AU/ST/LW Ranch (Little JD)
This is sort of the founding story in a new AU. A gaggle of us JD writers and readers discussed the premise one day and, I believe it was Mari's final words that got the cog in my brain working, so, as it's soon her birthday, I dedicate this to her :o)
I thought I'd give the introduction a major twist, so I borrowed the Star Trek AU as a crossover. . .too out there? We shall see ;o)
My Thanks to Nancy for creating the Star Trek AU and letting me play there :o) , to blackraptor for giving my stories a home.
And to C.V. Puerro for the image of The USS Maverick which I used for my collage.
For Buck Wilmington, it was a frozen moment in time that saw his happy life as he knew it, evaporate, as his five year old boy was tossed viciously into the air by a speeding, four-wheeled monstrosity, leaving the tiny body broken, bleeding and lifeless on the asphalt.
Or was it?
DEEP SPACE - THE STARSHIP USS MAVERICK - 24th CENTURY
Ensign John 'JD' Dunne wiped a shaky hand over his sweat-dampened face as he sat at his console, desperately trying to disguise how sick he felt.
He was fooling no one.
Truth be told, he was getting around to thinking it was time to 'come clean'. He had been getting steadily worse all day, fighting the symptoms in the hope of reaching the end of his shift without others noticing.
They had noticed.
Commanders Buck Wilmington and Josiah Sanchez, both men's chairs on the bridge flanking Captain Chris Larabee's, had been exchanging glances all shift, more so in the last hour as JD became virtually silent. . .a feat unheard of for the young ensign. The captain had not missed the exchanges, or the odd stillness from his youngest crew member, but his question to JD as to his welfare had been dismissed by the youth with a simple 'I'm fine, thank you sir', so Chris joined the others in their hushed vigil, the only sign of concern, the nerve in his jaw occasionally twitching.
At his station just above the commanders' chairs, Security Officer Ezra Standish watched also, occasionally glancing toward Navigation Officer Lieutenant Vin Tanner, who was also looking out for his young crewmate.
It had been an uneventful watch, so the captain made a decision as he watched the ensign sink lower and lower in his chair. "Mister Dunne. . . you're excused." His voice softened as he stood and approached the youth. "Go see Nathan, JD."
Chris placed a hand on JD's shoulder, only to pull it quickly back, clearly shocked. Seeing his captain and oldest friend's, surprise, Buck was on his feet and next to the pair in seconds.
"JD. . ." Chris continued, "you're freezing."
Barely able to lift his head, Dunne slowly looked at his commanding officer. "I know. . .I. . .I think I'm coming down with something," he said, his voice barely a whisper.
Buck stood at JD's side, his hand extended. "Come on, kid. . .let's head for sickbay."
Shakily, JD stood as Buck started to say something. He knew his best friend and Executive Commander was talking to him, he could see the man's lips moving, but the roaring noise in his ears and sudden numbness of his whole body took his focus as JD realized he was heading for the floor. He looked at the man he thought of as his big brother, terror reflected in his glazed hazel eyes.
"Buck. . ."
Then. . .nothing.
Buck had reached out to help the kid he'd practically adopted after being appointed JD's mentor, to offer to walk with him to sickbay.
"Come on. . .I'll go with you. The shift's practically over any. . ." He stopped short as his other arm shot out, to barely catch the collapsing ensign before the young officer hit the deck. Buck thumped the badge on his chest as he tried to contain his panic and hold on to the limp, unconscious body of his best friend, vaguely aware of the other bridge officers closing in on them.
"Emergency transport to sickbay. . .two to beam out. . .now!"
In a second, the pair was gone in a burst of golden shimmering light, leaving a dazed bridge crew in their wake.
Chris paced just inside the sickbay as Buck hovered at JD's side, ship's surgeon Lieutenant Commander Nathan Jackson, working feverishly over his unconscious patient. JD's body was encased in a medical arch that blinked and flashed as the boy's vitals were displayed on the wall screen above his head. It didn't take a genius to work out JD's sats were dropping steadily.
"Nathan," Buck hissed.
The doctor shook his head. "I can't stabilize him. . .I'm losing him." As Nathan uttered the words, the rest of the bridge crew joined him, Chris and Buck, shaken at what they saw before them.
"What is it?" Vin rasped out, glancing across to his anxious captain before looking back to his friend in the bed.
"I don't know," Nathan answered to no one in particular as he ran a medical tricorder over JD's body for the third time. "Damnit, he's dying and I don't know why!"
"Dying?" Buck barely breathed out the word as he leaned in toward the young ensign. He placed his large hand on top of JD's soaked hair. "JD. . .for God's sake. . .fight, damnit. . .FIGHT! "
Alarms sounded, causing the six crew mates to startle as the screen showed all readings dropping to zero.
Buck's words were frozen to his lips as six of the Maverick's bridge crew were unmoving. . .literally. A shimmer of green light revealed a familiar looking, 5' 8", nineteen year old ensign. Satisfied his plan was working, the young man placed a device on the unconscious JD's forehead and waited, smiling as several long seconds later, JD opened his eyes. The stranger leaned over him and removed the device.
"Welcome back, JD."
Ensign Dunne blinked hard, trying to work out where he was. When he finally focused on the face next to him, his eyes widened.
The stranger held up a hand. "I know, I know. . .just hear me out. You're not seeing things. . .I'm you. . .that is, the you two hundred years from now."
"We don't have much time. . ." Future Dunne reset the medical arch and helped JD get up.. ". . .You need to put these clothes on."
JD looked down at his naked body. "Where are mine?" he squeaked, paling a little as a wave of dizziness hit him.
"Take it easy. Get dressed and I'll explain." He watched JD frown at the unfamiliar clothing as the ensign started to dress.
"We. . .that is, you and me. . .and any other JD Dunne's either side of our existence. . .are in trouble. The time traveling you've been dabbling in. . ." he grinned as JD looked taken aback at the revelation; he thought he'd kept it a pretty good secret. ". . .has been perfected. All the notes you left have been passed down and I built the prototype."
"It...it worked?" JD asked, hastily zipping up the pants, which he would soon learn to be jeans.
"Oh yeah, it worked. . .a little too well. Some idiot from our distant future traveled back in time and accidentally killed one of our ancestors." He wiped a hand over his face and JD realized, for the first time, this future him didn't look too good.
"We're ceasing to exist," Future Dunne explained. "And I need you to go back and save our predecessor to put the space-time continuum back on course, before it's too late."
JD was now staring at his crew mates, standing like statues all around him. "Are. . .are they okay?" he pointed.
"Yes, they're fine, I can only hold them for a short while. . .would you pay attention for a minute. . .'cause that's about all we've got."
"I got it; you want me to go back and save our ancestor. Why me. . .why not you?"
"There are limits. You can only travel three or four times in a given period because the device uses up a lot of energy. . .and it will only let you travel back in time if you're body's fit enough. You know. . . can't risk taking an illness to a past time period and causing a catastrophe, " Future Dunne explained. "Anyway. . .initially, I went back in time to check out what happened, and when. . .setting the device to take me back further and stop the accident I had witnessed, but the device wouldn't let me. . .my life signs were too weak. I needed help and a scan showed this timeline strongest, so I set it, crossed my fingers and I got here. I knew I could help you get strong enough to travel, so that leaves you to go back and help our boy."
"I'll be missed," JD argued.
"No, you won't, 'cause I'm staying here." He almost laughed at JD's expression, but for the seriousness of the situation.
"Look, this is an 'in and out' job. I'll get you back, then be on my way back to my own timeline before anyone here's noticed anything. It has to be this way. . .we don't have time to explain all of this right now, and we can't afford any mistakes."
The two JD's stared at each other. . .one in hope and the other in mild shock. At last, JD smiled at his future counterpart. "Hell, I entered Starfleet for adventure. . .let' s do it."
Future Dunne grinned and handed JD a wristwatch. "Do NOT take this off. This is what's gonna get you there and back. Your target is a five-year-old boy who gets hit by our guy driving an earth vehicle. Push the kid clear, press the red button to let me know it's done, and I'll bring you back. Okay?"
JD nodded, his attention now on his clothing. He looked up at his counterpart. "Okay, let's do it."
Stepping away from the medical bed, the pair prepared.
JD nodded again, still a little unsure if he wasn't just dreaming this. "Ready. . .WAIT!"
"What?" Future Dunne was getting a little exasperated, time was running out.
"Won't you be missed?"
Future Dunne grinned. "Nah, Chris and the guys helped me all the way on this."
"Chris. . .the guys?"
"Yep. . .I guess it's some kind of destiny, or something. . .even in the future, we'll be together."
JD smiled, he liked that idea very much.
"Do it!" As JD looked at the 'watch' on his wrist, a loud rush of noise accompanied by everything blurring, enveloped him. . .and he was gone.
Future Dunne glanced at his real watch. In five minutes, the Maverick crew would come out of stasis. He blew out his cheeks. . .this would be tight.
Materializing, Ensign Dunne landed hard on his butt on a blacktop. He barely had time to get his bearings, when he saw a small dark-haired boy step into the road, a large earth vehicle bearing down on him. Instinctively, JD ran at the child, just reaching him to push the tiny body back before receiving a glancing blow to his own hip from the truck, before it kept on going. Another hard and considerably more painful landing was accompanied by his arm, shoulder and head impacting with the ground. A familiar voice called out through the murkiness, before an equally familiar face looked down at him.
"B. . .Buck?" JD passed out, the idea of pressing any red button. . .lost.
Back on the Maverick, Future Dunne felt a surge of energy through his body, which instantly told him JD had succeeded. When the red button didn't flash, he grew concerned. He knew JD had to be alive, or his own health wouldn't be improving by the second. He concluded something must have happened, so he pressed the button to bring JD back anyway, panic setting in when the ensign didn't materialize.
And now the crew was due to come out of stasis. Recognizing he was out of time, JD stripped off and jumped up onto the diagnostic bed, lying down and covering himself with the thin blanket. He couldn't afford for any more paradoxes, so for now he'd have to be JD.
"Arch. . .close."
The medical arch closed over him, and Future JD. . .for now, Ensign JD Dunne of the USS Maverick, worried. . .and waited.
All six men of the Maverick snapped back into real time as if nothing had happened, each one frowning on realizing the on-screen chart was showing JD's vitals as normal and the alarms were now silent. Medical tricorder still in hand, Nathan hovered over the 'unconscious' youth.
"What the hell?"
Buck brushed his hand across the top of JD's head, slightly ruffling the dark hair. "JD. . .you hear me, kid?"
JD blinked 'awake', hazel eyes locking on deep blue, crinkling slightly as the natural affection for the man before him, shone through.
"Buck. . .what. . .what' s happening?"
The Executive Officer grinned with relief while clutching his chest. "Damned if I know, kid. . .but thank God you're okay. . .my ol' heart couldn't have taken much more of that."
Deciding it was best, for now to 'play along' while he waited for Ensign Dunne to contact him, JD gazed around at the six deeply concerned faces, a warmth spreading through him at the love and affection exhibited for his counterpart.
"Take it easy, JD," Chris suggested as he stood next to Buck, "Nathan's still trying to figure this all out."
Nathan leaned in and placed a hypo spray to JD's neck. The ensign called out.
"NO! Nathan. . .I'm fine. . ." He felt the spray fire against his skin. "No. . ."
"I need you to rest. . .okay?" Nathan smiled at his patient.
JD tried to fight the sedative but knew it was one battle he was going to lose, so simply let go to a soft reassuring voice.
"Sleep squirt. . .I'll be right here."
Once JD was out of it, Doctor Jackson looked at the other five men in the room, his eyes resting on the captain. "I'm at a loss. I can't explain any of this. One second JD was freezing to the touch and his vitals sinking to the floor, the next he's warm and showing no ill effects whatsoever." He glanced at JD. "I put him out to make sure he rests for the next few hours."
"Are you thinking this could happen again?" Josiah asked.
"I wish I knew. . .but at least, if it does, his body will be rested enough to fight it."
Ezra nodded. "Mister Dunne fought with this all through his shift. It could be the reason he was so weak when whatever it was took full hold."
"Okay, I'm not liking this 'it could happen again', scenario," Vin spoke out. "JD almost died."
Buck smiled at the Vulcan. He'd been thinking the exact same thing. "Nathan?"
"I've scanned the ship. There are no viruses, airborne or otherwise. . . not even a common cold right now. What JD experienced was very real. . . yet I have no explanation for it, nor can I assure it won't happen again." He frowned.
"But. . .?" Chris pushed.
"There is one thing. The tricorder readings. . .it's. . . it's as if it's JD lying there. . .yet. . .not. "
The five men stared back at him. Nathan held up his hand. "I know, I know. . .let's just put it down to it being one of those crazy things space travelers have to live with." He ushered them out. "Go. . .relax, he'll be out of it for a while, yet."
Buck checked his watch. "Shift's over, so if it's all the same to you, I'll stay a while."
"No," Nathan insisted.. "I have a few more tests to run, and the kid's naked here, so give me an hour. . .he'll still be out of it then, and I'll have hopefully finished and have him decent for visitors."
With reluctant nods, the five left. As they stepped outside, Ezra received a communication.
"Bridge to Lieutenant Commander Standish."
He tapped his com badge, "Standish, go ahead."
"Sir, we have an anomaly recorded in sickbay around ten minutes ago."
"Explain," Ezra ordered, glancing at the others.
"I can't, sir. It's as if another person was in there. . .yet I can't detect a solid pattern. . .and now it's vanished."
"You're saying, while we were all in the room with JD, you detected another presence?"
"Inconclusive, but it's definitely picked up something."
Chris tapped his badge. "Captain to Transporter Chief. . .Ms. Wells. . .can you shed any light on this 'anomaly' in sickbay?"
"I'll run a full diagnostic scan and report back, captain," Nettie replied.
"This just keeps getting weirder," Buck said.
"Do you think souls 'in limbo' can be detected?" Counselor Sanchez wondered aloud.
Recognizing what Josiah was getting at, Vin shuddered. "This is freaking me out. . .I'm going to my quarters to shower and change."
Four men watched him go. "Okay, when a Vulcan is freaked out by something, we know we got trouble," Buck stated.
"Go do what you have to do, and meet in ten-forward in forty minutes."
Acknowledging the captain's instruction, the group separated.
21st CENTURY EARTH - FOUR CORNERS, ARIZONA
As Buck Wilmington loaded up his truck, he glanced across at his son who was 'hiding' from him and his friends Chris Larabee and Vin Tanner. The men, along with their friends Ezra Standish, Josiah Sanchez and Nathan Jackson, ran a center, based at Buck's and Chris' ranch, which dealt primarily with riding, but also with stray, difficult and injured horses. Chris, Buck and Vin were experienced horsemen and shared the tasks of instruction, trail rides and retraining the problematic horses before eventually returning them to their grateful owners. Veterinarian Nathan Jackson and lay preacher Josiah Sanchez dealt with the sick and injured animals, while Standish kept the accounts and ordering under control.
After Chris' wife and son died in a car accident several years back, Buck had gone to live with Chris, to help him through his ordeal, eventually selling his town house and buying into the ranch in an effort to keep Chris' business going. It had been tough, but their efforts had made it one of the most affluent businesses in the area.
A year ago, Vin Tanner found them while looking for work in the area. In tow, he had a small four year old boy, a child called John Daniel Dunne, who had been found at a murder scene and placed into foster care. Vin had found him wandering the streets, beaten and half- starved, taking care of the child while he tried to decide what to do. Vin had been in care himself and knew he didn't want this little one placed back there just yet, so the pair wandered from state to state, ducking the authorities while Vin looked for work.
Realizing the direness of little JD's, as the boy liked to be called, situation, Chris contacted the authorities with the intention of fostering the child himself. . .but best friend and business partner Buck Wilmington had fallen head over heels for the little one and the boy was clearly attached to Buck too so, with 'big brother' Vin's blessing, Buck had started proceedings to adopt the boy.
Life at the LW Ranch couldn't have been happier. But all that was hurtling toward a precipice when JD spotted Vin and Chris coming out of a store on the opposite side of the road, and ran to greet them, his game forgotten and oblivious to the truck racing, way too fast, toward him.
JD's name caught in Buck's throat, the man momentarily frozen to the spot as his baby boy faced certain death. Vin and Chris, both well away from the scene, had started running, despite knowing they would never make it, when suddenly, as if from nowhere a youth appeared, raced into the road and pushed the child to safety before the youth himself caught a glancing blow from the truck. Scooping up and holding his frightened son within seconds, Buck looked at the young man on the ground, concern for the stranger, evident, turning to confusion as the boy spoke one word then slipped into unconsciousness. Buck looked up at the approaching, breathless Chris and Vin and pointed to the prone figure.
"He knew me. . .yet I've never met him before in my life."
Ensign Dunne awoke to a pounding headache and unfamiliar surroundings. A face appeared over him and he smiled, still a little confused.
Wilmington stared at him. "Yeah. . .kid, forgive me, but. . .do I know you?"
Suddenly everything came rushing back and JD swallowed to try and compose himself. "Uh. . .yeah, uhm. . .you dated my sister once. . .long time ago. . . I was just a kid, I doubt you'd remember me."
"I did?" Buck smiled. "Who's your sister?"
"Oh. . .uh. . ." he plucked a name from the air. "Paulette."
Buck thought for a moment and grinned. "Oh yeah. . .but. . .you're dark, wasn't she blonde?"
"Yeah, like that was natural," he faked.
Buck laughed hard. "Yeah, I guess not. How are you feeling?"
"Sore. Where am I?"
"Hospital. . .got yourself a big ol' bump on your head."
The ensign looked around in alarm. "The kid. . .?"
". . .is fine, thanks to you," Buck assured, gratitude shining in his eyes.. "What's your name, son?"
"J. . ." He paused. "Uh. . .John."
"My son's name," Buck beamed, "only we call him JD. He, uh. . .wants to see you."
John smiled through his pain, wondering why the hypo spray wasn't working as well as usual. "Sure, bring him in."
Buck adjusted the head of the bed for John to sit up, offered him a drink, then opened the room door. It was all John could do not to call out as he saw Vin carry the little one in. 'My God. . .Future JD was right. . .this is some sort of 'destiny' thing.'
Little JD extended his arms and John took him, holding the sobbing five-year-old close. John felt an overwhelming warmth and emotion fill him, like. . .a piece of his life that was missing suddenly. . . fit. "Thank God you're okay," he whispered into the little one's neck.
"You saveded me," JD sobbed.
'If only you knew,' John thought, hugging JD tighter.
Touched by the affection shown by the stranger, Buck addressed him. "Doc says you can leave tomorrow. Do you live around here. . .is there someone we can contact for you?"
Handing JD over to the approaching man John knew as Chris, even though they hadn't been formerly introduced, he suddenly panicked as he touched his bandaged wrist. "Where's my watch?"
"In the nightstand," Chris gestured with his head as JD cuddled in to him. "I think it's broken, though, it's hard to tell, it's an odd little thing."
"B. . .broken?" John tried not to panic further, but that 'watch' was his only way back to his own time. "Oh God. . ."
"Don't worry, it didn't look too bad, we could probably fix it," Buck soothed.
John's mind was reeling, but at least he understood now why he was still in the past. "I. . .I'm not from around here," he finally answered.
"Well then, you can come and stay with us for a while." Seeing John about to protest, Buck held up his hand. "We insist."
John nodded, closing his eyes. It wasn't the greatest solution, but it would do, for now. At least he knew these men. . .sort of.
Arriving at the ranch the next day was quite an eye opener for John. It was a beautiful setting and he fell in love with it instantly. Buck and Vin had come to pick him up. It had been an odd journey, traveling with men who here, were strangers, yet, in another life, he knew as brothers. Little JD was bouncing on the veranda as they pulled up. John had to grin, the kid really did look like he had, when little. It was like a weird dream, with some of his favorite people in it and him as a child. As they exited the car, JD leapt at him, John barely catching the little one as he chuckled.
"You's gots my room an' I's sleeping with Da an' Vin an' Chris."
John looked at the three men now on the veranda, a little confused. Chris laughed.
"Not all at once," he reassured.
"I don't want to be any trouble," John said, switching JD to the hip that wasn't aching like hell.
"You're not. Come on, let's get you settled. Vin's leant you some clothes until we can pick you up some new ones." Buck pointed the way while gesturing to the tears in the clothes John was wearing from yesterday.
Once in the room, Buck and JD left John to settle in. Getting out his watch, John examined it, taking out a tiny kit from his jeans pocket, something he carried with him everywhere. Once the watch was open, John smiled in relief. It wasn't all that different from his original schematics; he might just be able to fix this.
A beautiful Mexican woman was setting the table for lunch. Inez Recillos was a spirited woman who Buck adored, well, truth be told. . . loved. She had been the housekeeper for the ranch for the past two years and the big man made no secret he would marry the woman in an instant if she'd have him. Chris wasn't entirely sure Buck hadn't bedded the beautiful lady already; Lord knows the sexual tension practically crackled around them, but while at work, Inez kept a professional distance.
Little JD's arrival and Buck's love for the boy was slowly wearing her down, though, as she finally saw a different side to the womanizing, ex- townhouse, bachelor boy Buck had been when she first met him. Chris had speculated that, if Buck asked Inez to marry him now. . .she would.
But Buck's attention and affections had been hijacked by an adorable, whirlwind called JD Dunne, as had the rest of the friends and staff at the LW ranch. At first, Vin had been fiercely protective of the little one. . .still was, but Vin trusted everyone on the ranch now, and had been happy for Buck to take on the little boy he had come to love as a brother. Vin was only twenty five, and definitely not ready for parenthood. He hadn't really seen Buck as a 'dad' either, and wasn't surprised when Chris had announced he would set procedures in motion to first foster JD, then, hopefully adopt him.
But Buck and JD grew closer and it soon became clear that, while JD loved Chris no less than Buck, it was Buck he instinctively turned to and called for.
Their fate was sealed.
Looking up as Ezra exited the study, Inez smiled. "Would you be so kind as to tell the others lunch is served?"
"It would be my pleasure," Standish grinned back. He stepped out onto the porch to see Nathan and Josiah in the corral, checking over a horse's injured leg and Vin, Chris and Buck talking a short distance from that, JD sitting atop Vin's shoulders.
"Gentlemen, Ms. Recillos has lunch prepared."
With a nod of acknowledgement from his friends, Ezra went back inside and walked across the main area to climb the stairs to tell John. Stopping at the bedroom door where John was staying, Ezra tapped. "John?" He smiled as the door opened and a pair of startlingly familiar hazel eyes peered at him.
"My name is Ezra. . .Standish. . . we haven't been formally introduced. I work here also."
Opening the door, John extended his hand, chuckling as the new but slightly large shirt sleeve dropped down. "John Dun. . .nnnnstable, " he recovered quickly. The pair shook hands.
"Lunch is ready," Ezra smiled and pointed the way.
"Great, thanks," the youth nodded, closing his door and rolling back his sleeves as he left to follow the man to the dining area. When they arrived, the others were already seated. JD called out.
"I saved you a seat!"
John smiled. "Cool, thanks."
As dishes were passed around the questions started. "So, what line of work are you in John. . .or are you still in college?" Josiah asked. "Oh, I'm Josiah, by the way."
"Communications. . . " John started to answer, catching himself. "Uh. . ."
". . .Like phones?" Vin asked.
"Something like that, yeah. . .computers. . . you know?"
"Hmm. . .maybe you could take a look at ours," Ezra asked, "it's been playing up."
"Sure, be happy to," John grinned. He took a bite of chili, looking to the familiar lady who was pouring water for them. "Did you cook this, ma'am?"
"I did," she smiled. "My name is Inez, I'm the housekeeper here."
"Pleased to meet you, ma'am," he smiled, taking another bite of food. "Replicators here are so much better," John commented, missing the looks of confusion around the table.
Inez joined them. Buck and Chris always insisted she ate with them, regardless of her only living in the little lodge at the end of their drive. They saw her as no less an equal, regardless of the fact she cleaned and cooked for them. Inez was like the others in that room. . . family.
"Hungry, son?" Chris grinned.
John looked at Chris, blushing as he realized how fast he was eating and that the blond was watching him. But the food was like nothing he had ever tasted before.
"Yeah. . .sorry," he breathed, swallowing.
"Do you get many home-cooked meals?" Buck asked, fishing for information.
"Not like this," John smiled, glancing at Inez, who returned his look with a warm smile.
"More a take-out kinda guy, huh?" Vin grinned.
"Something like that," John grinned back, not really understanding what the guy meant, while suddenly realizing the chili was spicy. "Can I get some milk?"
"Kitchen's thataway," Buck pointed, watching the youth rise and head toward it.
"I likes John," JD stated, stuffing his mouth with tortilla chips. All seated around the table nodded. No one had commented, but, despite not knowing John, they all felt strangely comfortable with him. Realizing John had been a while, Chris got up to check on him, chuckling as he spotted Buck helping JD pick out his red beans. . .he liked to save them for last.
John stood in the kitchen, staring. Nothing looked familiar, then he spotted a replicator. Finally figuring out how to open it, he stated his preference.
"Milk, cold." He frowned when no drink was forthcoming, so he said it again.
"Must be playing up," he mumbled, startling when suddenly Chris appeared and opened a large white door and took out a carton.
"Milk. . .cold."
JD blushed again, cursing himself inwardly for his lack of attention. "Oh. . .yeah. . .sorry. "
Chris closed the microwave, got out a glass from the cupboard and poured milk into it. "You okay, kid?"
JD nodded, taking the glass. "Thanks. Yeah, I'm fine. . .well, just a little disoriented, you know?"
Larabee nodded. "I'm sure you are." He looked down at the floor, then back at John. "What you did yesterday. . .I can't tell you how much it means to us. JD's so loved here. . .I don't think we would have gotten past him being taken from us. . .I know Buck wouldn't have."
Taking a chance on a history repeating itself, John spoke. "You sound like someone who truly knows."
Green eyes stared into hazel. Chris found it unnerving, yet, at the same time, oddly comforting that John's expressive eyes seemed so familiar. "I do. Come on, our food's getting cold."
By the time lunch was over, John had revealed he was barely nineteen, had lost his mother just under a year ago and was now alone in the world, save for some very wonderful friends and a career he loved. Somehow, the conversation turned to outer space when JD commented his da had been mad when he tried to build and launch a rocket to 'Joopister', recently.
"So. . .you like space?" John asked, turning fully to his past counterpart.
"Ooh, yeah. . .me wants to be an assernaut."
John grinned at the little one. "I reckon you'd make a great assernaut. I wanted that too. To travel the stars at warp speed. . .visit new worlds, meet new species. . ."
The table fell silent as John captivated them with his graphic descriptions of 'the future'. When he slowed down, John snapped back to reality, realizing everyone was listening to him.
"Fascinating, " Josiah beamed.
"You really see the future that way?" Nathan asked, skeptically.
"Oh yeah," John breathed. "You have to reach for the stars."
JD stood and climbed onto John's lap, giving him a big hug. "I's glad you saveded me, I likes you. D'you wanna see my space drawings?"
John stood, bringing JD up with him. "I'd love to." Excusing themselves, the pair made their way to JD's room.
The others watched them go. Chris grinned. "I think any hopes you had of JD following in our footsteps may have been a little premature, Buck."
Buck grinned back. "Hey, if my boy wants to be an 'assernaut'. . .he can damn well be an 'assernaut'."
In JD's room, where John was staying, JD dragged out a folder and showed his new friend all his drawings of space.
"These are great, JD. . .you're gonna make a great assernaut, I just know it."
"Is it hard?" JD asked.
"Yeah, it is. . .but you'll ace it." John winked. "Trust me."
USS MAVERICK - 24th CENTURY - TWO DAYS ON
Future JD knew he was being watched. His friends were worried about him. . .and they were right to be, he wasn't the man they thought he was. He knew his job, though the equipment was a little archaic, but he worked his way around that. He was surprised to be working comm/navigation. . . on his ship he worked alone at that station, as Vin was the science officer. It took all his willpower not to 'get ahead' of himself when the captain issued an order.
In his spare time, JD worked on building a new travel watch, no less convinced Ensign Dunne had succeeded. . .after all, he was still alive and wouldn't be if Dunne had been killed. He figured the watch must have been damaged while saving their ancestor. JD needed to succeed; he missed home, and his friends, and was sure Dunne did too.
He had to get him back.
A buzz to his door had JD hastily scooping up parts to hide. "It's open." He smiled at Buck as the brunet entered.
"Hey kid. . .we're all in the Saloon. . .thought it might be nice if you joined us tonight."
The travel watch was almost completed; JD figured a few hours more, tops. "Nah, I'm a little tired. I'll pass if you don't mind." He watched Buck approach and though surprised, JD didn't fight it when the big man pulled him in close.
"You got me scared, kid. You got us all scared. You haven't been yourself since you were sick." He pushed JD back a little, Buck's hand cradling the back of JD's neck. "Talk to me. . .or any of us. . .we want to help."
JD's throat went tight. "I'm sorry. . .I'm trying, I really am." He leaned back in. "I'm scared too," he whispered.
They stayed that way for half a minute or so, finally breaking apart. "Okay," Buck nodded. "Get some sleep. But we need to talk. . . soon, okay?"
"Soon," JD smiled as he watched the First Officer leave.
"I really am sorry," JD whispered after him.
In Ten-Forward, more affectionately known as the Saloon these days, Captain Larabee knew, the instant Nathan walked in the door, the man was mulling something over. He wasn't disappointed.
"Permission to speak freely, sir."
Chris nodded. "Always, Nathan. . .and we are off duty. What's on your mind?"
The tall, black doctor sat down, leaning in conspiratorially toward his captain and ship's navigator, Vin Tanner.
Chris nodded, he had suspected as much.
"Something's not adding up here. I know he seems fine, but. . .it's little things. He's avoiding Casey. . .us. . .seems. . . distracted. "
"I agree," Chris said, sitting forward. "Anything on that anomaly, yet?"
"I have a theory," Nathan confessed, "give me another day to be sure."
"One day," Larabee insisted, glancing at Vin. "Any thoughts, Vin?"
"Only that I agree with Nathan. Plus one other thing."
Both companions raised an eyebrow, Vin continued. "JD's a smart kid. . .I mean, really smart, but he's performing functions way over his head. . . way over my head."
Chris sat back, running fingers through his hair as Josiah and Ezra joined them. He looked at Nathan.
"One more day."
Twenty minutes later, five men looked up as Buck entered alone and joined them. He had informed Chris he was going to try to persuade JD to relax with his friends after shift.
"No?" Chris asked.
"Says he's tired." Buck sighed, wiping a hand over his face as he took his seat. "I don't know what to do."
"I suggest a little more time," Josiah said. "He's just a little distracted. . .but at least not at work, so JD's working through it. "We just need to be there when it all comes to a head." He looked at each of them. "And it will."
Chris pursed his lips. The presence detected in sickbay the day JD collapsed had never been identified and was playing on his mind. . . Nathan's too, it would seem. An Alien Analysis Scan had drawn a blank, also. Captain Larabee didn't like mysteries.
"Okay, a few more days. . .then he's mine."
Everyone knew Chris was stating a fact and they acknowledged his decision.
EARTH - 21st CENTURY - DAY TWO
John watched the ranch in full swing from the comfort of a chair on the veranda. He was feeling very sore and a little light-headed this morning, but he knew it was down to the previous accident and no longer the knock-on effects of the disruption in the time continuum.
He could hardly believe his idle doodling in his spare time, had resulted in all this. John was sure there were other forms of time travel by now. . .in the future. . .but to think Starfleet had allowed a descendant of his to develop something hatched from his own crude ideas, was almost impossible to grasp. . .almost.
The young ensign allowed himself a small smile. His mom had supported him all the way in his dream to enter Starfleet, right up until her death, despite the enormous struggle they'd suffered to get him accepted to the academy. John had been the youngest ever cadet, graduating early and top of his year, but had almost missed out the year he had been accepted. Thankfully, Admiral Travis had not only spotted John's potential, but insured, on graduation, he was appointed to the most prestigious ship in the fleet and the best captain and crew in Starfleet.
And John Daniel Dunne had never looked back.
Sighing, John looked across at Buck and the guys as they prepared for a trail ride and attended to sick and injured horses in various stages of treatment. While these people weren't his actual friends, their mannerisms were such that he felt comforted by their presence. But he couldn't help but wonder if he would ever see his own friends again. He smiled as Buck approached and took a seat next to him.
"Hey, Buck. Sure is busy here this morning. Where's JD?"
Buck looked at the youth, a little surprised. "He's at school. I allowed him to stay home yesterday, but today, it's business as usual."
John winced, a little embarrassed. "Oh, yeah. . .of course he is. Sorry. . .I can't even think what day this is."
"It's Tuesday. . .poker night. You play poker?"
John grinned. "Sure. Once a week me and my friends have us a little game in one of our quarters. . .Ezra says. . ."
"Quarters? Are you military?" Buck grinned. "Ezra already been trying to recruit you, huh?"
'Shit...shit. . . shit. . .different Ezra'. "Uh, no," John covered, "not military. . .but my friends were. . .are. . .were. . .sort of. . .and, no, Ezra was just saying how you guys like to socialize sometimes."
Wilmington frowned. "Are you okay? You seem confused." He placed a hand on John's shoulder and squeezed. "Is it your head? I'll get Nathan. . ."
"No, wait. . .I'm fine. Sorry, yeah, my head is kinda muzzy, but I'm okay. . . really." John patted the man's arm affectionately. "And yeah, I'd love to join you all for a game of poker, thanks."
"JD usually goes to bed around eight, then we get to it." Buck stood, concern etched on his face. "Rest up, okay kid? Let us know if you need anything."
"I will, thanks." John watched him go, his homesickness suddenly magnifying itself ten-fold.
Later that evening, John closed the book he had been reading and smiled at JD lying in his bed.
"The end. Now, little man, you ready to kiss the moon goodnight?"
"Kiss the moon?" JD asked.
John grinned. "It's what I used to do when I was little. That big old moon would wink at me through my drapes, so I would kiss it. . .through the glass. . .and then lay down to dream of the adventures I could have there."
"I wants to go to the moon, too."
"Well, then you should. . .when you're older," John said, tucking the little one in. "Come on. . .your daddy let me read you your story tonight. . . don't want him giving me a hard time for not settling you down to sleep."
JD snuggled down. "John. . .will you stay wivs us?"
John sighed softly, his brow furrowing as he gently stroked JD's face. "I can only think of one other place I'd rather be than here," he said. "I really miss my family, so I may have to leave. . .soon."
"Will you come back?" JD asked, hopefully.
"I don't know," John replied, sitting on the edge of the bed. "But, if I can't," he placed a hand over his own heart. "You will be here, with me. . .forever."
Getting up and walking, on his knees toward John, JD placed his own pudgy little hand on top of John's. "In there?"
The young ensign nodded. "In here."
JD pondered that for a moment. "'Kay. . .an' I'll kiss the moon ev'ry night for you."
"Tell you what," John suggested, "one night, after I've gone, you gaze out at the stars. . .and I will too." He smiled. "That will be our special way of knowing we're thinking about each other."
"Which night?" JD asked.
"It doesn't matter. . .because it's what we're feeling and who we're thinking about that counts."
JD climbed onto John's lap. "Will you finks about Da and Chris and Vin and Josiah and Ezra and Nafan, too?"
John swept the boy up in a tight hug, fighting the emotion welling up inside him. "You better believe it," he whispered.
"Hey kid. . .thought you'd nodded off up there," Vin winked, sipping on a bottled beer as he watched John approach from the direction of the stairs.
"Sorry," he grinned, taking a seat at the dining room table. "The little guy's kinda hard to walk away from."
Chris tilted his head. "Gotten to you, too, huh?"
"Big time," John answered wistfully, picking up the cards Ezra had dealt him and looking at them. His expression as he viewed them, said it all. . .then he confirmed it. "Oh man. . ."
They all laughed. "Son. . .you won't win many hands that way," Josiah warned, his blue eyes twinkling with merriment.
"Mister Sanchez, please. . .if the lad wishes to express himself. . ." Ezra teased.
John bobbed his eyebrows. "I guess I fold!"
"Beer, kid?" Buck asked.
"Nah, could go for some milk, though." He stood to head for the fridge.
"It's the big white thing in the corner," Chris grinned, knowingly.
John looked back, narrowing his eyes. "Oh, har har. . ."
Buck chuckled as he watched the boy disappear. "He's a really nice kid, huh?"
They all nodded, picking up the freshly dealt cards.
"I wonder if he'd consider staying." Buck continued.
Chris shook his head. "Don't think so, pard. There's something calling to him. . .can't you sense it?"
Vin glanced up, nodding.
Buck sighed. "Shame. . .JD's really taken to him, too. Ah well. . .I guess we'll just have to make the most of whatever time we have left."
It was a simple statement, but one Buck found himself saying with a heavy heart.
24th CENTURY - DAY THREE
Mid-way through his third day with this Maverick crew, Future JD knew his time was up. It was just little things, but they all added up to one big issue. . .him.
Buck seemed tense around him. It was obvious the man was torn over something, it was unnerving to see the kind, gregarious man so. . . subdued.
Nathan pointed a medical tricorder at him whenever the opportunity arose and Josiah kept asking him if there was anything he'd like to 'talk about'.
There was so much JD wanted to say, but he wanted to return to a future he recognized. . .so bit his tongue.
Ezra had tried to enforce a 'new rule' that no weapons could be carried by anyone out of sickbay less than five days. So. . .not only were they suspicious of JD. . .they were worried he was dangerous, too.
Great, just what he needed. . .not!
Vin was the hardest to read, but JD had even been getting odd vibes from him, lately. The man was watching him when carrying out his duties, and JD felt sure he had asked him to execute a navigational function Ensign Dunne may not have yet performed. JD was feeling the strain of keeping up this persona, which, in truth, should have been like second nature, while also feeling the despair of his self- imposed isolation.
Both watches were ready. They were a little cruder than he would have liked, having switched parts between the two while utilizing anything he could get his hands on that was a decent replacement for parts that hadn't been invented yet. It would be a rough ride, but JD knew, without doubt, they would work. All he had to do now. . .was leave.
He had quietly moved a few things into a shuttle. If anyone asked, he told them he was going on a sabbatical.. None of his friends knew, yet. He couldn't help wondering just how much time he had before they found out. JD figured this to be the smoothest way to get his counterpart back without too much disruption, a simple science field trip, what could be simpler? One JD in. . .one JD out.
Picking up a phaser he had managed to acquire, JD checked it was on safety and tucked it into the back of his pants, pulling down his top to cover it. He laughed. . .not much chance of that with these uniforms. . . they fit like a glove.
He glanced around his. . .JD's room, as he placed the spare watch in his pocket. He had set things in place; just in case he ran into trouble, though he really hoped he wouldn't. Straightening, he headed for the door.
He was ready.
On orders to meet the captain in the conference lounge, five bridge crew sat around the large oval table at the room's center. Buck glanced around then back to Chris.
"We waiting on JD?"
The captain, still standing, shook his head. "No."
"This is about JD?" Buck pushed, paling at Chris' single nod. The First Officer sat back in his chair, clearly unhappy.
"Nathan?" Chris introduced the doctor as he took his seat.
Jackson looked around at the faces of his colleagues. "I'll cut to the chase. I've been running diagnostics on the tests JD had when he collapsed, comparing the results from the time of collapse, to the time he was recovering and under sedation. It was almost impossible to spot. . .but. . .there are variances in the readings."
"Well, hell, yeah," Buck argued, his hand waving off the disclosure. "Look what his body was going through when he was sick. . ."
"Buck," Nathan interrupted, "I've accounted for all that. Also. . ." he glanced at Ezra, "I asked for an analysis on the anomaly in sickbay that day." He sat back. "It took some time to reconstruct the pattern, but. . .it was JD's."
Vin sat forward."Huh? Are you saying. . .hang on. . .what are you saying?"
"A facsimile of our young ensign seems to have visited us. . ." Ezra nodded to Nathan, ". . .and is quite likely still with us."
"A facsimile?" Josiah asked.
"Facsimile, duplicate, copy, replacement, reproduction, replica. . .take your pick," Ezra answered, "but, in my opinion, is who. . .or what. . .is actually here with us on the Maverick, and not the young man we have grown accustomed to."
Buck stood and began pacing, running his fingers through his hair as he pondered Ezra's words. Finally he turned and placed both hands on the table as he leaned in.
"Then. . .where's our JD?" The blank looks didn't ease his concerns at all, so he took another stab at it. "Are you suggesting JD really did die?"
Nathan raised both hands. "I honestly don't know how to answer that," he offered, "I just thought I should bring what myself and Ezra had uncovered, to the table."
"Great. . .so you scare the shit out of us and then leave us hanging. . ."
"Buck!" Chris admonished.
"Don't 'Buck' me. . .sir. . .this is bullshit. What's next. . .Ezra thinks the kid's gonna murder us in our beds?"
"The thought had crossed my mind." He returned the glare Buck threw him. "I am the security chief, Mr. Wilmington, it is my job to be suspicious of such occurrences. I think no less of the young man than anyone else here, but I can't ignore that the person amongst us may have murdered the boy we know to insure his place, undetected, on this ship."
Buck sat down hard. "Oh God. . ."
Vin was shaking his head. "I can't speak about JD being dead. . .no. . .won't speak about JD being dead. . .but I will say this. I'm sure the JD we have here, is no more dangerous than a Chernuvian windstorm."
"A what?" Josiah asked.
"A Chernuvian windstorm." Vin's eyes flashed on recollection, his hands moving through the air, telling the tale as he spoke..
"It sounds like it's dangerous, but when it strikes, its pattern lifts and touches everything in its path. . .gently, but thoroughly, missing nothing yet disturbing nothing, also. Everything it touches is laid back exactly how it was. It's almost like. . .poetry in motion, or. . .innocent curiosity. And, instead of fearing it. . .you find yourself wanting more." The Vulcan suddenly went shy as he realized all eyes were on him.
Buck smiled at his friend. He liked the idea of JD, real or otherwise, being likened to a, gentle, innocent, curious, delicate wind that touched all in his path and left them wanting more.
"You have the soul of a poet, Vin," Josiah smiled. Tanner smirked lopsidedly and lowered his head.
"Thank you, Vin," Buck breathed, his eyes glistening with emotion.
"Okay. . .back to the problem at hand," Chris insisted, looking toward Buck. "We don't want to hurt this. . .being, Buck, we just want to detain it and find out what happened to JD."
"I know," the First Officer replied, "but, I've been with him more than you. . .this isn't an act. . .he's JD, I just know it. I'll stake my career to bet there's no malice in him whatsoever."
Vin nodded his agreement.
"Maybe so," Chris answered, "but, if you don't mind, I'll reserve judgment until I know for sure JD wasn't murdered in order for this life form to co-exist here." He stood, the others standing with him.
"Let's do this. . .I want answers."
Just as JD was about to leave his quarters, his door chimed.
"Shit. . ." he took a breath. "It's open." He looked, shocked to see the six men he knew as friends, standing before him.
"Going somewhere, ensign?" Chris asked.
"I uh. . .I thought I'd take off for a few days. The M-class planet we're orbiting has thrown up some interesting readings. . .thought I'd take a shuttle and do some investigating."
"I don't recall this request being granted," Larabee pointed out.
"I. . .was just about to bring it to you," JD lied. . .badly.
"And since when do you pilot shuttles alone?" Chris continued.
'Shit. . .he'd screwed up. The JD of this time era wasn't a solo pilot, yet.' JD paled as Ezra took his arm.
"Let's make this easy, son. Come with us."
JD tugged at his arm, pleading eyes looking to Buck and Vin in hope of support. "What's going on? What have I done?"
"Come on, JD. . .you must have realized we'd figure it out eventually," Nathan stated.
JD sighed and lowered his head, pausing for a moment or two. "You. . .you gonna put me in the brig?"
Chris adjusted his stance to achieve eye contact. "No, we're going to take you where we can talk to you."
Nodding, JD walked through them. When he sensed they were relaxing a little, he yanked his arm free, rushed into the corridor and turned around to face them, phaser in hand.
"I have this on a wide stun field, so I can take you all down instantly." He waved it across the tight circle of men in front of him. "But I don't want to. Please. . .just let me leave. I promise you, it'll all come right. . .but I have to leave. . .JD's life. . .and mine. . .depend on it."
For a few seconds it was a stand-off, then Chris went to make a move. JD fired, throwing all six men back into his quarters. Checking and placing each man into the recovery position, JD looked at them one last time.
"I'm so sorry. 'Bye guys." He straightened. "Computer. . .initiate Dunne- Delta-Echo-Papa- Zero-One- Nine-Seven- One. . .on my mark. . ."
A female voice echoed around him. ">:Acknowledge initiation request Dunne-Delta- Echo-Papa- Zero-One- Nine-Seven- One. . .on your mark. . .standing by. . ."<:
Closing the door to his quarters, JD flipped open a panel and tapped in a code. "That should hold them." He then raced for the turbo lift, reaching deck four quickly. Seeing a security officer standing guard, JD approached, casually. He pointed.
"Hi. . .not sure if you can leave to check it out, but there's a fight just starting around the corner there."
With a nod, the officer left his post to go check. JD tapped in a code and the interior bay doors opened. Bouncing inside, JD reset the panel and the doors slid closed.
"Computer. . .MARK! "
>:"Initiating Dunne-Delta- Echo-Papa- Zero-One-Nine-Seven- Zero."<:
His back-up escape plan in place, JD headed for the shuttle, powered her up and was gone in less than thirty seconds.
21ST CENTURY EARTH - DAY THREE
John was distraught. He needed something to complete his time watch, but nothing in this timeline was of use. He prayed Future Dunne was having better luck. He liked it here, but he really wanted to go home. Hearing a knock at his door, he pushed the watch into a draw and called for them to come in.
"Hey, kid," Vin said, glancing at the youth sitting on the bed. "Been kinda quiet today. . .you okay?"
John nodded. "Sure. . .was thinking maybe I should be moving on."
"Funny you should say that," Vin answered, sitting down next to him. "We were all only saying during poker, we'd really love you to stay." Tanner was surprised to see John's eyes fill and tears spill over his dark lower lashes.
"Damn," John cursed, swiping angrily at his eyes.
"Hey. . .don't be embarrassed. Hell, you've been through a lot in a few days."
John laughed, softly. "Boy, you have no idea."
"Wanna talk about it?" Vin asked the question, but felt Buck or Josiah would be a better choice.
"Not really," John sighed. "But thanks. . .and thanks for the offer of staying. God. . .I'd really love to. . .but I'm so homesick right now. . .I miss my fiends so much."
"Real good friends, huh?"
"More like brothers," John confessed.
Vin nodded. He could certainly relate to that. "What can I do to help?"
John gave a watery smile and squeezed Vin's arm. "You can't, but, thanks for the offer."
"Really? Maybe I could drive you home."
"Thanks, I appreciate that, but let me see if I can work things out," John answered.
With a nod, Vin left him, saddened that the boy couldn't stay, but fully understanding holding onto something as precious as people who cared about you. He passed Buck on the stairs, deciding to let his friend find out John had confirmed he wasn't staying, for himself.
Buck entered John's room on hearing the invitation to do so. He knew as soon as he looked at the boy he had made up his mind.
"Can't change your mind?" Buck asked, sitting on the bed.
"I'm thinking on it," John said, realizing, if he couldn't get home, at least he had a possible future here. He looked at the brunet, wanting to tell him how much he loved and missed him. . .except, it wasn't him.
John smiled. "Just thinking how lucky I am to have met you."
Instinctively, Buck pulled the youth in. He had really come to care for the kid, despite only knowing him for a few days. "Stay."
John shuddered and gave in to the overwhelming emotion and exhaustion of the last few days. Maybe staying really would be a good thing. . .if he couldn't get back.
"Thanks." He sniffed. "Sorry for being such a wuss."
Buck laughed as he released him. "You're my son's hero. . .you can't be a wuss." He stood and headed for the door, opening it. Buck looked back. "My hero too, for that matter."
Watching the man leave, John started pondering how future descendants of these men would end up in Starfleet. He opened the drawer and looked at the watch. If he couldn't get back. . .how would that affect the future?
A flash of green had John's heart skipping a beat, a grin forming as Future Dunne appeared before him.
"Man, you were hard to locate," the visitor grinned, watching his counterpart stand. "Ready to go home?"
Unable to help themselves, the pair embraced, almost giddy with excitement.
"Go say your goodbyes. Then walk to the end of the drive and turn left. I'll meet you there."
Watching Future Dunne disappear, John slipped on his sneakers, pulled out the defunct watch from the drawer and, looking around the bedroom one last time, headed for downstairs. As he hit the bottom step, Nathan smiled at him.
"Just in time for dinner," he called.
Seeing them all gathered round the table almost made John regret he needed to go.
"Actually, I'm leaving. I got a message from one of my friends. They've been searching for me, but for some reason, couldn't get a message to me before now."
"These mountain ranges can play havoc with cell phones," Chris informed.
JD climbed down off his chair and ran up to him. "But. . .but we's got steak today."
John picked the boy up and hugged him. "I'm gonna really miss you," he sighed, squeezing the kid tight.
"If you don't go. . .you won't miss me," JD stated.
John grinned. "If you were far from your family. . .wouldn' t you want to go home to see them?" He laughed at the serious look from the little fella.
"Mm hmmm. . .I guess so." He nodded his little head. "I'll miss you, too."
Hugging JD one last time, John put him down. Fishing in his pocket, he brought out the time watch and gave it to JD. "It doesn't work but it's yours, if you want it."
JD nodded, beaming. "Fank you."
By now all six men were standing. One by one they said their goodbyes, some clutching on a little tighter as they shared a few final words.
"The computer's fixed," John told Ezra, not admitting it had taken him a full ten minutes to realize computers of this era didn't engage in conversation. The man smiled and touched his head in a salute.
John leaned hard into Buck on approaching him.
"I'm gonna miss you."
"Not as much as I'm gonna miss you, squirt," Buck whispered in his ear.
John pulled back. "Take care of the little guy for me."
"With my life," Buck promised.
"Let me drive you to meet your friend," Chris insisted as they all reached the door.
Stepping out and onto the yard, John shook his head as he looked back at the group, waving to JD as the boy sat on his father's hip, waggling his fingers. "No, thanks. . .I want to remember you all. . .just like this."
Walking away, John Dunstable edged closer to being the JD Dunne he truly was, despite his tears for the people and persona he was leaving behind.
As they watched the boy disappear, Buck looked at them all. "Did anyone get a contact number for him?"
They all shook their heads.
Rounding a bend about two minutes after leaving the LW Ranch's drive, John smiled at a waiting Future Dunne, taking a watch from his extended hand and snapping it onto his wrist.
"This is it," Dunne said. "When we hit these buttons, I'll go back to my timeline, and you, yours.. I'm not gonna lie to you. . .our watches are a little cruder now. . .I had to utilize parts of mine to make yours, so you may get a rough ride home." He made a lop-sided smile. "Um. . .the guys were getting suspicious of you. . .me. . .so I stole a shuttle and got outta there."
John looked at him. "So. . .when they find me. . .?"
"W-e-l-l. . .I had to stun them to get away. . .so they might be a little mad. . . but, seeing as, by now, the shuttle I transported out of is laying somewhere on the nearest M-class planet, which is where you're heading, by the way. . .they might be too pleased to see you're okay to do too much damage to you."
He smiled at the face John pulled. Unhooking his com badge, he handed it to JD. "You'd better take this." Future Dunne sighed. "It was great to meet up with you."
Taking the badge, JD returned the smile. "Same here. Sure was one hell of an adventure, huh?"
With a nod, they stood side by side, ready to transport back to their own timelines. With a final look and smile to each other, both buttons were hit and they were gone.
USS MAVERICK - 24TH CENTURY
It only took a minute for the six bridge crew to recover from the stun blast, helping each other to their feet. Chris tapped his badge.
"Computer. . .location of Ensign Dunne."
>:"Ensign Dunne is on deck four, shuttle bay two."<:
Buck's exclamation pretty much spoke for everyone as they 'hot- wired' the sealed door to JD's quarters to get out and headed off together to deck four. Six solemn faces stood inside the turbolift as Chris barked out the required destination. Standish tapped his badge.
"Security. . .deck four, shuttlebay two. Intercept Ensign Dunne and hold him there until my arrival."
Buck glared at him.
"Rest easy, Mr. Wilmington. . .I simply wish to prevent him from leaving, not hurt him."
Buck swallowed. "It's still JD. . ."
"We don't know that," Chris reminded.
"I do," Buck stated, emphatically. "I have no idea what else is going on here. . .but that's JD."
No one wanted to argue with him. They had all felt he was right, but yet Nathan's findings suggested otherwise. It was clear the imposter had no desire to hurt them, judging by his actions on escaping.
Damnit! What the hell was going on?
Reaching Deck four, the six exited the lift, only to find security hovering outside the shuttlebay doors.. One man stepped toward Ezra.
"The lock's been code-secured, sir, but, we're on it."
Vin moved the man working on the lock aside and assessed the damage. "Damnit, kid." Walking over to the doors, the Vulcan used his exceptional strength to pry them open. Seeing he was having some minor success, they all joined in, eventually squeezing through the gap they had created. Once inside, they could see the shuttle was gone and the bay doors sealed.
"Captain to bridge. . .lock on a tractor beam to the shuttle Intrepid."
>:"Aye sir,"<: came the reply.
>:"Sir. . .tractor beam has been disabled."<:
"Damnit, JD!" Larabee thumped the wall in anger. "Bridge, plot a course, follow that shuttle. I'm on my way."
Chris looked at Buck. "Buck. . .prepare an away team. . .fully armed."
"Chris. . ." the brunet started.
Larabee was unmoving, save for a flash of concern in his eyes. "That was an order, Number One."
Buck nodded. "Aye sir. Vin, Ezra, Nathan. . .you're with me."
The group split up, their joint goal. . .to get JD, or whoever he was. . . back on board the Maverick. . .alive.
Materializing into the laid up shuttle with a rush of dizziness, JD staggered toward the back of the shuttle, relieved to find a small selection of uniforms stowed there. Fighting his aching head, he slipped quickly into appropriate clothing, cursing softly for lack of regulation footwear, before heading back to the navigation com. The growing dizziness overwhelmed him, causing the young ensign to pass out and send him crashing down onto the com station before bouncing off and landing on the floor in a boneless heap.
Four separate transport patterns shimmered, to reveal Buck, Vin, Ezra and Nathan just yards from the stationary shuttle. Buck's head turned quickly to Nathan when the ship's surgeon gasped softly.
"Report," Buck ordered.
"I had a life sign inside the shuttle a split second ago, now. . . nothing."
Fighting back his growing panic, Buck gestured for them to follow him to the shuttle door. . .not that he needed to.. Vin cursed.
"He's rigged the damn door." Vin went through a selection of tools but to no avail.
While Vin was working, Nathan cried out, softly. "I have a reading." The doctor frowned. "How is that possible?"
Buck hammered on the door. "JD. . .if you can hear me. . .OPEN UP!" He was just about to tap his badge to order a transport in, when Standish reached inside a small pouch on his belt and touched Vin and Buck on the shoulder.
"Allow me, gentlemen." Within a minute, Ezra had the door open and Buck and Nathan rushed in, quickly followed by Vin and Ezra.
Spotting JD crumpled on the floor, Buck was with him in an instant. "Kid?"
Nathan followed Buck and ran a medical wand over the unconscious and bleeding youth. "Looks like he hit his head. . .though I detect other injuries, too. . .older ones." Tapping his com badge, Nathan called for an emergency transport to sickbay and in seconds, he and JD were gone.
Buck looked back at the bloodstained floor and the now empty space the pair had occupied, startled when a hand squeezed his arm. He looked into the compassion-filled eyes of his security officer, smiling inwardly at how one intelligent, smart-assed, adventure- seeking, nineteen year old trouble-magnet could stir emotions in the most resolute of people.
"Go ahead, Buck. Mr. Tanner and myself will return the Intrepid to The Maverick."
With a nod and a pat to his badge, Buck acknowledged him. "Thanks, guys. Wilmington. . .one to beam up."
As soon as Buck had gone, Ezra and Vin began examining the area. Now at the back of the shuttle, Ezra called out to Vin, who quickly joined him to see the security officer holding aloft a set of unfamiliar clothing.
Ezra raised an eyebrow. "What have you been up to, Mr. Dunne?"
Vin gestured toward the com with his head. "Let's go find out."
JD blinked open his eyes. He instinctively knew he was on a diagnostic bed in sickbay and for a moment, thought he had been through some fantastic dream. He focused on a pair of familiar deep blue eyes, offering a lopsided smile. "Buck?"
"Right here, little bro. How you doing?"
JD tried to sit up, but Nathan halted him. "Oh no. . .you stay put."
JD took a good look around, finally focusing on his two friends. "Man, it's good to see you."
Thinking JD was still a little groggy, Buck leaned in. "Good to see you, too. What the hell's going on, kid?" A voice penetrated the silence Buck's question had initiated.
"Captain to sickbay. . .report. " Chris' voice sounded over the com.
"All good, sir," Buck answered.
"I'm on my way, Larabee out."
By the time Chris and Josiah arrived, Ezra and Vin were also with JD, Nathan and Buck. JD was sitting up a little, looking pale, but otherwise, good. Glancing at Nathan, Chris was relieved to see the doctor holding up a medical tricorder and grinning satisfactorily. So. . . JD was back. . .but where had he been? Spotting the regulation clothing and odd footwear discarded on the sickbay floor several yards away, Chris spoke.
"Good to see you, ensign. . .now. . .what the hell's been going on?" Chris barked, a little harsher than he had intended.
Glancing around at his friends' concerned faces, JD nodded and started from where he had 'died' in sickbay. As his story unfolded, his fondness for the men and child he had encountered was evident, each man listening intently, warmed by tales of the seven of them together and news of their ancestors. Vin in particular, grinned at the back story about his and JD's past counterparts, nodding his approval at the man's actions in saving and caring for the little boy. Buck felt an odd sense of pride at the thought he had become a father to a former JD and subconsciously rested his hand on the shoulder of the young ensign he considered family, as the boy told of his adventure.
After a while, Chris made a little noise in his throat, drawing everyone's attention. He directed his question at JD.
"Why didn't you tell us. . .why didn't the other JD just tell us what was going on?"
JD swallowed. "For my part, it all happened so fast. In Future JD's defense, I know he was worried about paradoxes and screwing with the timelines." He glanced at Ezra.
"Ezra, I have something I need sealed away, where it can never be accessed. Can you do that for me?"
Standish nodded. "Most certainly. What is it?"
"It looks like a watch, Nathan probably tossed it over there," he pointed to where his clothes and sneakers lay.
"Consider it done," Ezra smiled.
"So," Josiah began, "you succeeded in going back and saving little JD. . . but didn't interfere with the timeline and history in any way?"
JD bit his lip. Buck leaned in. "What? What did you do?"
"Nothing really, but. . .the little guy was really into space. . .wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up." JD smiled warmly at the memory.
"And?" Vin asked.
JD licked his lips. "I. . .didn't exactly try putting him off...and... I left him my busted watch."
Understanding full well what JD was like when enthusiastic about something, they all smiled, knowingly.
"Maybe you were meant to encourage him," Ezra suggested, "someone in your lineage certainly started the interest enough to propel you toward Starfleet."
"But. . .I never knew any males in my family. . .there was only me and my mom." JD argued.
"Mmmm. . .the mysteries of the Universe," Josiah grinned.
"Okay, it's no mystery to see this young man needs to rest," Nathan intervened, seeing JD struggling a little. He placed a hypo spray to JD's neck and fired. "Go. . .everybody out. . .JD's gonna get some sleep."
Chris stared at his ensign. "We'll talk more about this later."
JD nodded, ready to accept any punishment he was due. . .as long as he stayed with The Maverick and his friends.
As the group dispersed, JD and Buck shared a look. "It really is good to see you, Buck," JD whispered, the hypo spray kicking in. "All of you guys. . ."
Buck nodded, feeling like, for the first time in a long few days, things were back to normal. He grinned. "It's real good to see you, too. . .welcome back." He touched his hand to JD's head. "I'll see you later." Buck waited until JD was asleep, and left.
SECTOR SEVEN - USS MAVERICK - 26TH CENTURY
Nathan nodded to Buck as the First Officer signed off on a transfer of one of their crew to the planet Piora for recuperation from Kelflakian flu. He turned sharply as a flash of green light caught all six men's attention. Buck leapt from his chair as his young protégé appeared before them, the pair grinning at each other as each took a good look at the other.
"Bridge? Shoot. . .I was aiming for my quarters," JD said, his mind still whirling from the ride home which had been a little rougher than he would have liked. Staggering, his grin widened as strong arms latched on to prevent him falling to the deck.
"Shoot, boy. . .am I seeing things, or are you actually standing there in one piece?" Buck asked, running a critical eye over the youth.
"I know!" JD chuckled. "Can you believe it?...Whoa. . ." Another wave of vertigo hit but Buck's hold on the young ensign insured he was going nowhere. The rest of the crew had gathered around, but Nathan took control.
"Sickbay, ensign. . .I need to check you over."
Chris nodded. "Go ahead, we'll catch up with you, soon."
JD didn't argue, he knew he was okay, but didn't like the idea of falling over in front of his captain. Nathan, JD and Buck left the bridge. Vin, looked at Chris, glancing at Josiah and Ezra.
"He needs to know."
"I know," Chris agreed. "Let's just give him a minute to catch his breath."
"Looks good," Nathan smiled at the youth sitting with his legs over the side of a bed, saying the words as much for himself and Buck as for JD.
"Told ya," JD grinned. He stared at Buck.
"What?" the First Officer asked.
"Aww, nothing. . .just. . .just that it's so good to see you."
Buck smiled and moved in for the clinch he'd wanted to give right from the moment JD had materialized. After a long few seconds, he spoke.
"You shouldn't have gone alone."
JD pulled back and looked up at him. "Buck, don't start. . .we agreed."
"I know, I know. . ." the brunet said, raising his hands. "I've just been worried. . .aw, never mind."
JD beamed. "Don't ever change," he said, softly.
Buck released a deep chuckle and raised his hand to squeeze JD's shoulder. "Wouldn't, even if I could."
A swoosh of the sickbay doors revealed Chris, Vin, Ezra and Josiah.
"Sir!" JD slid off the bed to stand to attention.
"As you were, ensign. We're all friends, here," Chris said with a small grin.
JD's smile returned as he realized how much he liked the sound of that.
"JD. . .let me first congratulate you on a successful mission."
"Thank you, capt. . .uh, Chris." JD frowned as he looked at his superior officer and good friend. "But. . .?"
Chris sighed. "While you were gone, we. . .that is, Ezra and Vin, did some investigating. "
"And?" JD moved closer.
Ezra took over. "The calamity your ancestor almost suffered. . .I fear it was no accident."
JD's mouth went dry. "He went back and killed the little guy deliberately. . . why?"
"The only link we could find," Vin replied, "was the device used to move through time."
Licking his lips, JD looked at his friends, his eyes narrowing as he mulled over this new revelation. Suddenly, his mouth opened to speak, but it was several seconds before he did so.
"He came here. . .didn't he?"
Six men exchanged glances. Chris answered. "Yes. . .and we think we know where he's going next. We managed to slow him down with a phaser wound, to stop him traveling backwards temporarily, but that won't give us much time."
JD's jaw dropped further as the pieces fell into place. "He's going after Ensign Dunne. . .the JD I've just been with. . ."
They all nodded, JD included, it was all clear now. "He's going after the creator of the time machine. . .but, why?"
"We can only speculate," Josiah answered. "My best guess would be to prevent a personal tragedy that occurred as a direct result of time travel using that device."
JD looked at them all. "I have to warn him. . .oh shit. . .I have to go back."
"You are not going alone," Buck insisted, looking to Chris. "He is not going alone!"
Captain Larabee pursed his lips, looking at Buck and JD. "Okay, we need to make plans." He gave them a warning look. "Don't screw this up. . .I like my life just as it is."
The pair nodded, speaking together. "Aye, sir."
SECTOR SEVEN - USS MAVERICK - 24TH CENTURY
One day after his return, JD was back on duty. After their shift, he persuaded each of his friends to join him on the holodeck. He had recreated the LW ranch from memory, the seven of them now sitting on blankets, in the yard, staring up at the stars in the formation they would have been, around the time JD visited. No one questioned him. . .in fact, they kind of liked their new 'home from home'. JD smiled as he gazed up, comforted by the presence of friends he would willingly give his life for, while his thoughts focused on a group of people, one little man in particular, who held a special place in his heart.
And a young ensign two hundred years into the future,
300 years earlier, a five-year-old boy lay on his father's chest, his back to the man who was resting his chin on his son's dark head as they lay there, on a sleeping bag, cuddling. JD's Chris and 'big brother' Vin, were laying either side of them, a little fist holding on to each of the two men's arms as all four stared up at the stars, neither man questioning why the little one had been so keen to do so after John had left them, just content to indulge him.
Little JD gazed up at the twinkling lights in fascination, thinking about the new friend he missed, while wondering. . .what really was out there?