Beyond Friendship

by Sue M

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!

Thanks to Mog for the ATF/AU

Thank you Phyllis for betaing for me and for all that you do.

Chris had both hands pressed against the cold glass, his eyes transfixed to the pair in the room. Four men stood with him, unable to comprehend the scene before them. How did it all go wrong?

Buck was in agony, desperately trying to grasp at the fire that seemed to be raging through his stomach, but firm hands kept him from his objective.

"Please Mr. Wilmington, we need to treat you, stay calm."

"J...JD...wh...where' s JD?" Buck was now clasping at the male nurse's shirt- front, his bloody hands making grisly prints on the stark white uniform.

Doctor Peters took Buck's face in his hands and turned him to look at him.

"He's right next to you, Buck...but we have to move fast. Please...let us help you."

Buck tried to rise..."Wh...where? Have to...have to tell him something..."

Peters eased Buck back down on the bed and turned the brunet's face gently to the right.   "He's there, Buck...but I don't think he's quite with us at the moment."   The doctor turned the anguished face back to look at him.   "He's both's bad, Buck...I'm sorry... we need to move fast." He released his hold.

Buck once more turned to his best friend and surrogate little brother. JD's wide hazel eyes were fixed on him, but the brunet couldn't be sure JD could actually see him at that moment. The activity around the boy was frenetic, there was blood everywhere, stained clothes were tossed on the floor as the youth's chest was covered in soaked red dressings. Then it solitary blink and a tear, slowly escaping from the corner of JD's eye.

+ + + + + + +

JD was in a world of pain, but he couldn't move. The noise around him sounded like it was coming from inside a long tunnel, echoey and unclear, then... voice penetrated the confusion.


JD slowly opened his eyes and tilted his chin up to see, just as Buck was being turned toward him. He tried desperately to call his name...he needed to talk to him, tell him something...'Open your Goddamned mouth, Dunne.' Buck's face turned away...' Where are you going...? -- no...don't turn away, I need to talk to you.'

The easterner's eyes remained fixed, praying his mentor, friend, and big brother would turn back to him...for just one last time. A tear slowly worked its way down into his ear.


Buck was turning back toward him. Still finding it difficult to work his mouth, JD agonizingly lifted his hand and stretched it out toward Wilmington.

+ + + + + + +

Chris pressed his head to the glass and moaned softly, although he hadn't realized it until he felt Josiah's hand on his shoulder.

"Keep the faith, brother, your team and those boys need you to be strong."

Chris turned despairingly to face him. "Maybe I just don't want to be strong today, Josiah."

The profiler smiled compassionately as the team closed in.

"In that case...allow us to help you."

Ezra broke the ensuing silence. "Why are they moving them closer together? Oh...I see."

Before anyone could answer, and while observing the scene, alarms were sounding and more medics were running past them into the ER room. All five men were close to the window now, staring into the room, their minds and bodies aching with emotion. The only sound was Vin's whispered..."No. "

+ + + + + + +

Buck was about to speak again when he noticed JD's shaky hand stretching out toward him. He stretched out his own hand and strained to get closer but there was too much distance between them.

Doctor Peters was losing his patience.

"Buck, for the love of God..." Looking down, he noticed what Buck was trying to do and quickly issued instructions to his team to move the gurney closer to JD's.

Buck kept his arm and hand outstretched, desperately waiting for the beds to get closer. Finally, the two men's fingers touched and Buck was sure he saw JD's face relax slightly. In moments their fingers were intertwined.

Buck bit through his pain, "Kid...h...have ta tell you..."

JD blinked once, slowly, and succeeded in mouthing the word 'sorry.'

By the time Wilmington had swallowed to help him form the words to speak, he saw JD's eyes flicker and close as his hand dropped away from Buck's. Alarms sounded and the young agent went still.

Instantly, Dunne's gurney was rolled away as calls of 'code blue' and 'he's crashing' sliced into the brunet's brain.

While piercing alarms and unrelenting raised voices drifted around him, Buck's own darkness called to him and despite fighting with what little strength he had left, he eventually surrendered while hearing a weak and raspy tear-filled voice call out.



JD stretched and smiled to himself as he heard the key turn in the lock of the door to the apartment, quickly huddling down to feign sleep and have a little fun with his roommate.

"Hey!" Buck called, mainly to announce his arrival in case his roommate was asleep and also to ensure JD's Colt didn't find its way up his nostril. He spied the younger man curled up on the sofa and decided he'd check on him. Buck grinned to himself as he realized JD was faking and toeing off a sneaker and pulling off one of his socks, he placed it under JD's nose. In seconds the young agent was sitting bolt upright, coughing.

"Holy crap, Buck I swear your feet are made out of pure cheese."

Buck laughed helplessly, "Sorry, kid...did I wake ya?"

JD unsuccessfully bit back a smile. "Smartass."

Buck ruffled the youth's hair, laughing harder as the youth slapped his hand away, "I learned from the best, kid. Ya hungry?"

JD touched his hand to his rumbling stomach. "Does that answer your question?"

"Any pizza left from earlier?"

JD nodded, "Yeah, it's in the microwave."

Buck clapped his hands together. "Pizza it is, then."

+ + + + + + +

After eating, the inevitable fight for the TV remote began. Buck always promised himself he wouldn't do it, but each time he would stand upright, the remote in the air, smiling down on a young man a good six inches shorter than himself, while JD cursed blue at the injustice of it all.

JD anticipated the move and slapped it out of Wilmington's grasp, but before he could pick it up, Buck's long reach had the two men chasing it along the polished wood floor. Seeing it shatter as it smacked hard into the skirting, the two men looked at each other and sighed.


JD picked up the pieces to begin his repairs while Buck went to get them a beer. Sitting quietly for a moment as they caught their breath, Buck remembered something.

"Forgot ta tell you, Casey called last night, just before ya got back with the take-out."

JD looked up from what he was doing momentarily, suitably unimpressed, and returned to his task, only to look up again a few seconds later.

"She in 'by telephone?"

Buck nodded.

"Did she say why?"

"No, other than to say she's planning on taking up another six- month option on her European exchange."

JD snorted, "She could have told me that in an email."

"Maybe she wanted to hear your voice, kid." Buck assured.

Another snort. "Well it would be the first time in three months; did she say which guy she was going out with now?"

Buck's features saddened as he watched his young friend pretend he didn't care.

"Kid, those European guys really go for an American accent, y'know? Don't mean anything. Hell, the fact she goes out with so many different guys is proof enough that she's unsettled. She misses you."

JD stopped what he was doing but didn't look up, "Did she say she does?"

The brunet smiled slightly, "Not as such, but when I told her you were missing her, I kinda got the impression it affected her."

JD looked up at Wilmington sharply; the look on his face would haunt Buck for years to come. The easterner rose to his feet and stood over the recliner causing Buck to wince at the anger there.

"You told her what? Please tell me you didn't say those words."

Buck nodded slowly, "But you do, don't you?"

JD closed his eyes and inhaled. As he released the breath the words that followed were delivered through gritted teeth and a growl.

"I did Buck...I did...past tense. When I finally got around to thinking it over, I realized that while I was off work through an injury on duty and confused about the events of that accident, she chose to walk calmly up to me, reach into my chest and rip out my heart. No warnings, no discussion, just..." he mimicked Casey's voice, "...Oh I'm off to Europe for six months JD...thought we needed a little break from each other JD...well what about JD? Huh? Did JD get any say in this decision...Nooo... and when she gets there what does she do? She tells me what a great time she's having and the name of the guy taking her to dinner that night...THAT'S HOW FUCKING MUCH SHE CARES ABOUT ME!"

He stepped back out of Buck's face, "You're an idiot. I suppose you base all your conclusions on the 'long term' commitment you show to all your lady friends...right up until...oooh... breakfast? "

With those last words, any trace of compassion dissolved, replaced by rising anger. Buck stood and grasped JD's arm.

"Hey, I made a mistake, okay? You can call me insensitive, you can tell me I flap my mouth too much...but none of those things make me an idiot, you got no right to call me that, or question my morals."

Dunne snatched his arm away, "If the shoe fits..."

The brunet strode in front of his roommate.

"You take that back, JD, I'm warning you, now, I won't be spoken to like that."

The furious youth glared, "Like what? Who do you think you are? Where do you get off telling me what I can and can't do or say? You screw around with my life, be prepared to take the consequences. "

Buck spread his arms wide, "Consequences? You're talking to the guy that picks you up off the floor more times than he wipes his own ass... You act all macho, but in reality you're a marshmallow...soft, and I'm the one keeping you from gettin' toasted. Get a grip...I made a mistake."

JD shook as his anger raged, "No Buck, you didn't make a mistake, you fucked up like you always do, talking before you think, sharing people's private thoughts and feelings without a thought for how it will affect them, just like you did with Chris."

Wilmington paled and put his hand on JD's chest to stop him from walking away.

"Don't you EVER talk about Chris and me in that way. We've put the past behind us and no snot-nosed five-minutes- in-the-job easterner's gonna talk like that about a relationship he couldn't possibly understand."

Dunne was hurting, as Buck laid bare JD's deepest fears, his face now changing from anger to despair.

"That's it, huh? That's all I am to you, a snot-nosed easterner that has no understanding of the complex relationship between Larabee and Wilmington...oh and let's not forget Vin...but then, that's where I come in, isn't it? Chris moves on and you're stuck with me...a five-minutes- in-the-job marshmallow. Well swivel on this and be eternally grateful you brought that to my attention."

As Dunne flipped the brunet the bird, he forcefully pushed him out of the way and slammed into his bedroom, locking it behind him.

Buck stood with one hand supporting him as he leaned against the living room wall, shaking violently as he tried to work out what had just happened. He and JD had argued on many occasions, but never like that. He replayed the words that had been hurled, over and over in his mind, groaning as realization struck at just how angry they had both been and how quickly it had escalated. And now Buck was done in. They had been arguing so vehemently he was drained as he climbed wearily up to his room.

Hearing JD slam out of the apartment as he lay on his bed, Buck shuddered as the sound about broke his heart. He wiped a hand over his face and picked up the phone.


+ + + + + + +

JD locked his bedroom door and sat down hard on the edge of his bed, resting his head in his hands. He was shaking intensely, his emotions very close to the surface, but he refused to give in, rocking gently as if trying to comfort himself.

After a few minutes he rose to his feet and began to pack his duffle bag. He could hear Buck climbing the stairs to his room as he zipped up his jacket, picked up his bag and keys and, walking from his room, left the apartment, inadvertently slamming the door behind him. Twenty minutes later, and still shaking, JD pressed a doorbell and leaned heavily against the doorframe, unconsciously hugging himself as he waited for an answer. Just about able to see through tearful eyes, the easterner glanced up as the occupier called out then proceeded to unlock the door. As it opened, JD choked back a sob.

"Can...can I stay here tonight please?"

+ + + + + + +

Chris had finished stabling the horses for the evening and was just settling down in the study to do some accounting. Since JD had set up his finances on the computer for him, Chris had become diligent in his efforts to stay on top of things. He was almost finished when his phone rang.

"Larabee...Buck? "

Chris stiffened as he listened to the despairing voice on the other end.

"I'll be right there."

+ + + + + + +

Vin was idly flicking through sports channels, eventually settling on beach volleyball and proceeded to munch his way through several bags of potato chips and jelly donuts. He was just exiting the kitchen after disposing of his empty wrappers when his doorbell rang. He glanced at his watch - 9.45. Frowning at the timing, he unholstered his gun and walked to the door, calling out to the person on the other side to identify themselves. On hearing the reply he slipped the bolt and opened the door, shaken at the despair in the face staring back at him and moved at the heartbreaking request. He opened his door wider.

"Sure, kid, come on in."

Tanner noted the slump to the boy's weary form as he walked in. Re- bolting the door, Vin followed his friend into the living room as he tried not to speculate on what might have happened for JD to be here at this time of night. He had no doubt he would likely know soon.

+ + + + + + +

Chris leaned against the wall of the elevator as he waited for the car to stop. Buck's short phone call had been distressing and was all the blond could think about. As he stepped out onto the floor of his friends' apartment, he was instantly met by a pacing brunet. Larabee took the distressed man's elbow and guided him inside the apartment, sitting the big guy down in the recliner as he brewed them some coffee.

Chris handed over a mug and sat opposite his oldest friend, patiently waiting for Buck to speak. Finally, Buck emitted a shuddering breath.

"Chris...I fucked up."

The blond angled forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "Go on..."

+ + + + + + +

Vin offered his despondent teammate a glass of milk and sat cross- legged on the floor just in front of JD. It was a while before anyone spoke but eventually the younger man looked at Vin.

"Buck and me just had an awful fight."

Vin nodded, he had guessed as much. He waited, sipping his drink.

"Said some pretty...awful things."

"Usually goes that way. How's Buck?"

Without looking up initially, JD answered, "Truthfully? Don't know, don't care."

Vin touched his friend's knee. "Ya know ya don't mean that, kid." Tanner was taken aback at the venom in Dunne's next words.

"Oh...I do."

+ + + + + + +

Ezra looked around the bullpen. The place was deserted bar himself, Josiah and Nathan, who were working so quietly they were barely noticeable.

"Did I miss an announcement? " he asked.

Josiah looked up. "In reference to what?"

"A public holiday?"

Nathan was now looking up also and answered.

"Nope, the others are running a mite late."

Standish checked his watch, raising his eyebrows, "Mister Jackson, you are the master of understatement. "

Logging in to his computer, the southerner set to work, trying to prevent curiosity from getting the better of him.

Chris and Buck were the first to arrive, acknowledging their teammates briefly then both entering Larabee's office. The three men looked at each other, Josiah spoke.

"Brothers, I fear this doesn't look good."

Ten minutes later, Vin and JD entered, offering a brief 'good morning' and instantly settling at their desks.

Moments later, Buck exited Chris' office and walked toward his own desk. Before he got there, Chris called.

" office, please."

As Dunne stood, he came face to face with his roommate, instantly dropping his head to avoid eye-contact. Buck continued on to his seat, trying to maintain a poker face. It didn't fool anyone. He looked at Tanner.

"He with you last night?"

The Texan nodded.

"Figured he'd go running to either you or Josiah. He tell you anything?"

The return look from Tanner told Buck all he needed to know. "There's two sides ta every story, y'know."

The Texan's gaze never faltered. "Did I say otherwise?"

Josiah, Ezra and Nathan once more exchanged looks; they had a really bad feeling about this.

+ + + + + + +

As JD entered the office, Chris gestured for him to sit.

"How are you this morning?" the blond asked.

"Fine, thank you."

Larabee offered a little smile, "That good, huh?"

JD looked up at his team leader. "I'm sure Buck's filled you in by now."

A nod, "Yes, I have spoken to him about it."

"He tell you what he did?"

"JD...the man made a mistake, and for that he's sorry. Things got a little heated last night and..."

Dunne stood, "A little heated? A LITTLE HEATED? Yeah...I'd say that and a whole lot more."

Chris matched his agent's position. "Now, son, no need to get upset again, calm down."

The easterner glared, "Oh...I see. Does that mean I've been tried and convicted already, huh? Well, thanks for your time. I'll just get back to work, now."

The team leader blocked his exit. "JD, sit...I haven't finished."

"I'm not going through all that again, Chris. I understand you taking his side, don't worry about it. I'll stay out of his way, there'll be no trouble."

Chris' eyes flashed. "JD, I'm not taking sides, I just want to create a comfortable working environment until you two resolve this."

"Oh it's resolved. Buck made it very clear how he really feels about me. I'm gonna stay with Vin until I find me a place to live. I won't create any problems for the team."

Chris frowned, "Vin's agreed to this?"

"Sure. I'd better get on, I have a lot more research I want to do on the Boland case."

The blond nodded and watched his youngest agent leave. "JD, send Vin in please?"

A call came back as the youth exited, "Will do."

+ + + + + + +

Vin relaxed into the chair opposite Larabee's desk. "Problem?"

"Is it true you offered JD a place to stay?"

"Sure, can't have the kid wandering the streets, can I?"

Chris rounded his desk and perched on the corner, his fingers gripping the edges. "He has a home, he just needs to pull himself together and go back there."

Now Vin was frowning, "JD was pretty upset last night, cowboy...Buck said some pretty harsh things."

"By what I heard, JD didn't do too badly either."

The Texan stood slowly, "Sounded ta me like he had good cause to be upset."

Chris pushed up off the desk, unconsciously matching Vin's stance.

"That doesn't make it right to hurl insults."

"I got the impression that had come about from both sides."

Before Chris could answer, the two men's attention was drawn to raised voices from the outer office. They stepped out quickly to find out what was happening, surprised to see Buck and JD squaring off at each other while the three other agents stood around awkwardly.

+ + + + + + +

Buck threw a paperclip across at JD's desk. Dunne ignored it.


JD stood; Buck did the same and began to approach the young man. Dunne threw up a warning hand.

"I don't want to do this."

"Why are you being so awkward about this? We just need to talk, maybe apologize..."

Dunne's head snapped up. "Hold the phone...why do I need to apologize?"

"You said some pretty mean things..."

"As did you, except yours went way beyond words, and it's ok...I totally got the message."

Buck rolled his eyes, "How many times do I have to say I'm sorry about what I said to Casey?"

The younger man felt his anger returning and stepped threateningly closer. The other three men became instantly alarmed at what was happening right in front of them and began to work their way toward the two best friends.

"First of haven't and second of all, if you think I want to be associated with a narrow-minded, interfering, pig-headed son-of-a- bitch who thinks I'm a poor second best as a friend compared to Chris Larabee...THINK AGAIN!"

Buck glared, "What was it you said last night? Oh yeah...if the shoe fits..."


Both men turned to see Chris exiting his office, Vin right behind.

"I will not have this brought in here. JD, go to the break room and cool off."

Vin stepped toward JD, "I'll come with you."

"Vin," Chris warned, "Don't get involved."

"Seems like ya already did that by telling JD to leave."

Larabee pursed his lips as he watched the two men disappear. He turned to Buck.

"Did I not ask you to leave talking to him for now?"

Wilmington closed his eyes and pushed his hand through his hair, opening them again to look at his team leader.

"I thought he'd be thinking more clearly this morning...I was wrong."

"I know this is none of our concern," Ezra began, "But I feel compelled to comment. What just happened here?"

The brunet looked at his three friends, "The kid and me almost came to blows last night, he stormed out and I hadn't seen him until now."

Josiah stepped forward.

"My friend, you boys are two of the closest people I know, more brothers than friends. I cannot believe this is something that won't soon be resolved."

Buck sighed. "Preacher...there was a time I would have agreed with you... but this time I'm not so sure."

+ + + + + + +

Vin leaned against the doorframe of the break room, watching his young friend trying to hold it together. JD looked at him.

"You sure you don't mind me staying with you for a while? I don't want to put you in the middle of all this."

Vin walked toward him. "It's others that do that, kid...I just call it how I see it. Don't worry none about me. You're welcome to stay as long as you need to."

Dunne poured himself a glass of water and tried to hide the shake in his hands as he drank it.


+ + + + + + +

Four days on and the Boland case looked about ready to push to the front of their caseload. Ezra had been 'working' their adversaries for the last week and was satisfied this bust would be easier than most due to his contact's desperation to dispose of the guns. Team Seven were preparing to leave their homes for work, tomorrow would be the day of the bust.

Chris had been pleased with how the team had worked, despite the obvious difficulties and resolved to deal with the issue with some personal time for the team after this case was put to bed. But his heart ached to see two people he cared for avoiding each other unless it was necessary for the case. Both had become withdrawn and it had affected the whole team, unused to the two normally ebullient souls being so miserable. The blond had also caught himself harboring accusatory thoughts toward Vin about taking sides, realizing now it was obvious he and Vin had simply been watching out for the man that had naturally gravitated toward them in their hour of need. He made a decision that when, because he didn't consider 'if' to be an option... when this was resolved he would spend some quality time with JD, while he and Vin just needed to re-connect. Climbing into his Ram, he looked forward to the conclusion of this bust.

Vin was not good with such personal dilemmas as he found himself involved in now, but it didn't deter him for watching out for his two friends. His easy-going nature made it effortless for him to move between the two, but outside of work he found himself more drawn to his new temporary roommate due to their extended time together. Despite their professionalism, this team had become as family, each man a brother to the other, each as important as the other, though clearly Buck and JD and Vin and Chris had realized their relationships were far stronger, went much deeper. JD was everyone's little brother and in Vin's eyes was everything he expected a little brother to be save for one thing...jealousy. Tanner had observed most siblings displayed some jealousy in their relationships, but JD appeared not to have a single jealous bone in his body, so it had surprised Vin to discover the younger man had been harboring insecurities over his position linking Buck and Chris from the very start.

Vin had one present see Buck and JD back as they were, but he added another to the tick list, to make sure JD's insecurities became a thing of the past, he just had to work out how, and also the best way to get to the bathroom first in the morning.

Ezra had surprised himself when he had realized he was missing the customary ambiance of their office. Despite often being out 'in the field' it was a comfort to return to its familiarity. Buck, JD and Vin kept him sharp as there was always something brewing between any combination of the three for him to keep abreast of. He hoped after the case was concluded he could aid his friends in settling their differences, he felt it was what family would do for each other. As he took one last look at himself in his hall mirror he was surprised how weary he appeared, while a small smile appeared on his lips, dimpling his cheeks as he realized how much he had come to care for these six men of Team Seven.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan had read everything he could on family disputes, insecurities and anything even remotely related to the team's current situation. He wanted more than anything to stop his two friends from hurting, because, despite the office appearing to be functioning normally, it was anything but normal. Chris had been allowed to fill them in to some extent, but it was evident this was so much more. He logged off his home pc and crept back into the bedroom to kiss his wife goodbye, smiling at her sleepy attempts to seduce him and her throaty chuckle as he reminded her he had to leave for work.

The previous night their lovemaking had been so intense both had been emotional afterwards. Rain had clearly picked up on Nathan's distress and had wanted desperately to comfort him. Nathan had been in desperate need of reassurance and had grasped at what was offered with a hunger he had never experienced before. They had talked for hours afterwards about how six men Nathan and Rain considered brothers could affect such an intimate part of their relationship, concluding the psychological link to them was stronger than they could ever have believed possible. He left for work with Rain's last words running through his mind. 'be careful, and find a way to tell Buck and JD I love them and I'm thinking of them.'

+ + + + + + +

Josiah placed his dirty dishes in the dishwasher and walked to the cupboard where he locked away his weapons and ammunition. Buckling his shoulder holster, he then slipped his jacket on, adjusting it over the bulk of the holster. He had spent several hours talking to Buck the previous night, and it was that conversation that had filled his thoughts as he prepared for work that morning. His heart was heavy as he recalled the utter desolation in Buck's whole demeanor as he was clearly missing having his young friend around him, and that, no matter what Josiah had said, nothing had helped bring a smile to Buck's face, or appeared to ease his pain. JD had been sidestepping Josiah at every opportunity after their conversation the day after the argument and Josiah hadn't initially been able to understand why. Some reflection on the past few days had reminded him of the several times the youth had seen him and Buck talking, and it now occurred to him that JD might consider Josiah to be in agreement with Buck on the issue. As Josiah pulled out into traffic, he was already determined to corner their youngest teammate and clear the air between them.

+ + + + + + +

Buck glanced toward JD's bedroom door as he exited the kitchen, sighing for the umpteenth time that morning alone. What he wouldn't give to have a short, dark-haired, smiling twenty-one year old bouncing into him, hopping on one foot as he attempted to force on an untied sneaker while chewing on a piece of toast, swearing blind he had woken up as soon as the alarm had gone off. Buck half-smiled as he imagined the youth's expression as he reminded him that hearing the alarm only to ignore it and hearing the alarm and instantly getting up were two very different things. He pushed open the bedroom door and looked around. Everything was as it was the night JD had left, drawers open, clothes strewn around, magazines scattered and mixing with the clothes and for a split-second Buck could see JD standing in the middle of it all, grinning like a loon and promising he would clear it all up tomorrow. Then the words from their argument slammed into his mind and he shuddered, but it helped him focus. Today was the day Buck was going to sort this mess out, even if he had to lock them both in Larabee's office to achieve it, today he and JD were going to talk. He wanted his little brother here, at home, where he belonged.

+ + + + + + +

JD knew Vin wanted the bathroom but he just couldn't move. In the five days Buck and JD had not spoken, the young agent had quietly fallen apart, though he thought he'd hidden it well. He missed their conversations, their laughter, practical jokes, petty arguments, Buck's grilled cheese, hell even his smelly socks...he missed home. But now that very word caused JD's stomach to flip. Everything he had come to feel comfortable with had been ripped away from him with those two phrases

"... we've put the past behind us and no snot-nosed five- minutes- in-the- job easterner's gonna talk like that about a relationship he couldn't possibly understand.. ."

"...You act all macho, but in reality you're a marshmallow...soft, and I'm the one keeping you from being toasted..."

He was sure Chris had confidence in him, otherwise he'd be long gone, but Buck...the one person he truly thought believed in him...never had. And now JD couldn't help thinking maybe the others secretly felt the same...deep down. He knew they liked him, cared about him...but were they secretly afraid his lack of experience could be harmful to them?

Hopefully McKesson from IT would get back to him about his transfer request soon, and he could put all this behind him. He had loved everything about his life until five long days ago, but now he thought it would be best to move on. Buck deserved his position on Team Seven, but it was clear one of them had to go. If he could give his big brother one last gift, this would be it.

He flushed the unused toilet and joined Vin in the living room, apologizing for his tardiness. Vin forgave him...Vin was a good man.

+ + + + + + +

Larabee nodded to Tanner and Dunne as they entered the bullpen.

"Get comfortable, the bust has been moved up to today."

The pair quickly took a seat as the details for the day were relayed; only Ezra was missing, already in position with the gunrunners. Chris concluded.

"Surveillance will be courtesy of Sam and Nick from Team three, Vin, usual please."

Vin nodded.

Larabee pointed to the map of the warehouse interior, hesitating for a moment as he appeared to be making a decision.

"Josiah, take this position, Nathan, you're here, and JD... you're with me."

They all nodded as they observed the blond checking his watch.

"We have an hour and a half to get into position."

Dunne shuffled, "Why today, Chris?"

"Ezra says Boland is getting antsy...wants to get out of state. It seems like he's double-crossed someone to get this merchandise. Okay... let's roll."

+ + + + + + +

The bust couldn't have gone smoother, no injuries, no escapees, all merchandise recovered. Larabee smiled to himself as his team bantered while removing their vests, an obvious tension breaker, the only thing missing were exchanges between Buck and JD, but once or twice, Chris had noticed each of the two men cast a glance toward the other unnoticed and smile to themselves. Chris hoped the road to recovery was about to be traveled.

While JD made his way to the surveillance van, Buck marched Boland to a waiting squad car. Both men's heads shot up, as did the rest of Team Seven's as calls from the surveillance van screamed into their earpieces.


What happened next took on the eerie appearance of slow motion for all involved, as the guys Boland had screwed over decided to exact their revenge.

A squeal of tires drew the team's attention to a black SUV racing toward where a squad car and the surveillance van were parked. JD barely had time to draw his weapon when a hail of bullets emanating from the SUV were directed toward Buck and Boland, both men's bodies jerking and flying backward as the bullets found their targets and also ripped into the squad car. JD screamed out and ran toward the SUV.


He took a position and fired at the passing vehicle, partially aware of success as the vehicle skewed, then, in moments, wondering why he was looking at the sky. JD turned his head to look toward the downed men, to see Buck looking back at him and yelling least he thought he was yelling something, all he could hear was a sound like rushing water in his ears. The youth started shivering as he tried to work out why Buck was dragging his bleeding body toward him across the ground.

'Hang on, Buck...I'm coming...'

Despite saying the words several times...he thought, out loud, but was actually in his head...he couldn't move. JD's attention was drawn to Vin and Nathan's faces looking down on him. What was Nathan saying... shot? 'Yes...Buck was him...' He felt an odd pressure as Vin appeared to be pressing on his chest, when a pain unlike anything he'd ever experienced before hit him. Just before he blacked out, he heard himself scream.

+ + + + + + +

Buck had barely looked up at the sound of the squealing tires and yelled warning when he was moving backwards, his stomach burning with pain.

From the ground, he looked toward Boland, the man was dead, of that he was sure, as were the cops in the squad car. More gunfire drew his attention to JD, just in time to see a bullet slam into the youth's chest and take him to the ground as Sam and Nick exited the surveillance van.

From that moment, Buck's pain became secondary as he attempted to crawl along the ground to reach his injured friend, yelling toward the youth in an effort to reassure him as Buck's gaze locked with JD's as he lay bleeding on the ground.

"JD...JD hang on boy...I'm coming...Buck's coming...hang on!"

He growled as Larabee and Sanchez halted his progress and turned him onto his back.

"L...let me go, damnit...JD...JD's hurt."

Chris was examining the gunshot to Wilmington's abdomen.

"Buck, lie still, you're bleeding like a stuck pig...Vin and Nathan are with JD and ambulances are on their way...calm down."

A heart wrenching scream of pain from JD started the whole panic process again. Chris tried to focus on not letting Buck bleed out any more than he had to.

Sam and Nick had been directed to the four men in custody and dealt with them as Team Seven tried to comfort and stop two friends from bleeding to death.

+ + + + + + +

Vin watched JD and Buck walk away and started packing up his M24, smiling at Ezra's dissection of the bust and whether it had warranted him wearing his new Dolce and Gabbana suit. As their eardrums vibrated with the yelled warning and then their attention drawn to the direction of squealing tires, Team Seven were spinning on their heels and racing toward their fallen teammates, their emotions a mixture of terror and shock. Chris directed Nathan to JD as the young man hadn't moved and proceeded to stop Buck doing himself any further damage from dragging himself along the ground leaving a grisly red trail behind.

Vin followed Nathan as Ezra hovered between the two groups after initially going to check on the now confirmed dead cops in the squad car, ensuring help was on the way and waiting to see which friend needed assistance the most. By the time the ambulance was pulling away, Standish had decided he hadn't liked his new suit anyway, so the fact it was spattered with blood no longer mattered.

+ + + + + + +

In the ambulance, Chris sat between the two men, one deathly pale and quiet, the other trying to get up to see why the other was so quiet. By the time they reached the hospital, the blond's nerves were raw, his emotions near-drained. He had heard the paramedics talking and could tell by the urgency in their reports to dispatch and the medical jargon they used to each other that this was bad. Chris willingly allowed the ER nurse to help him clean up, then lead him to an observation window to the ER room. By the time the rest of the team arrived he knew both men were critical, but that JD was a priority.

All Larabee wanted was to start this day again, and say the bust was off.

+ + + + + + +

Buck tried hard to focus on the face that was inches from his. No dark hair and hazel eyes to greet him, it was a blond with piercing green eyes that willed him to focus on the task in hand. After taking a few sips of water things became clearer and he tried to smile.


"Right here big guy. You're doing great; surgery went well, lost a bit of blood, but no major organ damage, just a little nip and tuck to your intestines. You did good, pard."

Buck smiled, and drifted back to sleep, a question on his lips but no memory at that time to voice it. Maybe later.

The next time Buck woke he was aware of his surroundings. This was ICU, and he knew that things had been tight if he found himself in here. Chris was sitting next to his bed, arms folded and a cheesy grin on his face. God, he wished he had a camera. Looking around, he could now see the other members of the team.

"Got nothing better to do, guys?" Buck rasped, trying to work out who was missing.

Each man smiled, Buck hadn't really expected an answer. Just as the brunet was relaxing, a face flashed across his mind, he again looked around at the others then turned directly to Larabee, his own face now reflecting fear.

"Who fired on us?"

Larabee looked at him, "We're guessing the guys Boland double- crossed. You were lucky pard."

Buck's expression grew more intense. "JD...Chris, what happened to the kid?"

Chris stood and leaned over him. He had been dreading this moment.

"He's here, pard and Vin's with him. Doc says it's touch and go, he came through surgery well, but he's real sick right now. The bullet was so close to his heart, they were concerned he might not make it through surgery."

Buck's eyes filled as he swallowed. "Well...where's Vin?"

"I told, you...he's here."

Buck was confused, "And JD?"

"Right next to you," the blond whispered

Wilmington slowly turned his head to his left and moaned softly as he saw JD's pale, still form lying there, surrounded by machinery, the team's sharpshooter sitting right next to him.

" that a ventilator?"

Chris nodded, "Yes...he's too weak to help himself right now, but they're hoping to take him off it if he improves tomorrow."

Buck nodded his understanding, his eyes firmly fixated on the young man lying next to him, and that's how he fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

Two days on and the men had been left to recover together, despite Buck qualifying for a regular room. JD was off the ventilator but he was deteriorating, Buck didn't need to be told, he just knew.

Doctor Peters called the team together around Buck's bed; he knew it would be better if they had each other to lean on for his news.

"JD is not improving. He didn't respond to the antibiotics so we've put him on a stronger one. While his injuries are very serious, I fear this goes beyond medicine. He's not fighting, not even a little bit. Gentlemen, I think it might be wise to consider saying your goodbyes, maybe something you say will get through to him, but if it doesn't, we can only hope the words give him comfort. I'm truly sorry, there's nothing more we can do. The ball is very much in JD's court now."

With a nod and a compassionate look, the doctor left six stunned agents in the room. No one knew what to say. They all jumped as Buck broke the silence.

"That's bullshit." Wilmington lowered his voice, mindful of his partner lying in the next bed. "There's no way that boy's gonna die on me. Think about what you're gonna say to him and say it, but I hear one word suggesting he's dying I won't be responsible for my actions."

Nathan cleared his throat. "I guess it can't hurt...the hearing is always the last to go...listening to how we feel might just help."

Chris nodded, "Josiah, can you rustle us up a wheelchair. Buck, this should be done privately, so I'm gonna take you out into the waiting room with us as each man visits, is that okay?"

In ten minutes, they were all in the waiting room except Ezra, who had elected to go first.

+ + + + + + +

The southerner stared at the young man so still before him. "Ah, Mister Dunne, it would appear we have somewhat of a dilemma. While you sleep, the rest of us are condemned to sit with you while Mister Wilmington snores happily. Not something I would chose to listen to, I prefer a good opera."

He sat and took the boy's cold hand.

"Young man, I have a confession. There have been occasions when I took your money under false pretences and now I cannot rest until you wake up and allow me to demonstrate to you a Your cooperation in this matter is gratefully appreciated. "

Ezra could feel his throat constricting; he decided to make the next piece quick.

"JD, I have to say...seeing you like this tears at my heart. When I first met you, I made the mistake of dismissing you. You were too young, in my opinion and I was not prepared to give you a chance. But you saw through me and in no time reminded me of how much you can learn if you are willing, and my young friend, of all the things I have learned from you, I thank you most for your humility. It taught me to remember that clever and exceptional individuals do not always have to parade it. Get well, son, I have no doubt we have much more to teach each other."

Giving the young agent's hand a squeeze, he left the room and walked straight into Josiah. He allowed the profiler to put his arms around him for a few moments, then pulled away, softly thanking him as he took a seat.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan went next. He didn't really know what to say. He looked the young man over.

"Lord, boy, you look rough. If Rain was here now, she'd give you what for for not taking better care of yourself. Do you have any idea how much trouble I'm in if she knows I left you looking like this?"

He leaned in closer, lowering his voice.

"Got me a little secret, but you can't share this with anyone yet, it's way too early. I'm gonna be a daddy," Nathan smiled shyly, "Which means you're gonna be an uncle. Now, I don't know about you, but no child of mine's gonna come into this world without his Uncle John to give him a warm welcome so you'd better get your ass out of that bed and get better. Oh, and I almost forgot...Rain told me to tell you she loves you," Nathan swallowed, "And so do I."

+ + + + + + +

Josiah had sat next to JD for five minutes, watching the youth breathe and rubbing his thumb across the young man's hand as he gently held it. Finally he spoke.

"I was thinking the other day about our parachute jump. I never felt I truly thanked you for that. I was wondering, how do you feel about white water rafting? I've always wanted to try it. Maybe we can persuade everyone to come along, that surely would be a good day out."

Sanchez pushed the hair from JD's eyes with his free hand, his eyes bright with tears.

"You've been good for us, John Dunne; you've reminded us of how we used to be when we first started out, and thanks to you, we've become those people again. I'm convinced it's why our team is the best. We have a passion for what we do, and a responsibility to you to teach you all we can. I just wanted to say 'thank you' for such a wonderful gift you bestow on us each day...the gift of life. Love, passion, enthusiasm, curiosity, laughter, innocence, justice. We all possess it, we just forgot for a while until you reminded us. Thank you, son."

+ + + + + + +

Vin was not at all comfortable with this. He was not exactly renowned for his chatter, and also refused to believe his young friend would be leaving anytime soon. He paced alongside the bed, pushing his fingers through his hair as he talked.

" know I'm not one for all that fancy talkin' so I'm just gonna say this. If I could have picked me a kid brother, I couldn't have done better than I have with you. You helped me remember I could have fun, that life didn't have to be lived always lookin' over my shoulder. We make a great team, but I wanted ta tell you this most of all..." he finished pacing and faced his friend. "...I totally whooped your ass at Spongebob Squarepants Creature from the Krusty Krab the other day and I'm gonna remind you at every opportunity I get."

The Texan leaned in, fighting the tears forming in his eyes.

"Come back to us, JD."

+ + + + + + +

Chris had come in under false pretences. He had no idea what to say to a young man that should be up and doing and giving them all hell instead of lying in a hospital bed wasting away. So he decided to just sit, and let the others think he had done some talking.

His surprise at the sound of his own voice was cleverly disguised by looking nonchalantly at the Patriots bear sitting on the nightstand.

"Have to admit...I'm a little disappointed in you, son. I thought we agreed you would talk to me if you had a problem. So...imagine my surprise when McKesson from IT showed up with transfer forms for you. Anyway, if you really want to leave us, you're gonna have to fill out more forms, 'coz I kinda...destroyed the others...well he was waving them in my face."

Chris finally looked at the young man and squeezed his arm.

"No more bullshit, kid. You're one of it or are. When you get out of here, me and you are gonna do some talkin', 'course, we'll probably have to saddle up as we do it, but I figured you wouldn't mind that so much."

He moved in closer.

"Enough now, son...time to get up. I need to tell you...I'm proud of you."

+ + + + + + +

As Chris wheeled Buck back into the room, the others followed. Despite protests, Buck pushed himself out of the chair and climbed up onto the youth's bed.

As Josiah held JD forward, cradling the unconscious youth against his chest, Buck got himself comfortable a little behind his roommate's upper body, and with help from Chris and Josiah, pulled the youth carefully toward him, resting the back of the dark head against his chest and wrapping his arms caringly around the slight, feverish body. He leaned back and looked at the others.

"If ya'll don't mind, I'd like a private word with my boy here."

With a nod, the others left. Buck sighed and pulled the still body in close as he rested his cheek on the boy's clammy head.

"Thought it was time you and me had a little chat. Oh, you don't have ta say anything...just you lie there and listen and join in when you're ready." Buck swallowed.

"First off, I wanted to apologize for what I said the other day. I know we both said some things we regret, but seeing as I'm doin' the talking, I'll go first.

"My mom's, and Sarah and Adam's deaths, were the only things I've ever wanted to go back in time and change, until that argument. Kid...I know you must be thinking that if I said it, I must have always thought it, but I swear to you, it's not so.

"Chris and me...well, we've had us some pretty fierce fights over the past few years, said some real mean things to each other, and I guess... once you and me were going at it like that, old habits kicked in and I threw the very things at you I knew would hurt most.

"I don't deny I love you like a brother and I want to watch out for you, take care of you...protect you, but it doesn't mean I see you as weak. Hell, if anyone's weak, it's me; I do these things because I'm afraid of not having you around any more.

"You may not be able to forgive me...and that will hurt more than you'll ever know...but if you can at least believe I mean what I say...well...I can live with that, and hope one day you'll find it in your heart to at least talk to me about how you feel."

Buck felt a slight movement against him and a sigh so soft he almost missed it. He closed his eyes for a moment and prayed it was a positive sign. He continued.

"Now, as for Casey, well, my bad again. Lord, boy, I swear I thought I was saying the right thing, and I truly believe Casey liked what she heard. She's been taunting you, boy...testing you, and I've been proud of you for being strong about all this. Except you haven't been, have you? How could I have been so blind? Apart from one small conversation, we've never even addressed it, have we? Well, if you're still talking to me after all this...we will, I promise. No more secrets...right? "

Sleep was claiming the older man now, but he fought it just to finish what he needed to say.

"This last year or so kid, I've lived some of the best and worst moments of my life, but I wouldn't change it for anything...well, the worst ones, yeah, but even those have helped me realize just how happy I am now. Work is not a way I would describe what we do each day. It's more a...calling, hell, on some days it's even a labor of love. Being with you and the guys has made it so and I'm gonna make sure y'all know that. And as for home..." Wilmington smiled, "I can call it that, now...home.

"Before you came along and turned everything upside-down it was just somewhere to eat and sleep and entertain the fine ladies. it's where I want to be. I love our times together, I love when the guys come over...I love everything about it, even the mess. But most of all, I love sharing it with you, little brother. This past week has been pure hell and reminded me of how my life used to be. I don't want that, JD; I want it back to where it was before we had the fight. Do you think we could at least talk about it? I surely hope so.

"You rest now, son, get well, and strong...and we'll talk some more."

+ + + + + + +

After an hour, the five agents were getting restless.

"D'ya think he's done yet?" Vin asked.

Chris shrugged, "Hard to say, Buck does like to talk, especially where JD's concerned. I'm guessing there's a lot to be said, too, seeing as they haven't spoken for over a week. If anyone can bring him's Buck."

"I think you underestimate your influence in that respect, Chris," Josiah reminded, "That boy idolizes you, if you marched in there and told him to get well...I have no doubt he would."

Chris shuddered, "I didn't want to take the chance that he wouldn't," he whispered, then rallied, "And I think you all are the ones underestimating, here. JD absorbs everything you tell him and show him like a sponge, and not just because he's eager, but because he looks up to each and every one of you and wants to prove it to you. I have no doubt that whatever each of you said to him...will help."

Larabee was back at the window again. The previous times he had looked in he could see the brunet was still talking, this time he turned back to the others and grinned, then quietly opened the door and walked into the room.

Buck's cheek was still resting on JD's head but the ladies' man was sound asleep. Chris found it amusing, until he saw the blood.

"Nathan, get the doc, Ezra, take JD...Josiah, Vin...we need to get Buck into bed."

The brunet woke as he felt JD moving away from him.

"No, please, he's comfortable. "

"No way, old man, you need the doctor to take a look at," Chris ordered.

As Ezra gently laid JD back on the bed, the doctor arrived and was soon examining Wilmington.

"Damnit, Buck, what were you thinking?" the doctor admonished, "You've burst your stitches and set yourself back a whole day at least."

Buck looked around at the concerned faces of his friends and Doctor Peters, resting his gaze on the youth lying unconscious in the bed next to him.

"I'd give my life for that boy in a heartbeat... so what's a few stitches and an extra day in hospital?"

+ + + + + + +

The silence in the room was disturbed by a soft sigh. Buck, dozing in his bed, instantly turned to JD and was pleased to see a tiny movement. He desperately wanted to get up but his stitches were pulling and he knew he should get help. Knowing the others were just outside while they ate their sandwiches, Buck stretched carefully to reach for items on his nightstand. Once he had them, he began tossing them toward the door, relieved to see one or two things reach their target.

A few seconds later, Larabee popped his head around the door.

"Was that you?"

Wilmington gestured toward JD's bed, "Get me up."

In seconds, Chris was at Buck's side and helping him to his feet, knowing it was pointless to argue with the brunet at this moment. The others joined them, their heartbeats quickening at what they hoped was occurring.

Reaching JD's side, Buck touched the boy's face, smiling and looking at the others.

"His skin's cool," he announced.

As if responding to the touch, the youth moved his head slightly. Buck leaned his elbow to the side of JD's head so their faces were right next to each other.

"Come on then, sleepy head...Chris bet me a month off work you wouldn't wake up today; you wouldn't want me to lose now, would ya?"

Chris move behind Buck and placed his hand on the man's upper shoulder. He watched as his oldest friend rubbed a thumb across the youth's forehead while continuing to whisper softly too him.

There was no doubt in the team's minds that this young man was coming back to them. Tiny movements were evident as they increased in response to Buck's comfort.

+ + + + + + +

It was the silence that caught his attention. For some time, JD had been aware of familiar voices but simply didn't have the energy to focus, so he remained comforted by the sounds instead. But now...he wanted...needed to know why it had gone so quiet. Had everyone left?

JD was willing himself to open his eyes, move, anything, but his strength was non-existent. Then he felt a touch, heard a voice...that voice. But it couldn't be, could it? They weren't speaking...weren' t even living together...Buck hated him, didn't he? Unaware he was frowning, he turned slightly toward the voice, he had to see...had to know...'Buck? Help me...I can't do this.' He could feel a touch to his face, more soft words of encouragement in his ear. JD swallowed hard.


+ + + + + + +

The word was so softly whispered it might have been missed, but the brunet's smile told the others something was happening.

"Right here, JD...come on now, son...look at me."

Another frown from the youth and Buck's smile grew. JD could hear him, now all Buck had to do was keep him focused. He wasn't prepared, however, for the awful pain-filled expression that showed on the kid's face as hazel eyes peeked through heavy lids and dark bangs. He gripped JD's free hand with one of his own and used his other to push back the hair from the youth's eyes, leaving his hand to rest on the dark hair.

"I know, kid...send it to me, okay? You need to do this, so just send it to me."

"Uuuuuuuhhhhhh... ."

Buck's eyes filled as he looked at his teammates' concerned expressions.

"Okay, okay...that's good. Rest now."

+ + + + + + +

JD knew he was groaning, he couldn't help it, it hurt like holy Hell. Then Buck was telling him to rest. Fuck that...he'd come this far...he wasn't about to give up now. He focused and finally could see an outline, a face.


Wilmington shook his head as he smiled through watery eyes. "Shoot, boy, if I told ya not to jump in the river, would you do it anyway?"

"N...not today..." came the hushed reply.

Six men laughed softly...the kid was back.

+ + + + + + +

The next time JD awoke, he was much more aware of his surroundings. He looked to his right and saw Buck snoring softly in his bed. A rustling sound drew his attention to his left, just as Chris was putting some paperwork to one side.


Larabee grinned, "Hey yourself, nice to see you more alert this time." He stood and picked up a lidded cup and placed it to JD's lips. The younger man took a few sips and as the blond was pulling it away, went almost cross-eyed to look at it.

" that a Sippee cup?"

Chris chuckled, "Sort of...hey, it beats getting it all down you."

The youth narrowed his eyes, his voice barely a whisper. "What happened to a nice old-fashioned straw?"

"The hospital didn't want to encourage you to blow bubbles in your drink."

Both men looked across to see Buck's deep blue eyes crinkling at them in a huge smile. JD cursed himself as he could feel sleep calling to him again. He stifled a yawn.

"How are you, Buck?" he asked quietly.

"I'm doin' real good, kid. I think they'll release me in a few days. We're gonna be movin' to a regular room before that though, now you're improving."

Dunne nodded. His features saddened, "Buck...I...I need to..."

The ladies' man held up his hand. "Not now, kid. We got us plenty of time to talk...yeah?"

With a sigh, the youth nodded his agreement, drifting slowly back to sleep. Yeah...they had time.

+ + + + + + +

JD couldn't help but feel elated as he sank onto his own bed. It had seemed like forever since he had seen his own room. The last two weeks had witnessed both men discharged and stay with Chris, Larabee eventually, though reluctantly agreeing that the pair could go home. As Buck carried in a drink and a sandwich, JD scowled.

"Buck, I thought we agreed, no waiting on're supposed to be resting too."

Buck grinned. "Hell...I was hungry, thought I'd make us a little snack until Tanner gets here with the pizza."

JD chuckled, checking out his sandwich filling. "Yeah, ya have to give Vin credit, he orders a mean pizza."

Gesturing with his head, Buck got JD to scoot over and he joined him on the bed. The two tucked into their food in relative silence. JD looked across at Buck, laughing at the man's futile attempts to locate the mayo JD was pointing to trapped in his moustache, eventually using a napkin.

"So..." the youth started, "Would this be a good time to talk some more?"

Buck nodded. "D'ya wanna go first this time?"

"And last."

The brunet frowned.

"I've been thinking...can we just forget the other week now? Oh, I know we'll never really forget, but I just want to put it all behind us, get back to where we were, y'know? I reckon we've done all the talking we need to...don't you?"

All Buck could do was nod as he felt the emotion catching up with him. JD continued.

"See, the way I look at it, now, that what we have here, kinda goes...beyond friendship...I know we're not really related, but... apart from mom, I've never felt closer to anyone else than I do to you and the guys..." he paused for a moment, dropping his head, then lifting it again to look directly into his friend's eyes, "Especially you. Does that make sense?"

Wilmington sniffed and smiled. "Oh surely does. chapter, huh? Sounds good, kid. Did anyone ever tell you you're a real smart man?"

JD grinned, "Damn...did you just pay me a compliment?" He gestured around the room, "And no one here to hear it. Damn!"

"Yeah, well...I guess it had to happen some time." Buck rose from the bed, he squeezed JD's arm, looking at him intently. "In the space of a week, I almost lost you...twice. There are still one or two things I need you to hear...maybe soon...huh?"

As the youth nodded, the two men heard Tanner call out as he entered the apartment. Both men beamed.


As Buck watched JD carefully maneuver out of bed, brush past him and walk toward the pizza-bearing Texan, he sighed with relief and looked toward heaven, silently thanking all that was holy for being given another chance.

He joined the two youngest in the living room, laughing as they started wrangling over a large slice of pizza, then shaking his head as the doorbell rang to reveal four familiar faces. Buck couldn't contain his smile as he looked around the chattering group...God he loved these guys.

The End