Thanks to Mog for ATF
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language. This is a work of fiction and in no way relates to real-life events.
Thanks to Phyllis for all her help, and to Lisa S for boosting my confidence and cheering me on!
Thanks to blackraptor for archiving this for me.
Team Seven were enjoying their July 4th celebrations at Chris' ranch, preferring it to the CDC after the events of last year. Buck couldn't help himself. He put an arm around his best friend as they looked to the sky, enjoying the fireworks.
"You okay, kid?"
JD smiled and nodded, "Sure, why?"
Dunne narrowed his eyes. "Don't think about last year, Buck...you promised."
Misty-eyed, Wilmington squeezed the narrow shoulders.
"Aaah, you know me...sappy to the core."
JD grinned and patted the hand resting on his shoulder. "Wouldn't have you any other way, bro."
JULY 4TH ONE YEAR PRIOR
"You can't be serious?" Buck whined.
JD tossed a football across the bullpen to Tanner. "It won't be for long. It's an early display, and I promised Casey I'd go. I'll be back in time to watch the city displays with you, I promise."
"But it's our first celebration...barbecue , beer...okay, soda for you."
"And I'll be there, Buck, right after I go to Casey's college for their display."
Wilmington sulked. He'd had it all planned, the whole team, together on July 4th. Josiah approached.
"He said he'd be there, Buck...you know he'll keep his word."
The brunet nodded. "Yeah, I know...I just wanted..."
Both men ducked as the football came back.
"Well, don't be late," Buck conceded.
JD grinned, "I won't, I promise."
Casey looked at JD and smiled. She had fallen for him pretty quickly but they had taken things slowly, they were both young, and committed to their work and college studies. He felt her eyes on him and returned the smile.
"You okay, Case? Aren't you enjoying the display?"
"Mm hmm." She leaned into him and kissed him, the kiss deepening, but there was something else, something different. He felt her touch him.
"Casey!" He looked around to see if anyone had noticed.
She whispered in his ear. He swallowed nervously.
"Look, I have to be honest, I promised Buck I'd be home in an hour and a half."
Casey grinned as she stroked his face, "Shouldn't take that long." She led him across campus to her apartment.
JD's head was spinning. 'Holy crap.'
The grille was heating up nicely. Vin eyed the array of chicken, ribs, steaks and burgers Buck had put out ready to cook.
"Hands off, Tanner, I've counted 'em, y'know."
Vin scowled. "I know I like my food, Bucklin, but I don't eat raw meat!"
"Just checkin'," Buck grinned.
Both men accepted a beer from Chris. Ezra approached the three.
"Red meat...how...primordial. My arteries and bowels are just pulsating with anticipation of a long and happy association. "
Buck snorted, "Nice image Ezra. We do have buns."
The southerner raised his glass, "Marvelous."
"Any salad?" Nathan asked. Buck rolled his eyes, Josiah kicked at the apartment door.
"My chili and I need someone to let us in!"
Chris chuckled, "Well, that's Vin's night covered."
"Why am I always accused of eatin' more than the rest o' ya?" Tanner huffed.
"Because you do!" came five replies.
Ezra had moved to the couch and was watching the news. He was about to take a sip of his whiskey when he froze.
"Dear God. Buck, which campus is JD visiting?"
All four men turned and stepped in off the deck as they approached the southerner, Josiah joined them from the kitchen.
Standish turned up the sound to pictures of a marquee in flames and chaos ensuing. The name of the college was emblazoned across the screen. Buck clung to Chris' arm.
"That one," Buck whispered.
JD looked down at the pretty brunette on the bed. His heart was pounding as his body reacted to the sight. He had never been with a woman, but had never told anyone, though he was fairly sure the guys knew. And Casey had never been with a man. Holy crap...what were they doing?
"JD...are you okay?"
"Yes..." his reply was barely a whisper, he coughed, "YES, I'm fine."
"Well, I know I'm new to this, but I'm pretty sure you have to come a little closer than that."
JD grinned, toed off his sneakers and climbed onto the bed next to her.
He stroked her face. "Casey, are you sure about this?"
She smiled and kissed him, her arms slipping around his waist. "Yes, are you?"
All he could do was nod. She tickled him and they wrestled for a moment.
Casey pushed her hair from her eyes.
JD fished out his cell, switched it off and placed it on the nightstand.
"Don't want any interruptions, do we?" He grinned, "Now...where were we?"
Two vehicles sped toward the college campus, lights flashing and sirens blaring. Chris sounded his horn as traffic built nearer the campus.
"MOVE...FUCKING MOVE...WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?"
Ezra, sitting in the back, squeezed Chris' shoulder while he kept one eye on a slowly unraveling Buck
"Not answering his cell...why isn't he answering his cell? DAMNIT!"
The radio repeated over and over of the stray fireworks that had entered the marquee erected for the occasion, the construction going up in flames instantly, trapping people inside, how many...no one knew.
Giving up on driving, six men parked the trucks and ran the rest of the way, flashing their IDs as they hit the taped off area. They stopped in their tracks as they took in the devastation, water, personnel, students crying...body bags.
"Dear God, no." Buck's knees weakened but Chris held him steady.
"Not yet, Buck...don't think like that yet." Chris was struggling with his own demons as he looked around him, but he pushed it to the back of his mind...for now.
Tanner moved to talk to some firefighters while Nathan offered his help. The others fanned out. An hour later, they were back together and distraught, coming to the conclusion they would not be learning anything anytime soon and realizing there was nothing they could physically do to help. The Chief approached them.
"Go home, guys...on the off-chance that the kid is safe and making his way home...you should be there, just in case. We've got it covered here."
Chris nodded. "You're right, there's no more we can do here. Come on... we should leave. They'll let us know if..."
Buck's misty eyes glared at Larabee. Chris took his shoulder, speaking softly.
"Come on." Despite protests from Tanner to wanting to hang around 'just in case', all six men reluctantly returned to the CDC.
Having kissed Casey goodbye, JD jumped on his bike and roared off. He was running late, but the way he was feeling right now...he could fight an army. He wove his way through the heavy traffic, frowning at the volume, but shrugging it off as his bike easily worked its way through. His thoughts drifted to the last hour or so and he smiled shyly. At the time, locked in their own little world, it had seemed so natural and right, but now, back in the real world, he found himself blushing at the thought. Before he knew it, he was home and as he parked outside his apartment building, found himself wondering why Chris and Nathan's vehicles were missing.
JD entered the CDC, surprised he could smell nothing cooking or hear any voices.
He tossed his keys on the hall table and hung up his jacket, walking through the living room to the deck.
The food was covered, the grille extinguished. JD frowned. "Where is everyone?" He went to the fridge for a soda, grabbing an apple, then back to the deck, sitting down to watch the displays and hoping his friends would turn up soon.
Buck gasped. "Chris."
"I see it, I see it."
Before the Ram had stopped, Buck was out and heading for the elevator to their apartment, hitting the button in earnest. Too impatient to wait, he took the stairs, the others following, heartened to see JD's bike parked in its usual spot.
Despite his head-start, all six men arrived practically together. Buck took a shaky breath and opened the apartment door.
JD heard the key in the lock. "...'bout time, I'm starved." He got up and entered the living room to greet his friends. "Where've you be...?"
Wilmington snatched at the youth and pulled him in tight. JD could feel his friend shaking. He patted the man on the back.
"Buck, what is it? You're scaring me, here. Is everyone okay?"
He quickly scanned the group, relieved to see five smiling faces...at least, he thought they were smiling...or was it...relief? The others gathered round, eager to touch him for themselves, to check he wasn't an apparition.
Finally Buck pulled back, his hands still clutching the youth's shoulders as tears flowing unashamedly.
Dunne frowned, his nerves jangling. "Buck? What...what is it?"
Buck coughed, then went all business.
"Where's your phone?"
JD fished it out of his jeans pocket. "Here...why?"
"Why is it off?"
JD blushed, casting his eyes downward. "Erm...forgot, sorry."
The youth jerked at the ferocity of the reply.
"We've been trying to get hold of you for two hours...WHERE THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN?"
JD straightened, his head snapping up at the brunet's tone. He couldn't tell...he had to think of Casey...her reputation.
Wilmington squeezed his arm a little harder than he meant to. "Answer the question."
JD looked startled; Chris removed Buck's hand from the boy's shirt, the younger man looking to his leader.
"What's going on, Chris?"
Chris' eyes were kind. "I'm guessing you haven't seen the news?"
Again, JD blushed, nope...they certainly hadn't been watching the news. He shook his head.
Vin flicked on the TV. After a few minutes JD turned away, shaking.
"I...I didn't know."
"How can you not know...I thought you were there?" Buck queried, clearly frustrated at the lack of information from his housemate.
"We were...sort of."
"Sort of...what sort of answer's that?"
JD frowned, "The truth. We went to Casey's digs."
"On campus...how could you not have known what was happening?"
Again, JD's head went down as his face flushed. "Buck...please..." he whispered.
JD raised his head. "I...I..."
He looked to the others and again his head dropped, he could see they had guessed and he suddenly felt ashamed.
"Oh God," he whispered.
Buck's brow furrowed as he desperately tried to decipher what was going on with his best friend, suddenly putting his hand to his mouth as realization struck.
"Oh, kid...I'm sorry."
He pulled the younger man toward him, JD was too embarrassed to fight it, he just wanted to make a big JD-shaped hole in the wall and just keep running.
"I think a stiff drink is in order," Ezra suggested, and proceeded to seek out the alcohol.
JULY 4TH PRESENT DAY
Six men stood shoulder to shoulder, chuckling as Josiah enthusiastically set off one firework after another.
"Just don't hit the barn," Chris joked, secretly hoping they had calculated their firing position wisely.
Buck's words had caused JD to reflect on the past year. He could now legally drink, he and Casey were no longer an item, and the team had suffered more than their share of bad luck...and also good.
'Life is great', he convinced himself, as he pushed all thoughts of his ex-girlfriend to the back of his mind.
"We gonna do this every year?" he asked of no one in particular.
"Don't see why not," Vin answered, stuffing a corn dog into his mouth directly after. JD chuckled and tossed him a napkin.
"Sounds good," Nathan added.
"It passes the time," Ezra said, dryly, they all laughed.
"I need better insurance," Chris decided.
"Count me..." he looked at JD and smiled at the nod, "...us in." Buck rounded.
"That's all of them," Josiah called as he joined the group, "Except for this..."
A series of bangs and colors filled the sky above them for a good five minutes.
"Oh wow, what was that?" JD asked. Josiah put his arm around the youth.
"That was a Magnificent Seven Starburst."
They all nodded approvingly and moving closer, clinked their beer bottles together. Chris toasted.
"Happy Fourth of July, guys."