrative there, debating what, if anything, to tell Stan about what went on behind the closed door of his bedroom. He had just decided not to tell Stan anything about his dreams when his mind betrayed him by making him relive the entire incident. There was no way that Stan was going to let this go.
Buck decided on a partial truth. "Sorry. I was thinking about something else." The room was heavy with an expectant silence while Buck considered his next words. He looked up, making eye contact so that Stan would have no reason to doubt what he was saying. It was, after all, the truth.
"I've been having dreams. Nightmares, really. Ever since JD, well . . . I keep seeing it happen, over and over again." Buck took a few deep, steadying breaths. He was now calm enough to hold the water glass without shaking, and proceeded to soothe his dry throat. "Anyway, I haven't been sleeping too good. So, I guess I might've made a few mistakes at work. Stuff that might've made the guys worry about me. Hell, you want me to admit that I've got a problem? I admit it. I can't sleep. I don't want to sleep, 'cause I sure as hell don't want to have to be woken up from a sound sleep by the same damn nightmare."
Stan nodded. "Thank you for telling me." He paused, looking at his watch. "I think we've done enough for today. I'd like you to call my office and make an appointment for next week Tuesday."
Buck opened his mouth to object then thought better of it. This guy quite possibly held his future as an ATF agent in his hands. It wouldn't be smart to piss him off. He remained silent as Stan continued.
"Sleep deprivation is a serious matter, especially when someone is in a high-risk, high-stress position where other people's lives depend on them. So, you know that right now I can't okay you to return to active fieldwork."
Buck's mouth twisted in disgust. Even though he knew this was coming, it still didn't mean that he wanted to hear it. He reluctantly stated, "Yeah, I know."
Stan pulled out a prescription pad and began writing. "I'm going to give you a prescription for Ambien. It's a mild sleeping pill. I want you to take one every night at bedtime."
Buck listened with half an ear as Stan went over the possible side effects. When Stan finished speaking, Buck questioned, "So, if I take this pill, you'll okay me to go back to work?"
Stan smiled. "Nice try, Buck. Once you've had a few nights' decent sleep, come back and we'll talk."
Buck questioned, "So, are we done here?"
Stan nodded. "For now."
+ + + + + + +
The other members of Team Seven had waited politely while Stan took his leave. Once the doctor had left, Buck could feel all of his friends trying not to stare at him as he sat at his desk. He stood up, waving the prescription in the air. "Okay. He's says I'm suffering from sleep deprivation and he gave me a prescription for a sleeping pill. Are you all happy now? Any questions? Comments?"
His questions were greeted with silence. He sat down again. "Okay. Fine."
JD kept looking up worriedly as he finished his paperwork. He knew better than anyone else that things were far from fine.
He recalled all too well how out of control Buck had been yesterday when he'd ended up being confined to desk duty. It had been a simple assignment. Team Seven was setting up surveillance in a building across the street from a suspected hideout for illegal arms dealers. It was late in the day and Chris had decided to have the entire team tag along so that they could save time by conferencing on the case as the equipment was being set up.
JD had the directional mike in hand and was in the process of focusing it through the building's window when Buck's large form blocked his access. JD frowned. "Buck, get out of my way."
Buck remained immobile.
"C'mon, Buck, quit fooling around." When Buck continued to ignore him, JD stood toe to toe with his friend, pulling on his arm. "Get out of my way!" By now the attention of the entire room was focused on them.
Buck forcefully shoved JD away. "I ain't lettin' you near this window."
"Dammit, Buck, let me do my job!"
Buck's voice rose steadily in volume as he spoke. "Let me do my job, which involves keeping you from doing something dangerous like falling out of a window!"
"Buck, that's totally unfair!"
Seeing that the shouting match was getting them nowhere, Josiah moved to intervene. "Buck, I can just about guarantee you that JD has no plans to go falling out of another window."
Buck remained firm in his stance. "He didn't have any plans to do it the first time. Didn't see it stop him none."
Chris was disgusted with Buck's childish display. It was putting a serious dent in Chris' plan to save time by combining two tasks. He walked up to Buck, giving him a gentle shove. "Get out of the way." He was surprised by the violence of Buck's response. His friend returned the shove with enough force to send Chris stumbling backward until he crashed into Vin. Chris was ready to fight back, only prevented from doing so by Vin's restraining arms.
Buck had widened his stance, his hands raised in fists, the better to fight off anyone who tried to move him. His face was flushed, his pupils dilated, his breathing rapid and shallow. Josiah did not like what he was seeing. He approached within a couple feet of Buck, then turned to face the others. "Fellows, I need you all to leave us alone a minute." He added, "Please."
Josiah was comforted to note that some of the fight had gone out of Buck once the others had left. Trying to appear non-threatening, his voice low and soothing, he cajoled, "Hey, Buck, why don't you step away from the window?"
Buck had been standing with his back to the window. With Josiah's words, he turned to face the window and immediately froze. Goddamn it!
When he'd first seen JD standing by the window, Buck had been ambushed by the recurrence of his daytime nightmare. Once again, in full horrifying detail, the scene played out as he stood by helplessly watching while JD fell. He felt himself break out into a cold sweat. The look on JD's face was burned into his memory and tore his soul into little pieces. He thought that his heart was going to burst out of his chest, it was beating so hard when he again 'saw' his friend's broken and battered body lying on the ground.
He blinked, then his vision cleared to show JD alive and well and standing in front of the window. Now that he could move again, Buck quickly placed himself between JD and the threat that only he could see.
Now, with only him and Josiah in the room, Buck was trying desperately to push back the vision that wanted to replay when he'd turned to face the window again. Maybe if he put his fist through the window that would stop it. Almost as soon as the thought had formed, he found his hand rising. Somehow, Josiah had anticipated the action, and his strong hand arrived just in time to stop Buck's fist from smashing through the glass.
Josiah was moved by the depths of pain showing in Buck's dark blue eyes. He took the hand that was cradling Buck's fist and slid it along his arm and up to the shoulder, half-hugging him as he pulled him away from the window. "Buck, let's move away from the window."
Buck felt only half-awake as he was led away. He could feel the nightmare lurking just over his shoulder. Josiah escorted him out of the room and down to street level. Buck let himself be led passively so that he didn't have to think. Josiah opened the door of his SUV, gesturing for Buck to get in. When he did so, Buck sank gratefully into the seat, leaning his head back onto the headrest. His eyes immediately closed. God, he was so tired.
Josiah spoke. "Buck, I think you need to talk to a friend of mine. He's a doctor, and a good one. Stanley Livengood." Josiah paused a moment, then added, "He's a psychiatrist."
Buck didn't bother to respond to Josiah. He was too tired to try to work up an argument. Buck remained seated with his eyes closed. He guessed he must've fallen asleep, as the next thing he was aware of was Chris joining them in the SUV.
The Team Seven leader asked Josiah to give them a minute alone. He took the older man's place in the front seat. He looked at Buck then turned to look out the window.
Buck saw no reason to make this easy on Chris. He had a pretty good idea what was coming. He silently stared at his nervous friend.
Finally, Chris spoke. "Buck, I'm your friend. But I'm also your boss. I'm in a very difficult position, here. On the one hand, I owe you big-time for all the shit I've put you through over the years. On the other hand, I have to consider the fact that you're part of a team; a team whose very lives may depend on you being in top form. And, you're not. You may think that I haven't been paying attention, that I don't notice things. You'd be wrong. I've seen you drag yourself into work day after day, looking more and more wasted, like you haven't slept in a week. I know that you've been making mistakes. I've simply chosen to ignore them. But it's not getting any better. It's getting worse. Until now, I didn't realize just how much worse."
Chris paused, giving Buck a chance to respond. When Buck remained silent, Chris continued. "I seriously thought about sending you on a forced vacation, but then I realized that you'd just go nuts if I left you with nothing to do. So, you're confined to desk duty until you get your head on straight. If you don't want to talk to the department's counselor then find somebody else you can talk to, because I'm serious as a heart attack about this. You're not going back out into the field until I know for sure that I won't be seeing a repeat of what just happened in there. You got me?
Too tired to argue, Buck waved a hand in acknowledgment. "Yeah, I got you."
Josiah called in a favor, and Dr. Livengood met with Buck the next day.
+ + + + + + +
Buck waited patiently while JD finished up his paperwork. He suspected that it was just to soothe his paranoia, but JD had agreed to ride share with Buck in his classic truck rather than to use his motorcycle for transportation.
JD cautioned, "Just so you understand, this is not a permanent arrangement. As soon as you're back in the field, you go your way and I'll go mine."
Buck didn't care. At least he could keep an eye on the kid. After a visit to the local pharmacy to get his prescription filled, they headed for home. Over the next several days, Buck was put in the uncomfortable position of being under intense scrutiny, partially by his teammates but mostly by JD. Buck reflected that if he hadn't already been screwed up mentally, JD's behavior alone would have been enough to cause him to doubt his sanity. The kid positively hovered, constantly asking if Buck was all right. The fact that Buck returned the favor didn't help any. JD was used to Buck's hovering. Buck could not say the same.
As the week continued, things settled down to something resembling normal. Although Buck had been reluctant to take the sleeping pill, he gratefully embraced the full night's sleep it offered. Blessedly, the frequency of his nightmares decreased, and remained confined to his nights instead of invading his waking hours. The decent night's sleep also provided a more important benefit. He was able to act normally around his friends. Even better, he was much more alert for his next meeting with Dr. Livengood.
Buck was able to verbally tap dance around some of the more probing questions and didn't feel quite so emotionally raw at the conclusion of their session. Not surprisingly, the doctor made him stay off of active duty for another week.
By the time of their next session, Buck finally felt that he'd made some progress. Although the doctor still wanted to see him the next week, he okayed Buck's taking the sleeping pill on an "as needed" basis, rather than every single night. More importantly, he okayed Buck's return to active duty.
Team Seven closed down Inez' saloon as they celebrated the news. JD appointed himself the designated driver, so that Buck felt free to indulge himself in more than a few beers. He was feeling pleasantly toasted as he stumbled into their shared apartment. He was too unsteady to manage the stairs to his bedroom, so he contentedly settled onto the sofa cushions.
JD kept the door to his room open, the better to hear if Buck should happen to fall off of the sofa during the night. Thus it was that JD was awoken from a sound sleep by the sound of his roommate's voice.
JD approached the sofa where Buck was tossing and turning and mumbling unintelligibly. He wasn't sure whether he should wake up Buck from what was obviously a nightmare, or if he should just hope that his friend would sleep right through it.
The decision was taken out of JD's hands as the nightmare continued. One word rang out painfully clear as Buck sat bolt upright. "Mama!" His eyes stared wildly around the darkened room as the sweat poured off his body. His breath came in short, heaving gasps.
JD reached out a hand in comfort, wrapping it around a trembling shoulder. "Buck?"
Buck wiped a shaky hand across his face. "Oh, God!"
"Are you all right?"
Buck wrapped his arms around himself, rocking slightly in place.
JD repeated his question. "Are you okay?"
Buck turned away from the dark void he'd been staring into, to turn tortured eyes to JD. "No, I don't think I am."
It disturbed JD more than he could say that Buck, normally intensely private regarding any personal problems, so freely admitted his weakness. Although he already knew the answer, he asked, "Nightmare?"
"You could say that."
"What was it about?"
Buck shrugged. "The usual."
JD was confused. He knew that Buck had been having nightmares about his fall off of the ladder. However, the young man did not doubt his hearing regarding the word that he'd heard Buck cry out. He questioned his friend further. "You mean about the ladder thing?"
It took Buck a minute to decipher the question. In his own mind, it was always the window and JD's fall. Sometimes Buck forgot that a ladder had even been involved. Finally, he answered. "Yeah, the ladder thing."
JD felt that Buck needed to talk about this. He prompted, "Sometimes it helps to have somebody to talk to. Why don't you tell me about it?"
Buck could still hear the echo of a scream in his head from the remnants of his nightmare. "I don't want to talk about it. I don't want to think about it. I don't want to keep having the same dream over and over and over again!" Buck's voice had steadily risen with agitation as he spoke, so that the last words were practically shouted.
JD spoke, his quiet voice offering a peaceful calm amidst the storm that was Buck. "I was there, too, remember? Maybe I can help."
Buck gave in. "Okay. Let me hit the can, turn on a few lights first." Buck headed to the bathroom to empty his full bladder. When he returned, he proceeded to turn on every light in the apartment. Feeling a little calmer, he settled onto the sofa and began to speak.
"It's always the same. I'm across the room, too far away to do anything but watch. Everything happens in slow motion. You start to fall and I see you heading for the window. There's not a goddamn thing I can do but watch as my best friend falls out a window. I can't move, not until it's way too late.
"I run to the window, and then things get kind of weird. I don't want to look, but I know that I have to. When I'm standing by the window, the sill just rises up. Instead of being at waist level, it's suddenly as high as my chest." Buck held his hand at the level of his collarbone. A second hand joined the first, as he gestured to illustrate the story. "Then the window gets kind of long and tall. When I finally manage to look out, I see you just below the level of the sill. I see things the way they actually were, but only for a minute. Then it gets worse. My vision kind of tunnels, and instead of looking at you as if you'd fallen out a first floor window, you get further away, more like two stories. And it's bad. And somehow, I know it's all my fault." Buck stopped as a sob threatened to overtake him.
JD could see the tears shining unshed in his friend's eyes. As he heard Buck's description of the altered scenes, a thought occurred to him. He didn't want to share his suspicions outright, as he feared that his friend really didn't want to know what was behind the nightmares if it was the truth that JD suspected. He tentatively began to probe. "Buck, the way you described the changes in perspective, it's almost as if you're looking at another window."
Buck remained silent, listening.
JD continued. "Maybe another window, in another time, another place."
Buck wanted to deny the possibility, except for one thing: it made a lot of sense. Rather than feel relieved that JD may have provided a key to unlocking the mystery, Buck tensed. He almost verbalized his denial then stopped himself. "That's . . . that's . . . I don't know, maybe . . ."
Satisfied with Buck's almost-agreement, JD went on. "Do you think that maybe you're looking at things from the perspective of a kid?" When Buck did not disagree, JD added his last bit of evidence. "Right before you woke up, I heard you cry out. Buck, you said 'Mama.'"
While JD had been speaking, Buck felt the nightmare begin to take form in his mind. This time, the events did not have the blurred edges of a dream. As the memories consumed him, they revealed themselves to be a part of what had once been his own hellish reality.
JD was totally unprepared for Buck's response.
Buck half-fell, half-jumped from the sofa, ending up on his knees before he curled himself into a ball. For long minutes, he did not move. Then, he began an eerie, high-pitched keening that rose to a sobbing wail. He began to rock, crying, "Mama, Mama, I'm so sorry, Mama," over and over again.
JD wrapped his arms around his distraught friend, trying to hold him together with just the desire of his will. He kept up a steady litany of soothing words. "It's okay, Buck, you're here with me, that all happened a long time ago. We'll get through this together, I promise, Buck, it'll be okay, you're okay, you're right here in our apartment. Open your eyes, take a look around, remember where you are. I'm here, I've got you."
After a few minutes, Buck's hysterical cries subsided to a steady, regular sobbing. JD shed a few tears himself. He'd never seen Buck cry. Even under the most trying circumstances, Buck never released his grief or sorrow in tears. He always had to be the strong one, holding things together even when everyone around him was falling apart. JD figured his friend was long overdue for this release. That didn't mean that JD couldn't hurt like hell right along with him.
It seemed to take forever, but gradually Buck's seemingly endless supply of tears dried up. With JD's help, he wiped away the evidence of his little breakdown. Once again seated on the sofa, he began to speak. "When you said that, about my Ma, I remembered everything. I saw it, felt it, just like it was happening in front of me." His throat raw with the force of his grief, he shared his memories.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was all of ten years old. As his Ma frequently pointed out, he was quite mature for his age. Therefore, she felt no qualms about leaving him at home alone while she worked as an exotic dancer. With her limited income, she could not afford to hire a babysitter. They were living in a rundown hotel in Las Vegas. The air conditioning frequently broke down. Nevertheless, Buck's Ma had left strict instructions that Buck was not to open the window of their second floor apartment. Between the dust and the insects and the fact that the windows had no screens, an open window invited trouble.
His Ma also did not want Buck roaming the streets after dark. That left him very few options for relief from the heat, considering the fact that his Ma worked nights. Therefore, when the air conditioning failed yet again, a hot, sticky Buck decided that it was time to disobey one of his Ma's rules. With any luck, she'd never find out about it.
The window sash was too high to reach from a standing position on the floor. Being a clever boy, Buck pulled up a chair. The window was partially sealed shut by a thick layer of paint on the frame. Nevertheless, Buck was determined. It took a lot of work, but he finally managed to open the window. When the recalcitrant window finally gave way, it did so quite spectacularly, slamming all the way open. Buck reveled in the breeze.
Buck kept a careful eye on the clock. When he realized that it was almost time for his mother to return, he climbed back onto the chair to close the window. Despite all of his efforts, the stubborn window would not budge. Quite a few insects had managed to find their way into the tiny apartment. They buzzed around his head as he sat, waiting to face his mother's wrath. It was not long in coming.
When Marie Wilmington entered her apartment, she was startled by a large moth which flew at her head. Her eyes narrowed as she observed her only child slumped in a chair in front of a wide open window. She'd had a rough night at work, with one of her coworkers going off on her about a stolen wallet. The woman was a shrew and quite hellish to work with, but her popularity with the customers made her a valued employee. That meant in turn that Marie had to put up with a certain degree of shit from her if she wanted to keep her job.
She was in no mood to deal with a violation of the house rules. She marched over to her son, scolding angrily. "Buck, how many times have I told you not to open any windows?" She waved another bug out of her face. "I don't care how hot it is, I don't want to be sharing my apartment with a bunch of bugs. If you were going to disobey me and open a window, why did you have to open it all the way?"
As she spoke, Marie tried closing the window. No matter how much she pushed or pulled on the lower part of the frame, the window would not budge. She didn't need to hear Buck's pathetic "It's stuck," to know what the problem was. Maybe if she got on the chair, and pushed down from the top . . . With that thought, she shooed Buck off of the chair. She slipped off her shoes before climbing, not being so foolish as to stand on a rickety chair wearing high heels.
Wanting to be as far away as possible from his mother's anger, Buck retreated to the opposite side of the room. Marie's "Aha!" of triumph quickly turned to a scream of fear as the window closed abruptly. Marie had most of her weight balanced on top of the window. The abrupt closure caused her to fall forward. She barely had enough time to throw her arms defensively around her head before she crashed through the glass.
Buck could not move, could not breathe. He stared at the shattered remains of the window. He didn't remember moving, but he found himself standing by the sill. He didn't want to look, but he knew that he had to. This was all his fault. He'd killed his mother. He looked outside the window, seeing her body lying still and broken on the ground two stories below.
He finished the story. At least, as much as intended to share with JD. His voice rough and low from his earlier crying jag, Buck stated, "Well, it turns out she wasn't dead, just banged up pretty good. All I wanted was to forget that it had ever happened. And, I guess I did just that. After your accident, I somehow mixed everything up in my head. I expect I must be crazy, after all."
JD hotly denied Buck's description of himself. "You're not crazy. You saw something no kid should ever have to. It makes sense that you buried the memory so deep you hoped it'd never be found." JD kept to himself his opinion of a mother who would leave a ten year old child to fend for himself. He knew that Buck would never allow an unkind word to be said about his mother. JD simply concluded, "It's no wonder my accident brought up the memories. Now that you know what's behind it, maybe things will get better."
Buck wasn't so sure. However, after a few more visits with Dr. Livengood in which he shared some of the memories that JD had helped him to recover, the dream began to fade in frequency and intensity.
And if the dream still recurred from time to time, Buck felt that it was no more than he deserved. Although he had not killed his mother, his actions had set in motion a series of events that had made his mother's life a living hell. They had no health insurance at the time of Marie's accident. With her leg in a cast, she could not earn her living by dancing and became mired deeper and deeper in debt. She was in danger of losing her home, her job, and her son. She was finally driven to do the only thing she could to earn the money she so desperately needed. She prostituted herself, forced to sell her body while trying to retain her soul.
And for that, Buck judged himself unworthy of forgiveness. It was a secret he intended to carry with him to his grave.
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