Buck was cold. Cold and wet. He'd been walking in the small park near his town house for nearly an hour now. The snow had begun to lightly fall, and as he glanced up at the window to the home he shared with his best friend he wondered how much more of the element he could endure before he would have to endure the biggest element in his life. JD.
The kid was not going to understand. Fighting was something that always came naturally between Buck and his oldest friend Chris Larabee. Especially since the death of Sarah and Adam Larabee. Hell, even before that.
JD wasn't going to understand that. The most fighting he did with anyone besides the bad guys was the occasional wrestling contest with him over the remote control, or maybe a sparring match with Vin on the basketball court. Hurting someone you cared about just wasn't something his best friend could comprehend. Thank God.
And even as Buck thought it, he knew in his heart that Chris hadn't meant to hurt him either. In some ways Wilmington had asked for it. He'd gone in there knowing he was going to push his boss' buttons, but the man deserved it. Didn't he? Still, Buck had to wonder who he was punishing. Larabee or himself.
Seeing that bracelet, holding it in his hand, had brought back so many memories, and a fair amount of pain. Sort of like when a man forgets he has a cut on his finger, until he picks up something salty. Then it stings the hell out of you.
Buck had definitely been taken by surprise. When he'd saw that piece of jewelry, it was like a switch had been thrown. A rush of pictures had flooded his mind. Images he'd long since stored away for another time. A time he wasn't sure he wanted to come. But now it had. And he was going to have to deal with.
So far, he had handled it in typical fashion. Letting his emotions overcome his good senses. Going off, half-cocked, and pushing Chris into a corner. Wasn't he always telling JD to play things cool, until you knew what a situation was.
But, goddamnit, he was pissed. As mad as a barefoot centipede on a hot rock, and that was a feeling Buck Wilmington wasn't accustomed to. Sure he was passionate, and yes he could be overwhelmed with concern and worry, especially where people he cared about was concerned, but spite wasn't an emotion he was comfortable with. Maybe that's why he screwed it up so badly when it did overcome him.
Wilmington shivered as a gust of winter wind whipped around him, freeing him from his self-beratement. He couldn't change how he handled the situation with Chris, and he sure the hell wasn't going to take all the blame this time. Larabee had done his part, the constant throbbing on the left side of his face and the hollow ache in his heart was enough to remind him of that. Buck was tired of feeling guilty.
No, this time his old friend wasn't going to get away with shoving him aside. They both had some music to face, and whether they figured out the right steps or not, was going to be mostly up to Chris. It took two to tango, and Buck was determined he wasn't dancing a solo any longer. Not where their friendship was concerned. Not where anything was concerned.
With some semblance of clarity regained, the lady's man took a deep breath and headed towards home. So far that day, he'd felt as if he'd been on an emotional roller coaster, what was one more loop. After all, the ride wasn't going to end until he'd figured out some fancy steps to somehow explain things to JD. As tempting as it was just to tell the kid he'd walked into a door, Wilmington knew it wouldn't do any good to lie. Even with his roommate sick, and on some pretty potent meds, the kid could read Buck like a book.
With a sigh of resignation, Buck hoped he'd get lucky and JD would be asleep.
However, it seemed that fate was determined to piss in his cheerios today, and he heard the Play Station, before he even reached for the doorknob. Buck shook his head, shooting a quick glance skyward.
JD was under strict orders to be resting, recovering from his seasonal bout with bronchitis, so he was not surprised to find silence when he finally entered the hallway in the front of their apartment. The kid was nothing if not sharp.
The junk he'd stumbled over coming through the door was enough noise to alert anyone that somebody was home. But one would never have imagined that the almost angelic-looking form feigning sleep on the couch could have been capable of such underhandedness.
Deciding to play along, Wilmington merely tossed his coat across the back of the sofa and started for the kitchen.
A hoarse, sleep-roughened voice wafted up from underneath comforters as he opened the first cabinet. "Buck? That you?"
Wilmington nearly laughed at the practiced whine in the pitch and the pitiful tone. The kid could have been an actor on one of them Soaps that Josiah liked to preach about. Hell, even Ezra would have been proud. "Go back to sleep, JD."
"Why you home so early?" The kid's head popped up as he shoved blankets from across his legs. "Did you bring anything to eat?"
Buck continued to dig through the cabinet his head was hidden in. "None of your business, and no, I didn't bring any junk home because Nate said you should stick to soup for another day or so."
"Soup!" JD moaned, plopping in one of the bar stools and letting his head rest on the countertop. "If I see one more chicken noodle, I swear I'll even be tempted to eat that stuff Casey brought over here from the health food store."
"Aren't you suppose to be in bed?" Buck asked moving to the next cabinet without turning around.
"Aren't you suppose to be at work?" JD countered, snidely. "What the heck are you looking for anyway?"
"Damn you're nosy, boy."
"Yeah, well, you'd be nosy too if the most exciting part of your day had been counting the cracks in the ceiling." JD stood and moved around the bar, into the kitchen area.
"You going to tell me what you're doing home, or do I even have to ask?" JD slouched against the counter, snorting in disgust. "You came to check up on me, didn't you. For your information ..."
"JD," Buck Wilmington stopped his search and shut the cabinet door, finally facing his friend, "I'm really not in the mood to hear the INAK speech. So unless you have something new to say, besides the 'I'm not a kid' thing, spare me."
Worry quickly colored JD's face and his hazel eyes widened in surprise. "Buck?! What the hell happened to you?"
Wilmington sighed. "Nothin' you need to worry about, kid. I'm fine."
"The hell you are." JD reached behind him and flipped the switch that would turn the over head light on, providing him a better look at his friend. Buck's left eye was a nasty shade of reddish-purple and the lid was almost swollen shut. A small cut just shadowed the brow line and traces of dried blood could still be seen on the side of the lady man's face.
"What happened to your eye? Who hit you?"
"Leave it alone, JD." Buck swatted the kid's hand away. "Why ain't you in bed, anyway?" Couldn't the kid do what he was suppose to just once.
"I ain't leaving it alone. You'd be calling in an inquisition if I came home like that."
Buck sighed in frustration and began rifling through another cabinet, deciding not to even try and deny what he knew was true. "Where's that damn first-aid kit? And the Tylenol?" Two prescription bottles were shoved in JD's direction as Wilmington continued to search. "Did you take your medicine today?"
Dunne merely tossed the bottles onto the stove. "Forget my medicine, we're talking about you."
"Kid, I ain't in the mood."
"Was there some sort of trouble at work? Did you guys get called out on a case without me?"
Wilmington stopped what he was doing and wearily leaned against the counter. He might as well tell him. "Chris and I had a disagreement about something and he hit me."
"What?" JD's eyes flashed with a mix of disbelief and then anger. "No way! Why would he do that?"
"It's a long story."
"You didn't say anything to him about what happened yesterday, did you?" A look of guilt and frustration crossed Dunne's face. "Dang it, Buck, I told you I could take care of myself."
"This didn't have anything to do with you, JD," Buck quickly assured his roommate. "It had to do with an old friend from the past."
"From Chris's past?"
"Yeah. And don't give me that look."
"That look!" Buck pointed a finger at his best friend, easily reading the spark behind the fiery gaze. "The one you get just before you end up getting your shorts in a knot and saying or doing something that you end up regretting. This ain't got nothing to do with you, so you don't got to do nothing about it."
"You're my friend," JD stated as if the obvious had been totally disregarded."Not just that, you're..." He wanted to say best friend, teacher, brother all rolled into one, but those kind of things just weren't things easy for JD to admit. So, instead he waved his hand in the air, looking flustered, "well, you know."
Buck shook his head and smiled for the first time since that morning. "Yeah, I know, kid. But Chris is your friend too. More than that, he's your boss." Not to mention your fucking hero.
"But nothing, JD. I'm not putting you in the middle."
"I can make up my mind for myself, Buck."
"Only thing you to set your mind to JD is getting better."
" Me? I ain't the one who looks like he just went a round with Mike Tyson."
"What?" Buck reached up to pat the side of his head, feigning surprise. "Is my ear missing, too?"
JD tried not to smile, but couldn't help it. "You are so full of it, Buck. This is serious."
"Nah, kid. Now if Chris had shot me, that would have been serious. This..." Wilmington waved a hand towards the throbbing side of his face, "...is nothing."
The youngest member of Team Seven did not appear convinced. "It looks bad."
Buck sighed in exasperation. "It's fine, JD."
"Swollen shut, and black and blue is not 'fine', Buck."
The boy was like a bloodhound on a hot scent. "This from the kid who redefined the meaning of 'fine'."
"I think you should at least let Nate have a look at it."
"JD, dammit, boy!" Buck threw his hands up in the air."Did anyone ever tell you that you're about as annoying as that little chicken hawk on those Fog Horn Leg Horn cartoons?"
"Fine," JD huffed and pulled the drawer nearest the sink open and withdrew the first-aid kit. "I just wanted to help."
Buck took the box that his best friend shoved in his direction and used his other hand to reach out and swat the back of the kid's head. "It's okay, JD. You are helping, trust me."
Before Dunne could reply the doorbell rang. "Now why don't you go help yourself to that door, while I go upstairs and clean up?"
JD rolled his eyes. "I'm the sick one here, remember?" The computer whiz manuevered his way around the table as Buck took off for the stairs. "What happened to 'don't get off that couch, JD'? 'Stay in bed, kid.'"
Dunne was still mumbling under his breath as he kicked his Nikes and hockey stick out of the way to open the door. "Hey, Vin."
Vin Tanner stood in the door way, still shaking snow from his hair. "Hey, kid."
JD stepped back and held the door open. "Dang, did everybody get off work early today?"
The sharpshooter shrugged and grinned his usual half smile. "We have all the fun when you're gone, JD."
"So I've heard." Dunne started to close the door when a hand stopped him.
"Mind if I come in too?" Chris Larabee now stood in the arched entrance, his tall frame covered with freshly fallen snow."My partner left me to defend myself against Mrs. Mayes."
Usually JD would have laughed at the idea of his and Buck's spunky, elderly neighbor cornering his boss, but today he could have cared less. "That depends."
Larabee raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
"You plan on blacking Buck's other eye?"
"JD," Tanner warned softly, but Chris held his hand up, stopping the other words his best friend had intended on saying.
"I didn't come here to fight, JD."
"What did you come here for?"
If it had been under different circumstances it would have been almost comical, Vin thought. Five-foot, nine inch JD, dressed in flannel boxers and a 'Make 7 Up Yours' T-shirt, squared off against Six-foot two Chris Larabee, who was dressed all in black and looking like he could have just stepped off the set of that Matrix movie. But there wasn't anything humorous about it. JD may have looked harmless, but when push came to shove he could be as cocky and as down right stubborn as Larabee himself.
"JD, is Buck in?"
Dunne turned to look at Tanner. "Why?"
This time Chris entered the apartment and shut the door behind him. "JD, I want to talk to Buck"
"Yeah, well, I don't think that's such a good idea right now."
"JD? Who was at the door?" Buck came down the stairs before Dunne could venture out and further on the narrow limb he was treading.
He stopped when his one good eye met the gazes of the three men now looking at him as if he'd just interrupted something.
"They were just leaving." Dunne placed himself between his roommate and the other two men. "Weren't you guys?"
Chris continued to look at Buck. "We need to talk."
"I ain't got much to say." Wilmington took a few more steps closer, coming along side JD.
"Good. Then you can shut your mouth and listen for a change."
Vin cleared his throat and Larabee glanced in his direction. "I mean..., that's fine. I have some things you might want to hear."
Tanner looked expectantly at Buck, who merely nodded. "I could use a walk."
"Buck..." JD stopped his best friend with a hand on his arm.
"I'll be right back, kid." Wilmington turned and looked at Vin. "See if you can get him to go to bed, will ya?"
JD shook his head. "At least take your coat." Dunne motioned to the scuffed leather jacket still laying across the couch.
Buck winked at his roommate as he grabbed his jacket and started for the door that Chris had just opened. "What would I do without you, mom?"
"Live a lonely, boring, miserable existence, what else?" the computer whiz called after his friend, and then looked at Vin once they were alone. "What is going on with them?"
Vin shrugged. "Nothing new."
"That explains a lot." JD rolled his eyes and turned to go back into the den. "You're as 'bout as useful as an expired coupon."
Tanner followed his friend and dropped into Buck's recliner. "I'll remember that next time I'm covering your ass."
Dunne sat on the couch opposite his teammate."Sorry, I'm just sick of being left out of the loop."
Vin nodded. "Speaking of loops, didn't you and Buck buy that new racing game for the Play Station?"
JD snorted. "You're all hearts and flowers, you know that Vin?"
Tanner grinned. "Hey, at least I'm not trying to get you to take your medicine and tuck you in for the night."
"That's something, I suppose," Dunne sighed, and dug under his discarded blankets for the remote controls he was looking for. He tossed one to the sharpshooter. "How about loser springs for a pizza?"
Three races later, Vin found himself in the kitchen calling Dino's Deli while JD stood sentry near the balcony doors that provided him an overlook of the small park below.
When Tanner returned the kid had resorted to looking through his telescope. "JD, they're not going to hurt each other."
"What?" The computer whiz looked up innocently.
"There's no stars out, kid. It ain't even dark. So unless you've taken up bird watching, I'm guessing you're spying on Buck and Chris."
"Shows what you know," JD scoffed, and walked back across the room. "Didn't see a dang thing but trees."
The Texan smiled and tossed JD the can of Mountain Dew he'd brought him. "Like I said, they ain't going to kill one another."
"Did you see Buck's eye?" Dunne moved to the couch once more.
"Chris was pissed." Vin sat on the other end of the sofa this time, propping his feet up on the coffee table.
"And that gives him the right to go around hitting his friends, especially friends like Buck?"
"He didn't mean to hurt Bucklin, kid."
JD let his head fall back onto the couch, and kept his gaze on the ceiling. "Yeah well, he might not mean to do a lot of things but that don't change the consequences."
"It's hard for us to understand what they've been through. Their friendship's different."
"Don't you think I know that?" JD rolled his head to the side so that he could see Vin. "Buck's told me a lot about what they were like in good 'ol days. I know what Chris means to him..., what they mean to each other. You and Ez aren't the only ones good at readin' people."
Vin raised his hands in mock surrender. "I didn't say we were, JD."
"Sorry, I just don't get Chris sometimes. It's like he's two different people."
Tanner relaxed back onto the couch. "Maybe he is."
At JD's raised eyebrow, Vin shrugged. "I know I was different back when I was bounty hunting, back before the team came along. Were you the same when your mom was alive?"
The computer whiz looked like he was about to rush into a reply, but caught himself. Glancing back up at the ceiling, he sighed. "That last year or so, I didn't do anything but work and take care of her. I don't even remember who I was back then."
Tanner nodded. "I think Chris remembers too well. Buck too, maybe."
A stubborn look crossed JD's face again, and he sat up straighter, bringing his feet under him and turning his whole body to face Vin."Then why don't they just forget it then, let it go."
Vin shook his head. "They can't do that anymore than you or I can forget the things that brought us here, JD. The bad things they been through, are just as much a part of who they are as the good things."
"So, why do they even want to stay friends? Why haven't they just moved on?" There was a slight hitch in the kid's voice, as if he were asking things he wasn't quite sure he wanted to hear the answer to.
Vin realized that it wasn't just the idea of Buck being hurt that had JD so riled up, but the idea of what it could mean to all of them. "Cause they ain't friends, kid."
JD looked confused. "Huh?"
Tanner smiled ruefully. "They're family. And with family, you just don't kick them out of your life, 'cause they're acting like a damn fool. You keep them around even when they're a pain in the ass."
Dunne held his friend's gaze for a moment and then slowly nodded. "You don't give up on them."
Vin's grin widened. "Even when it looks like the sensible thing to do."
JD finally fell back against the sofa. "That explains a lot about the team, huh?"
"Yep." Vin winked at the younger man. "'Specially where Ez is concerned."
+ + + + + + +
If he'd been walking with Vin, things would have seemed perfectly normal. Silence was a part of the very unique friendship he shared with the Texan, but with Buck Wilmington words, sometimes too many words, had defined their relationship. So strolling along in a the snow, in the middle of the day on a Tuesday was odd enough, but being with his oldest friend, and not saying or hearing anything was too much for him to deal with.
"Damn it, Buck, would you say something?" Chris stopped in a small grouping of trees and waited for the other man to do the same.
"That an order?" Wilmington hunched his shoulders against the wind, turning to look at his boss.
Larabee looked off in the distance. "Does it have to be?"
"I thought you wanted me to shut-up so that you could talk?"
Chris raked a hand through his hair, deciding Vin owed him at least three beers for dragging his ass here. "I wasn't selling the bracelet."
Buck nodded. "All right."
Anger suddenly ignited somewhere deep inside the leader of Team 7. "What does that mean? You trying to say I'm lying?"
"Didn't say anything of the sort, Chris." Wilmington remained calm, which seemed to piss the other man off even more.
"Then say what you're thinking!"
Something flashed behind Buck's dark eyes. "This ain't about what I think, Chris, don't you get it, this is about how I feel."
Larabee's brow furrowed in confusion and Wilmington spun on his heel and started walking again. "Like trying to teach a person with two left feet to dance."
"What'd you say?" Chris stalked after his friend.
Buck stopped. "I said, you need to stop listening to the words and hear the music."
Larabee threw his hands up in the air. "What the hell are you talking about? I thought you were pissed about the bracelet."
"I was. Hell, I am." Buck pointed a finger at his friend. "But I'm more mad about everything else."
"If this is about the last few days..."
"This is about the last six years, Pard."
Chris' face reddened and he looked as if he were about to say something, but then his features softened and he just looked very tired. "What do you want me say?"
It was Buck's turn to be angry."I want you to say that you're sorry for shutting me out all those years! For throwing away our partnership, for leaving me behind to deal with all that pain by myself!"
Larabee truly looked confused now. "I thought I had already done that."
"When I recruited you for the team, damn it! When I hired JD!" Chris shook his head. "Every damn time I don't give into the little voice that says I should run as far and as fast as I can away from all of you."
The two men glared at each other in silence for long moment. "I loved Sarah and Adam too." Buck finallly spoke, his voice much softer.
Larabee swallowed hard. "I know that. I never meant to make it seem like I didn't."
"When I saw that bracelet at Vido's, it was like you were taking them away from me again. Just like you did when you shut down on me after they died."
Chris sighed. "I wasn't selling the bracelet. I was going to give it back to you." Team Seven's leader leaned against one of the large trees around them. "I found the damn thing about a week back. Fell out of a dresser drawer, like some kind of omen." Larabee shrugged. "I thought it was God's way of reminding me that Sarah's birthday was coming up, and how I wouldn't be there to share it. I got to tell you, it pissed me off."
Larabee pushed off from the tree and paced a few feet. "But then I heard JD telling you he couldn't find anything special enough for Casey, and something clicked. It just seemed to make sense." He turned back to face Buck. "Maybe it was Sarah's way of telling me it was time to let go of some things. Maybe she was giving me a gift for her birthday."
Buck listened to his friend, watching him with a sort of a look of awe on his face. "You were going to give me the bracelet to give to JD?"
Chris nodded. "Sarah would have wanted it to stay in your family..., in our family."
"Why in the hell didn't you just tell me that, pard?"
Chris laughed lightly. "I did. I just used my fist dialect instead of my unique talent for conversation."
Wilmington shook his head. "Damn. Guess, we never did speak the same language, especially after Sarah and Adam weren't around to translate anymore."
Larabee felt his chest tighten at the sad look in the dark eyes holding his gaze. "You don't give yourself enough credit, Buck."
When Wilmington didn't reply Chris continued. "I don't know if I could have ever remembered the way I use to be, if you hadn't been around, pard. I know you think that the team...that Vin, somehow gave me a reason to remember, and that's more true than I like to admit, but Buck, you're the reason I never forgot in the first place."
Buck licked at his dry lips and ducked his head. "Sounds like you been thinking about this a lot?"
Chris reached out, and squeezed his friend's shoulder. "Ain't got nothing to do with thinking, Buck. This is about the way I feel."
Wilmington looked up and smiled. "Maybe you can learn to dance after all, old buddy."
Larabee snorted. "As long as it ain't to that crap JD and Vin listen to."
Buck bobbed his head in agreement. "We ain't got any communication problems in that department, pard. I'd rather listen to Ezra yammer on and on about the state of the stock market as to listen to some of JD's CD's."
Chris sighed. "Kids today."
Wimington frowned. "Speaking of kids..." Larabee followed his friend's line of sight and saw a Dino's delivery van pulling up to the sidewalk infront of Buck's building "I told JD no junk food until Nate gave the okay."
Buck started towards the street but Chris reached out and caught his arm. "Hold up, pard. You almost forgot this."
Wilmington stopped and looked down at what Larabee had just placed in his hand. "What's this?" Buck closed his fingers around the silver bracelet and met his oldest friend's gaze.
A grin tugged at the corner of Larabee's mouth. "What? Ain't you ever heard of a peace offerin', Stud?"
Buck looked at the bracelet once more then back to his friend. "I've heard of them." Wilmington's smile grew. "But since the war's over, a gift from an old friend will suit me just fine."
Comments to: email@example.com