Hands of Fate


by TEAM 7


Disclaimer: Nothing Seven belongs to us, but we like to pretend.

Authors' NOTES!!!! This is a Birthday Story for our friend and partner in crime: PENNY M. She knew nothing about this and we hoped it would be the perfect gift for her big day which she shares with Andy Kavovit. July 19th!! YEAH!!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY FROM ALL OF US, PENN!!!!

(A round robin collective work by Maria 'Mog', Cassie, Maggie, Diana, Kim, and Betaed by the beta-reader extraordinaire: Judy B.)

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"JD!" Buck Wilmington yelled, as he bounded down the stairs from his loft bedroom. "JD!"

The irrate man took the last three steps in one motion of his lean form and easily located the target of his wrath. Lying on the couch in front of the television was the perpetrator. The 'kid' was wearing just his jeans and socks, and from the looks of it had merely exited the shower and found his way to his favorite spot, if his still damp hair was any indication. Buck instantly realized why his roommate hadn't heard him. The headphones to the state of the art stereo system he had bought the year before were snugly over the boy's ears, and he had no doubt that some obnoxious band, with a name like the Pumpkin Squashers or the Moo Moo Dolls was pulsing through JD Dunne's ears. With a resigned sigh, the older man made his way across the floor to the entertainment center where he, with a smile of satisfaction, pulled his friend's plug.

"What the . . . ?" JD raised up instantly and looked around with a puzzled expression, only to receive a blow from the throw pillow Buck had picked up off the floor to launch at him.

"Hey! Cut it out, Buck." The kid swung his feet off the sofa and pulled the headphones off. "I was listening to that."

"Yeah, well, you were listening to 'that', when you were suppose to be picking up some of the crap that was helping our apartment masquerade as a garbage dump. Remember?"

"I was just taking a break," JD shrugged, innocently. "It's not like the guys haven't seen the place a mess before."

"Yeah, well in this mess, they'll never be able to see the place at all." Buck shook his head. "Besides, that's not the point, JD. This is the point." Wilmington held up a black and silver roller blade.

"Cool." The younger man pushed himself up and skidded across the slick hardwood floor. "I've been looking everywhere for that. Where'd you find it?" Buck held the skate up out of his friend's grasp. "In my bed. Care to explain?"

JD's face turned a slight shade of pink and he ran his hand through his long dark hair. "Well, you see, Casey didn't have an afternoon class a couple of weeks ago, and I . . ."

"Don't say another word," Buck dropped the boot in his friend's outstretched hands, "I don't want to know."

"I was going to say we went blading, Buck." The kid tried to explain to his friend's retreating form.

"Listen kid," Wilmington stopped at the base of the spiral staircase and looked at JD. "I don't really care what you do, as long as you don't do it in my room, and you clean up after yourself. I'm a little tired of playing the role of babysitter, here."

Buck regretted the word as soon as it slipped past his lips , but his frustration kept him from taking it back. He knew the kid worked hard to prove himself as much of a man as the rest of the six men he was constantly being compared to. It wasn't like JD had anything to prove to his partners, that made up the elite task force assigned to the ATF; but the other agents were another story. Everyone, including Buck, had been a little skeptical and surprised when Chris Larabee had let the rookie join up with them three years ago, but Wilmington couldn't imagine it any other way now. JD Dunne was a hell of an officer, a loyal friend, and the brother he'd never had. Unfortunately, he could also be a pain in the ass.

"And I'm a little sick of being treated like a baby," JD finally tossed back, hiding the hurt in his large hazel eyes, with a glare of defiance. "Maybe its time I found a place of my own. Vin told me there was a flat open in his building."

"Oh, hell no," Wilmington stated in a tone that left no room for discussion. "Vin lives in the worse part of town, kid. If he hadn't grown up on the streets there, he'd probably have been shot by the local scum by now." There was no way that Wilmington would stand for JD moving to Purgatorio, as the natives liked to call it. It was a favorite hangout for most of the gangs and druglords, and with JD's propensity for trouble, he'd end up a chalk outline before he could pay his first month's rent. Tanner claimed it gave him an edge to live in the wilds of society, but Buck had to wonder if it just wasn't a way for their friend to remind himself of 'exactly' where he'd come from.

"I can take care of myself, Buck."

Wilmington rolled his eyes at the all too familiar beginning of the argument he'd heard a thousand and one times.

"I am an adult you know," JD fumed. "I graduated the academy first in my class, made it the ATF in two years, and if you haven't noticed I managed to stay alive for a whole twenty-two years before you came along."

"Yeah, and I use to have an apartment any bachelor would dream of before you came along, junior. So shape up before I ship you off to Chris's ranch. I bet he could house train you real fast, or kill you one."

"I pay half the rent," JD stated tossing the roller blade under his computer desk and pushing some more of his things with it, before concealing them with a strategically placed chair. "So until the lease is up, I don't think you'll be 'sending' me any where."

Buck laughed. "If I counted all the junk you've accumulated over the last three years as another tenant, you should be paying two thirds the rent."

"But then we'd have to count your ego, and that would have you owing me, my junk , and the landlord money."

"Cute," Buck started, only to be interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Open up, boys." Josiah Sanchez's deep voice echoed around the vaulted ceiling of the loft. "Time, nor my famous chili, waits for no man."

JD looked over his shoulder and saw Nathan strolling through the door with a grocery bag in one arm and Josiah close behind, wearing oven mitts and holding a large cooking pot.

"Why ain't that door locked?" Queried Jackson in a sharp tone, referring to the effortless way he and Josiah entered the bachelors' apartment. "You are representatives of your nation's law enforcement community, what kind of example are you settin' for your neighbors?"

JD pushed some mail to one corner of the kitchen counter to allow space for the bag that Nathan carried. "A pretty poor one if they saw you guys come in." Dunne glanced over at Josiah who was settling the large pot he carried onto the stove.

"Ya know, we have cookware here, Josiah."

"Not like this, JD." Sanchez lifted the lid to reveal a thick mass of beans, meat, vegetables and sauce. "Been simmerin' since eight this morning."

Dunne leaned over to inhale the spicy scent that drifted from the mysterious concoction. "Smells good."

Nathan emptied out the bag of supplies he had brought in, laying out tortilla chips, salsa, sour cream and a variety of other bachelor staples. "An' if ya get hungry for it after tonight, jus' come sit in my car. That smell will prob'ly be there for the next week."

Buck glanced over the railing from the second floor as he came down and called to the tall black man, "Hey Nathan, half expected you not to be here, thought Rain was back in town."

"Next weekend."

JD hopped over to the stereo, "Oh, Nate, that reminds me." The young man plugged the 'wall of sound', as he had affectionately dubbed it, back in and cued up a cd. "Finally got this soundtrack."

Hitting 'play', the distinctive sounds of The Commodores issued from the Bose speakers. Jackson laughed out loud as he and JD looked at each other and began to sing, "Well she's a brick...house, she's mighty-mighty, just lettin' it all hang out."

Buck slapped the 'off' button and shot his roommate a pointed look. "Me askin' about Rain reminded you of 'Brickhouse'?! Nathan, you have my permission to slap him."

JD stared back at Wilmington, "For your information, Buck, Rain was singing that last time I saw her and I've had the dang thing stuck in my head for the past two weeks." The young man crossed to his room to get a t-shirt, slugging his roommate on the arm as he passed.

Dunne was saved from retaliation as a simultaneous knock and opening of the door ushered in the remaining three members for the evening's 'boys night in'.

"You gentlemen really should consider relocatin' to a better community, just look what followed me up from the street."

Ezra carried a bottle-shaped brown paper bag in one hand and another sack declaring the contents to be from Di Laurenti Italian Deli & Market. Behind him Chris and Vin each bore appropriate gifts consisting of beer and junk food.

Chris handed his bag to Vin to take to the kitchen before stripping off his full-length leather coat and tossing the soft black jacket over a nearby chair. "Smells good in here, guess Buck isn't cooking."

Wilmington stole the bottle of beer that Vin had just handed to Chris, "Oh, you're funny. Let's see how funny you are after we've locked you out on the deck all night."

Chris just let a slight smile show and pulled the Red Stripe that Vin had brought for himself away from his partner, leaving Tanner shaking his head and returning to the kitchen for a second time.

Larabee followed, curious to see what exactly it was that had his mouth watering. He peered around Josiah who was stirring his spicy contribution to the evening. Pulling up the wooden spoon, Sanchez offered some to Chris.

Taking the utensil, Chris blew on the steaming chili before tasting. His eyebrows rose appreciatively as he swallowed, "Good stuff. Did I taste dill in there?"

The tall agent stirred their dinner once again before replacing the lid. "Might sound a bit strange but it adds a real nice flavor."

"What the hell is that?"

Buck was staring at the appetizers Ezra had just laid out. The southerner favored Wilmington with a long suffering look and endeavored to explain, pointing to each item as he named it. "Pomodori ripieni alla ricotta - ricotta stuffed tomatoes, mozzarella in carrozza - deep fried mozzarella sandwiches and prosciutto con melone - Parma ham with melon."

Wilmington looked from Ezra to the last item and back to Standish, "Ham? With melon?"

Just then JD popped into the kitchen, "Oh, prosciutto! I love this stuff." He grabbed up two chunks of the ham wrapped cantaloupe, stuffing one in his mouth to make room in his hand for the beer Chris passed to him.

Ezra smiled appreciatively at his young friend, "Thank you, JD." The southerner pointed to one of the small toasted mozzarella wedges, "Try this one, Buck. It's the one most similar to bar food."

In the living room, Nathan had kicked off his tennis shoes and sat on the couch resting his feet on the coffee table. "So what exactly are we watchin' here tonight?"

Buck swallowed the deep-fried appetizer he had in his mouth and rubbed his hands together excitedly, "The Bristol night race."

Jackson stared back at his friend, waiting for him to continue. "Uh-huh, and that is...?"

"You don't know the night race in Bristol?! Are you sure you're from the south?"

Josiah interrupted in an attempt to save his friend, "NASCAR. Bristol, Tennessee. Speed race with stock cars, one-mile round track, only at night."

Ezra tipped some Tanqueray into a glass as he added on to the ex-preacher's explanation. "Racin' is much like golf, Nathan. The more you imbibe the more enjoyable it becomes."

Buck was shocked. "What?? This isn't just 'racing'. This is NASCAR. Man and machine, nothin' is more American. Pure adrenaline."

Standish added cranberry juice and ice to his tall glass and mumbled under his breath, "Yes, especially exhilarating' for one of those poor yokels in the stands when a car breaks up sendin' a tire toward Jimmy Jo-Jo and his other companions from the factory."

Vin and Chris chuckled at their friend's take on the sporting event. Josiah nudged Tanner away from the refrigerator he was leaning against to grab a beer. Pulling the short, dark bottle from the 'fridge he called over his shoulder.

"Well, if you believe Ezra, somebody might want to go on a beer run. We only have one left."

Buck stared at Chris, "I thought you were bringin' beer?"

"I brought a six-pack, you never said anything about being the sole provider."

"Aww, man."

JD rolled his eyes, "Relax, Buck. I'll go get some."

"You got another helmet yet?"

The young agent was temporarily without protective headgear since the strap on his helmet broke, and his second one was with Casey. "The store is just down the street."

"I don't care if it's downstairs, ya ain't ridin' without one." Buck flopped down on the couch, considering the conversation over.

Vin scooped up the keys to his Jeep, "C'mon JD, ya can't carry a decent amount of anything on that bike anyways."

Tanner could tell Dunne was irritated by Buck's parental attitude and figured the easiest solution was to provide the kid an alternate mode of transportation.

JD dug around in the front closet, talking aloud as he searched,"Nikes? Nikes? Hey Buck, you seen my- Never mind, got 'em." Dunne pulled on his hightops and retrieved his newsboy cap from its familiar home on his bedroom doorknob.

He grabbed his leather jacket from the back of a kitchen barstool and patted the pockets after slipping it on. "Okay, wallet? Hey Buck, you seen my wallet?"

Wilmington was focused on the tv, trying to catch the day's scores in baseball and the kid's second interruption bugged the older agent more than it should have. The words were out of his mouth before he realized what he was saying.

"No, I ain't seen your wallet! Jeezus, maybe I should get you a mother."

JD's head snapped up and he stared at his friend. The expression of hurt and anger and disbelief that registered in the kid's face hit Buck like a punch in the stomach. Two seconds later JD's brain registered that the item he had his hand on in the inside pocket of his coat was what he was looking for.

He set his jaw firmly and flung the door open, "Never mind. I got it."

He stalked from the room not caring that everyone else was watching him.

Buck covered his eyes with one hand, "Shit." He sprang off the couch, "Kid! I didn't mean--"

Vin stopped his friend with a hand to the other man's chest. "I'll talk to him." Tanner slipped from the room pulling the door closed behind him.

Wilmington slammed his open hand hard against the wall and leaned forward, resting his forehead on the door, whispering, "Shit."

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"JD," Vin looked at the younger man evenly and told him calmly, "you know I ain't going anywhere until you buckle that seat belt. He took his hands off the wheel and relaxed back against the seat to prove it. Vin's insistence on anyone who rode with him wearing a seat belt was a running joke with the team. They regularly got shot at and Vin wouldn't go to the 7-11 for a paper without buckling his seat belt. Just last week, Buck had made them all laugh with a colorful story of Vin making him buckle up to go from one side of the parking lot to the other. Vin hadn't minded though. He never cared if one of the 7 made a joke at his expense.

"Dammit, Vin!" JD glared at his friend, while he was buckling his seat belt. "I ain't a baby and I wish you would all stop treating me like one." JD felt bad yelling at Vin. He knew he was being childish and he knew Vin wouldn't say anything to him about it. That was one of the reasons they all liked Vin so much. They could vent their frustrations and he'd just smile that half smile and wait for the bad mood to pass. JD could feel his own rage draining. Vin's easy going manner was better than an anger management class.

Vin smiled at him, as he backed the jeep out of the parking spot. "Aw hell, JD. You know Buck didn't mean anything back there."

JD threw his hat up onto the dash and smiled at Vin apologetically and sighed. "I know, Vin. I just wish he'd get it through that thick skull of his, that I can take care of myself."

"I know just how you feel kid." Vin responded and they both laughed. Chris worried about Vin, almost as much as Buck worried about JD. Chris had like to driven Vin crazy, when he'd taken that spill on his motorcycle a couple of months ago. Vin hadn't even been really hurt. Just scraped up and sore for a couple of days. Chris had acted like Vin was trying to jump the grand canyon, instead of just taking a ride on a gorgeous Saturday morning. And the accident hadn't been Vin's fault. He'd swerved to avoid a deer, that had bounded out of the woods into his path. He'd ended up dumping the bike, and getting a self appointed, bad tempered, nursemaid for a week. Vin smiled again, as he slowed the jeep down to stop at the red light.

Vin and JD never saw the van.

One minute they were laughing easily and waiting for the light to change and the next minute they felt a tremendous jolt from behind. JD looked at Vin like that deer had looked at him, as the jeep seemed to move in slow motion into the intersection. Directly into the path of a small pickup. Vin could see the other driver's terrified face. It was a young girl, he barely had time to notice before everything went black.

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Buck was getting antsy. The youngest members of the seven should have been back long ago. Still, it wasn't unheard of for the two to make a detour, especially since JD had been so upset and Vin had promised to talk to him.

Chris came over to his friend and put his hand on his shoulder. "They'll be back soon Buck." He tried to reassure his old friend. The truth was, Chris was as worried as Buck.

"Brothers, get over here quick!" Josiah's melodic voice held an urgency that got their attention immediately. The other four men were at his side, as he pointed to the television. Chris could see the word mute on the screen and a female reporter's mouth was moving wordlessly, as Josiah fumbled with the remote, trying to find the sound button. Buck took it out of his hand, and found the right button.

". . .live at the scene, of this deadly chain reaction collision is Bruce Wilson. Bruce, can you tell us what happened?"

The picture flipped from the studio, to the scene that had riveted Josiah's attention in the first place. "There do you see?" he pointed out to his partner's needlessly. They'd recognize that battered jeep in the center of the melee anywhere. Firemen were crawling all over the place. There must have been 15 cars and small trucks in various states of destruction. Vin's jeep was lying on the driver's side with it's underside facing the camera. A small white pickup pushed up into the front axle of the jeep like an accordion.

"This is what we know now, Jackie." Bruce had one hand on his ear and the other wrapped around a microphone. "It appears from witnesses, that the jeep was stopped for a red-light, when it was stuck from the rear by a Chevy van. The jeep was forced into the path of traffic and 17 more vehicles were involved in this deadly crash."

"Bruce, do we know anything about the victims, at this point?" Jackie asked from the studio.

Five men held their breath as Bruce answered. "Yes Jackie, we do. We don't have any names yet, but we do know that the drivers of the white pickup and the station wagon were killed instantly. There are at least 28 people injured and 6 fatalities. 4 people have already been airlifted to the hospital. The driver of the green pickup, 2 passengers from the white van and the passenger from the jeep."

Buck whooped with joy and the other four let out sighs of relief. At least they knew JD was alive. The relief was tempered quickly with fear for the other member of the seven.

". . . driver of the jeep is still trapped. . ." No one heard anything else Bruce had to say, as they immediately sprang into action. Josiah turned the stove off and Ezra grabbed the phone. Buck was already tossing Chris the keys to JD's motorcycle.

"This is Special Agent Standish with the ATF. I need to find out what hospital the victims of the crash have been airlifted to."

In less than 10 minutes, the 5 men were headed out the door. Chris and Josiah were headed for the crash scene. They'd all recognized the corner immediately. There was no way they'd get close to the scene in a car, so they were taking JD's motorcycle.

Buck, Ezra and Nathan were headed to the hospital and JD. A second call from Ezra had yielded no information on his condition, except that he was still alive.

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The brown Explorer skidded to a halt outside the Mercy County Hospital emergency room. Before Nathan had a chance to turn off the engine, Buck and Ezra were bolting through the hospital doors.

Frantic for some news on the condition of his injured friend, Buck pounded his hand on the desk of the vacant nurses' station. "Hey, I need some help here. This is an emergency." Failing to get a response to his urgent plea, he whirled around, scanning the room for someone who could provide him with some information.

Ezra, on the other hand, decided to take matters into his own hands and was peering through the windows of the trauma room doors, trying to locate the room JD had been taken to. Before he had a chance to check all the rooms, the doors to Trauma 3 were pushed open and several hospital personnel emerged, followed by a gurney caring the youngest member of their team.

The sound of the trauma room doors banging back against the wall brought Buck's attention toward the activity. He saw Ezra glance his way and then hurriedly move toward a patient being wheeled out of the room. As the gurney was maneuvered toward a bank of elevators at the end of the hall, the mustached agent recognized the crop of black hair adorning the head of the victim. With a few quick strides, his long legs covered the distance in seconds. Both he and Ezra were at the side of their friend before the elevators doors opened. "Oh, my God," the taller man gasped as he took in the various bandages and bruises that covered the young ATF agent's body.

"Buck?" The eyes of the patient fluttered briefly as their owner struggled to open them, but then stilled as the effort became too much.

In that same instant the relative quiet was pierced by the shrill sound of an alarm, and one of the nurses yelled, "CODE BLUE! CODE BLUE! Trauma 3." This generated a flurry of activity as the doctors and nurses hustled the gurney back into the trauma room.

"JD! JD! Hang in there, boy. Don't you quit on me," Buck called to his friend as the seriousness of Dunne's condition hit him like a blow to the face. Desperate to assure himself that JD was going to be all right, Wilmington attempted to follow the medical team into the trauma room. His path was immediately blocked by a stocky nurse who closed the doors in his face.

Having entered the building, Nathan heard Buck's anxious shouts and was immediately at the side of his two companions. "What's going on?" he asked breathlessly. Neither of his friends acknowledged his presence, both helplessly watching through the windows of the trauma doors the doctors' and nurses' determined efforts to save the life of their fellow agent. Jackson looked over Buck's and Ezra's shoulders. "JD," slipped from his lips as a pained expression crossed his face.

"Gentlemen, you can't stay here. Please, come with me."

"Ma'am," Nathan began as he turned to face the nurse who had spoken, "that's our friend in there and we need to know what's happening to him."

"Sir, I'm sorry, but I don't have that information. I'm sure the doctors are doing everything they can for him. Someone will be out to speak with you as soon as they can."

The conversation between Jackson and the nurse pulled Buck from his vigil. "Look, that boy needs me and I'm not about to go sit in some waitin' room while he could be dying in there," Wilmington stated, his tone elaying all the pain and anxiety he was feeling.

"Please, sir, if you don't cooperate, I'll have to call security."

Knowing the futility of Buck's efforts to stay, Jackson grasped the man by the elbow and calmly reasoned, "Come on, Buck, let's go over here and let them do their jobs. We'll only be in the way here and that's not going to help JD."

The distraught man resisted for a moment and then acceded as Ezra lightly grasped his other elbow and guided him away from the trauma room. "Gentlemen, why don't you see if you can obtain us some coffee while I check in with Mr. Larabee." With his cell phone in hand and a nod of his head toward the exit, the southerner indicated that he was going to step outside to make the call.

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The street lights were a blur as the motorcycle raced toward the accident scene. Dizzily weaving in and out of traffic, Chris negotiated his way toward the disaster that held his best friend's life in its clutches. As they neared their destination, the traffic had come to a standstill. Without hesitation, the leader of the team veered the motorcycle to the right and onto the sidewalk thus allowing them to continue traveling unimpeded.

The congestion of on-lookers and thrill seekers quickly made their mode of transportation a dangerous venture, and the two ATF agents were forced to abandon the motorcycle and continue forward on foot. A blinding array of flashing lights and buzzing sounds alerted them that they had finally reached their objective. They confidently pushed their way through the crowd with the air and authority of one used to being in command, used to having things done their way. A flash of their badges and a steely glare deterred any who foolishly attempted to interfere with their course of action, namely, to reach their friend and find out if he was fortunate enough to have survived the accident.

Taking into account their years with the ATF and their personal involvement in drug busts, shootouts, hostage situations, cult activities, and a sundry of other projects, nothing could have prepared them for the sight of the twisted mass of metal that had once been Vin Tanner's jeep.

"Shit!" the usually unflappable leader exclaimed as he rushed toward the wreck.

Josiah followed closely at his leader's heels, his eyes taking in the destruction scattered around him. As they approached the far side of Tanner's jeep, he reached out and grabbed Larabee's arm. "Slow down, brother. Let's not get in their way."

Both men came to a standstill as they observed their friend being removed from the wreckage. Several EMT's were urgently working over him as he was laid on the ground. Neither man missed the massive amount of blood that covered the left side and front of their team member's chest. His neck was wrapped in a C-collar and his head was swathed in bandages, blood already staining them a bright red.

Quickly recovering from the initial shock of seeing his best friend covered in blood, Larabee attempted to head toward Tanner. Once again, he was stopped by Josiah. "Chris, wait. Give them a minute. You'll only be in their way, and from the looks of things, I don't think our young friend can afford any interruptions in his care."

Seeing the truth in what Sanchez said, the leader waited and watched, hating that he was unable to provide some form of comfort or help to his teammate.

Within a matter of minutes, Tanner was whisked away to a waiting helicopter. Josiah and Chris followed close behind, hoping to get some information on Vin's condition from one of the EMT's who had attended to their friend. Seeing their chance, Larabee snagged the arm of an EMT who had remained on the ground after the helicopter had become airborne. "The man you just loaded into the copter is a friend of ours. What's his condition?"

Not really sure who they were and knowing that he was not really qualified to give a statement about a victim's condition to someone other than medical personnel, the EMT attempted to shrug out of Larabee's grasp and continue on his way.

No longer willing to play the role of observer, Chris fixed the man with a determined glare and tightened his grip on the EMT. Drawing out his badge for the paramedic to see, he stated, "The man you just airlifted out of here is one of my agents and a very good friend of mine. Now, I'm asking you one more time. What is his condition?"

The EMT nervously answered, "Umm...sorry, sir, I didn't realize..."

"His condition...what is his condition?" Chris barked impatiently.

"It doesn't look good. He suffered severe head trauma and massive bleeding from a gash on his left side, extending from just below his armpit down to his waistline." The EMT glanced down at the grip Larabee still held on his arm and worriedly shifted his weight from one foot to the other before he continued. "The head trauma alone makes his condition critical, but with the added blood loss, he'll be lucky to survive the trip to the hospital."

Larabee released his grip on the paramedic, who immediately continued on his way, nervously glancing over his shoulder to see if the ATF agent was going to detain him again. Before Chris had a chance to decide what to do next, his cell phone rang.

"Larabee."

"Mr. Larabee, have you been able to ascertain the status of Mr. Tanner's condition."

"Yeah, Ezra. They just airlifted him out of here." Taking a few moments to explain the situation to Standish and to receive an update on things at his end, Chris pocketed the cell phone and turned toward Josiah.

"Any word on JD?" Sanchez queried, his voice calm, tinged with a bit of hopefulness.

"The kid went into cardiac arrest, Josiah. They haven't heard anything since. It doesn't look good." While his expression gave no clue as to how this news was affecting him, his voice was laced with the fear of the unknown. Needing to be with his friends, he slapped the big man on the back and said, "Let's get out of here, Josiah. Vin and JD need us."

As the two made their way back around the front of Tanner's jeep, Josiah paused and peered at the passenger side of the vehicle.

Failing to discern what had captured his companion's attention, Chris moved closer and asked, "What? What is it, Josiah?"

Without speaking the big man moved toward the wreckage and reached inside. He removed something from what had once been the dashboard and returned to Chris's side.

Unable to make out what Sanchez had retrieved from the jeep, Chris lifted the other man's hand to see what it held. "JD's cap," he whispered as he recognized the crumpled object in Josiah's hand.

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Ezra returned to the emergency room just as JD was being wheeled toward the elevators. He joined up with Nathan and Buck as they made their way toward the team of doctors and nurses who were seeing to the transportation of their friend. An approaching doctor halted their attempt to reach Dunne's side.

"Gentlemen, please, if you'll come with me, I'd like to explain what we're up against."

As the three followed the doctor to the lounge, Buck asked, "Where are they taking him? Is he going to be all right?"

Nathan clasped a hand on Buck's shoulder, trying to calm the man before he got out of control. "Buck, calm down. The doctor is going to tell us everything if you'll just give him a chance."

The doctor motioned for the men to have a seat as he did so himself. "Your friend," stopping to glance at the chart he held in his hand, "Mr. Dunne, I believe his name is, has suffered severe bruising to his chest. This is most likely the result of the seatbelt constricting against it, which by wearing, I'd like to add, is a primary reason he is still alive. He has a fracture of his left arm and his right ankle. These are all minor injuries compared to what caused him to go into cardiac arrest. Evidently, the front end of the vehicle he was riding in was pushed inward, toward Mr. Dunne. The force of the blow caused internal damages, and it was the bleeding from these damages that caused him to go into cardiac arrest. We have been able to stabilize him and have moved him up to surgery. We are not sure of the extent of his internal injuries and won't know until the doctors open him up. His recovery will depend on what the surgeons find. There is a waiting room on the fourth floor surgery wing that you are welcome to use while you wait for news on your friend. The doctors will update you on his condition once the surgery is finished." Having completed what he had to say, the doctor rose to leave. "Gentle, if you'll excuse me, I have other patients to see to."

Still trying to comprehend all the doctor told them, Buck looked over at Nathan and asked, "Nathan, is he going to make it?"

"I don't know, Buck. His condition sounds pretty serious. We'll just have to wait and see." Nathan was having a hard time dealing with the possibility that they may lose one of their team members, and he felt all the worse knowing that JD tenuous situation was hitting Buck that much harder. Hoping to receive some positive news, he asked, "Ezra, did you get ahold of Chris?"

Ezra didn't bother to look up as he addressed Nathan, not sure he could face his friends as he relayed more bad news. "Yes, Mr. Jackson, I did. They managed to extricate Mr. Tanner from the wreckage, but I'm afraid that things do not look good for our cautious friend. According to Mr. Larabee, our young friend has suffered severe head trauma and has sustained massive blood loss due to an ugly gash down his entire left side." He glanced up to gauge the reaction his companions had to his news. Their expressions were somber, neither of them able to say a word as they stared blankly at the undercover man.

Ezra sighed. "Gentlemen, I'm afraid it is going to be a long night, and I pray that the good Lord is watching over our companions."

************************************************************

The three men sat solemnly each lost in their own thoughts. They had no idea what the following hours would bring; but their past experiences of escaping the hands of fate gave them some semblance of hope.

"Mr. Wilmington? Buck Wilmington? " A heavy-set nurse had entered the waiting room, cluthching a clipboard and looking around anxiously.

Buck jumped up immediately, fear clasping at his heart, not knowing what other trajedy may be pursuing them tonight. "I'm Buck Wilmington, what's wrong?"

The nurse advanced quickly to the man's side. "Mr. Wilmington, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to startle you. I've just checked our files and seen that you are listed as JD Dunne's next of kin." The woman paused, watching as, once more, some color flushed the man's cheeks. "I need for you to sign some legal papers and a release for the surgical procedure."

Buck took the forms offered him and began scanning them, coming to an abrupt halt as his eyes fell on the words Living Will. "What the hell is this?" The distressed agent shook the papers violently in front of the nurse, with a look of outrage twisting his handsome features.

The woman seemed unperturbed by the outburst, and calmly began to explain. "Mr. Wilmington, these are release forms allowing our hospital to perform surgery...."

Before the RN could continue, she was interrupted. "I know what they mean lady, I want to know why this living will is in here."

The nurse sighed. "That is an option allowed all our patients and it seems Mr. Dunne felt it necessary in his line of duty to provide a plan of action if the worse should happen; therefore, you are required by law as his power of attorney to initial and acknowledge his wishes."

"Oh hell no!" Buck raved. "That boy is out of his mind if he thinks I'm going to sit back and let him die, without a fight."

Nathan and Ezra had watched as the situation reached a climax and quickly saw the need to intervene. Buck wasn't always the most rational of beings when it concerned the kid's wellfare.

"Easy, Buck," Jackson soothed, placing a hand on his friend's tense shoulder. "This is what JD wanted."

Wilmington swiveled around to face the other agent. "How the hell do you know that, Nate!?"

"Because I was the one JD come to for advice." Nathan paused, hesitantly. "And I was his witness."

"You were what?" Buck gazed disbelievingly at the man. "How could you?" he asked, softer.

Jackson sighed, catching the hint of betrayal underlying the other man's words, and felt his heart constrict. He opened his mouth slightly in an attempt to explain his actions, but Standish's southern drawl cut him off. "Mr. Wilmington, although I too have objections to these proceedings, I have never considered our young partner to be one who would undertake something of such importance, frivolously."

"Gentlemen," the nurse broke in, "I'm afraid time is of the essence here, and since the decision has already been made by the patient, I merely need your signature to continue, Mr. Wilminton."

Buck glanced from one man to another and then to the hated papers in his grasp, listening to the little voice inside him screaming it's objections. However,at the same time, he forced himself to do what was right for his bestfriend, and placed his intitials in the appropriate line.

The RN reached over and retrieved the forms, letting her hand linger on the others in an attempt to impart some sort of comfort. "Your friend is being prepped for surgery as we speak. It should be atleast another fifteen minutes or so before he is wheeled into the OR."

Wilmington glanced up, catching the underlying message, and gave the older woman a thankful nod. She returned the acknowledgement with a slight smile, leaving the agents alone once more.

"I got to see him." Buck didn't wait for a response from his partners, knowing they would understand his urgency.

"We'll take care of things,"Nathan stated. "You tell the kid we'll be here when he needs us."

The agent turned to go but Ezra reached out and stopped him. "We will also be here for you, Mr. Wilmington, no matter how these proceedings manifest themselves."

Buck swallowed the sudden lump that sprang to his throat, and patted the hand still clutching his sleeve, before resuming his quest.

************************************************************

The silence of the ER waiting room was suddenly disrupted by a flurry of activity, as the silver baywing doors slammed open and a gurney and several EMT's rushed inside.

Ezra Standish immediately recognized the victim that the hub of activitiy was centered around. "Vin," the undercover agent breathed,not quite believing what his eyes were registering.

The whole left side of his friend's body was doused in crimson, causing Standish to flinch at the severity of the other agent's condition. "Dear Lord, we can't lose them both."

Nathan's was also on his feet now, his gaze locked on the horrific sight, as well. It was only a matter of seconds before the doors opened once more, revealing an out of breath Chris Larabee and Josiah Sanchez.

Thier leader tried to follow the paramedics as they hussled the wounded officer into the trauma wing; but was quickly cut off by the same ER nurse that had spoke with Buck earlier. "I'm sorry, sir. You'll have to wait out here."

Chris tried to itimidate the woman into submission, with one of his deadly glares, but as before she was not effected by strong arm tactics. "The doctor will be out to see you as soon as possible." Her tone held no room for discussion.

"Come along , brother."Josiah's deep baratone, once more provided a calming effect, and the two men went to join their other partners.

"How is he?" Nathan directed the question at Sanchez, seeing the dazed expression on Larabee's features.

"Still holding his own," the big man answered. "How's the kid?"

"They are prepping young JD for surgery as we speak."Ezra replied.

"Where's, Buck?" Chris's hoarse voice indicated the extent of his worry.

Jackson let a small smile grace his lips. "I think he had some unfinished business with the kid."

"Damn." Chris breathed, running both hands through his hair. "How in hell did we get to this point?"

As if on cue, Brian Haney, a fellow ATF agent, entered the waitin area along with two uniformed officers.

"Agent Larabee," the young blond greeted his superior. "Captain Travis sent me to the scene as soon as he heard what had happened. How are they?"

"They're alive." Josiah's solemn face told the agent all he needed to know.

"Have you ascertained the conditions surrounding this travesty?"

Haney looked at the southerner with a puzzlement akin to that of JD. "Huh?"

The other men flinched at the all too familiar reply and Ezra's restated his question, harsher than he meant to. "What or who caused this?"

Brian sighed, casting an anxious glance at the patrolmen behind him. "It seems that Agent Tanner's jeep was struck from behind by a van."

"We know that much, Haney," Chris snapped. "We want to know why."

"Alcohol, sir. The driver of the vehicle was intoxicated. He registered a little over .20."

"Sonofabitch!" Larabee hissed, attacking the wall behind him, with a vicious punch. "Tell me he was one of the fatalities." The older agent whispered, as he rested his forehead against the wall.

"Minor scratches, and a hangover are about the worst of his injuries, I'm afraid." Haney's own anger seeped through in his explanation.

"Where is this 'lucky' miscreant now?" Ezra's tone dripped with venom. "I would love to question him, myself."

"He's been trasnsported downtown. They're holding him on several counts of vehicular homicide and I doubt that he'll be making bail anytime soon, considering the severity of the situation."

"There will be plenty of time for us to listen to the sinner's confession," Josiah spoke up. "Right now we have other more important matters to attend to."

Chris pushed away from the wall and faced Haney. "Tell, Travis, we'll keep him updated as to their condition."

The young agent nodded, accepting the dismissal. "Our thoughts and prayers will be with you."

The remaining of the Seven accepted the encouragment, thankful for the support that their fellow agents were providing.

Being left alone again, the men took residence in the uncomfortable waiting room chairs, and steeled themselves for whatever might come.

************************************************************

Buck made his way to the prep room with quiet reservations. He had no idea what to expect and this caused him more apprehension.

"Calm down, Wilmington. It'll be alright." The agent halted at the door, glancing around to make sure he hadn't been spotted. He eased his way inside and felt the breath rush from his lungs in a gasp. "JD!"

He stared intently at the young body before him, flinching as he traced each IV protruding from Dunne's limbs. "Ah, kid!" Buck rushed forward, laying a gentle hand on the boy's forehead, and closing his eyes against the onslaught of tears threatening to overflow.

"I'm sorry." Wilmington tried to calm his breathing.

"Buck..?" The soft voice held a hint of pain laced with a sluggishness.

"JD?" The agent leaned his head in closer and almost yelped with joy when he saw the lips begin to move.

"Buck?" The word had gotten stronger and was accompanied by the fluttering of eyelids.

"Hey, kid. How ya feelin'?" The older man let a smile crease his face as brown eyes met hazel ones.

"Hurts." JD blinked slowly, bringing Buck's handsome features into focus. "What happened?"

"Don't you remember?" Wilmington couldn't keep the concern from his voice.

"Not everything." Dunne swallowed. "I remember me and Vin talking, then this hard jolt,..." The teen paused as a look of sheer terror crossed his face.

"Take it easy, kid. I'm right here." Buck reached over and took the young agent's hand in his, giving it a squeeze of reassurance.

JD breathed heavily, but continued. "And then I saw her face." The boy stopped, caught once more in the nightmare.

"Who's face, JD?" The older agent was beginning to become even more agitated at his partner's reactions.

"The girl's in the truck, just before she hit us." Dunne felt the tears begin to well in his eyes. "She..she looked so scared." The kid's breathing was becoming labored. "I could feel the fear..."

"Easy, JD. Its okay now. Your safe with me." Wilmington used his hand that still rested on the youth's forehead to gently ease the frown lines now forming. "Alright?" The agent was happy when he felt the other began to relax again.

"I'm sorry, Buck." The boy paused, opening his eyes.

"For what, kid?"

"The fight at home, the mess, everything. I'm sorry I act like a baby..." The older man moved his hand from the teen's forehead and placed it over his mouth.

"Hush now, JD. If anybody's sorry around here, its me. I didn't mean none of those things I said. I just worry about ya, kid. I don't want to see you, well,.." Buck's voice cracked with emotion, "like this."

"I was so scared, Buck. I saw what was about to happen and all I could think about was you and the argument at the apartment." A tear trailed its way across the youth's pale face. "I'm still scared, I don't want to die, Buck."

"Don't you worry none, kid, you ain't going nowhere. I won't let you." Wilmington paused, "I believe in you, JD. Your strong. One of the strongest men I know. And you have friends who care about you. So, you ain't got nothing to be scared about. We're here." The agent halted, leaning a little closer to the youth's ear. "I'm here."

"Promise me," The sluggishness was returning as the anesthesia once again began to take a hold. "it'll be alright."

"Always, kid." Buck patted the boy's cheek, allowing his eyes to roam the pain-filled features of his best friend. "No matter what." He watched the eyelids flutter shut once more, praying he was right.

************************************************************

The ER waiting room had an ominous feeling lingering around the four men, who sat quietly eyeing the trauma doors with intensive glares. Even knowing their partners' were now in capable hands, still left a doubt inside as to the outcome.

The vigils' were interrupted as the hated partitions finally swung outward, revealing the blue uniform of a doctor.

Buck had just rounded the corner when he spotted the approaching form and decided to wait for the others to join him in the hallway.

"How is he, doc?" Chris hadn't noticed the addition of the other agent due to his one track thought. VIN.

"And you are?" The gray haired physician was trying to take some semblence of control over the conversation.

"Agent Chris Larabee. Vin Tanner is under my command and a very good friend."

"Mr. Larabee, gentlemen. I think we would be more comfortable in the waiting area." The doctor tried to steer the five men back the way they had come, but was stopped by the hardened faces now staring at him.

"We're just fine right here, doc." Wilmington had watched them wheel JD into surgery and was confidant as to his condition, so focused on the other injured member of their group. "The man asked you a question."

The physician licked his lips nervously, feeling the tension building. "We were able to stop the bleeding from the gash on his side and forehead. The wound wasn't too deep, so I don't expect any complications in its healing." The man paused, not sure as to how he should continue.

"AND.." Nathan's usually patient tone was anything but, as he saw the stall tactic.

"What has me worried is the head injury itself. Mr. Tanner has suffered a severe concussion and hasn't regained consciousness since the accident. The longer he stays in this state, the more unlikely his recovery." The doctor halted abruptly as he caught the deadly glare from the man in black.

"What the hell does that mean?" Chris advanced forward a step, but was prevented from going any farther by Josiah's restraining hand.

"Easy, let the man explain." Sanchez was afraid of what was about to be said, but knew they needed to know everything.

"If your friend does not wake up soon, I'm afraid he may never wake up at all." The healer felt his breath constrict as he watched the horror enter the five faces around him. "I'm sorry, I've done all I can, the rest is up to Mr. Tanner." The man turned, leaving the stunned men to deal with the announcement in privacy.

"Am I to assume that Vin.." Ezra couldn't bring himself to finish his statement.

"No, Ezra. We ain't assuming nothin'. As far as I'm concerned Vin and JD, both, are gonna be fine." Wilmington has watched the color drain from his oldest friend's face and felt a sense of deja' vu, thinking he was witnessing the day Sara and Adam had died all over again. "They have to be." He added under his breath as the others filed out behind the gurney now transporting Tanner to the ICU.

************************************************************

Chris Larabee stared out the ICU window of Vin and JD's room, wondering how it wasn't that long ago, it was him in that bed. They had brought Dunne in about an hour earlier with encouraging news of a complete recovery.

They had removed the boy's spleen and had to sew up a gash in his stomach, caused from a broken rib. The ankle and arm would be healed in about six weeks, but would need extensive physical therapy.

Larabee smiled at the thought of trying to keep JD in bed and out of trouble for that length of time. Buck had taken up residence at the youth's side, threatening to sit on Dunne if he even thought about moving, but had calmed some once he was able to talk to his kid brother. Chris hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but hearing the JD's voice had been music to his ears.

** JD could feel himself slowly being drug to the world of consciousness by the annoying beeping noise and the familiar sound of snoring, which was akin to that of a rumbling grizzly. It was at that moment, he knew, he had to be in the hospital yet again, and that Buck was snoring. Cautiously scaning the room, he was relieved when his eyes fell on the sleeping form of his best friend. "Buck?" his voice sounded weak even to him and for the first time he noticed, how sore his throat was. He shifted on the bed and a sharp pain radiating from his chest elicited a groan before he could refrain.

"JD?" Wilmington was on his feet in an instant and quickly made his way to the injured agent's bedside. He placed his hand on the kid's forehead. "How ya doin', son?"

"I'm alive." JD let his eyes meet the other man's. "Just like you promised."

"As old Buck ever lied to you?" The older agent squeezed Dunne's hand and couldn't prevent the smile that crossed his face.

"Never." He replied, his eyes starting to go closed again, but suddenly they sprang open and he looked at Buck in fright. "Vin? The others'?"

"Take it easy, kid. Vin's still with us." Buck said, stroking the younger man's hair. "Take a look for yourself."

JD followed his friend's line of sight and breathed a sigh of relief when he caught sight of his other partner. "The girl?" He turned pleading eyes back to Buck.

"We'll talk about the wreck later, son." Wilmington saw the familiar stubborn look spring to the hazel depths and decided a change of subject was in need. "Guess what Josiah found?"

Buck broke contact long enough to retrieve JD's newspaper hat from his jacket pocket, he had not let the precious item out of his sight, since Sanchez had given it to him.

"Seems your hat faired better than Vin's jeep." Wilmington winked. "Just don't mention that to him for a few days."

JD started to drift off again, but hung on to a shadow of a smile, "You're so full of crap, Buck."

"Yeah, but you love me anyways." Wilmington whispered.

"Yeah, I do." The kid mumbled, finally giving in to the arms of unconsciousness once more.**

The smile quickly vanished as the older agent turned and his eyes fell on the still form of his best friend.

They had hoped when the youngest member had woken earlier it would have brought some kind of response from the ex-bounty hunter, considering they had all come up empty. It hadn't worked though. He was still unconscious and it was now pre-dawn.

Chris took his chair by Tanner's bedside and stared at the pale features of the man he called, brother.

"Damnit, Vin. Now, ain't the time to take up sleeping late." The agent tried to keep the fear from his words, but as they echoed around him, he knew he had failed. Larabee sighed, glancing at JD's sleeping form and Buck just beyond his shoulder. He then let his gaze sweep the room, spotting the occupant of the only other chair.

The nurses' had thrown fits when they had insisted on staying with the two men, but thanks to Buck's charm and Ezra's slick talk, they had been allowed to stay.

Standish.

Chris took in the rumpled appearance of the other sleeping uncomfortably in the straight back chair. Josiah and Nathan had left, once JD was out of surgery to go to the precinct and interview the drunk driver.

Larabee realized the wiseness in the situation as he remembered the gut wrenching feeling as he watched them pull Vin from the Jeep and the youngest member being wheeled in from surgery. He would have most likely ripped the man's heart out and shoved it down his throat.

The agent chuckled lightly at the vengeful thought.

"Whats..so..funny?" The words were barely above a whisper but definitely heard.

Chris swiveled his head around and almost choked as he met the blue eyes of Vin Tanner staring at him.

"Bout time you woke up, cowboy." Larabee reached up and brushed a lock of Tanner's hair away from his eyes.

A sudden frown creased the ex-bounty hunter's face as he started to raise up.

"Whoa there, Vin. Where do you think your going?" Larabee jumped up and pushed the younger man's shoulders' back against the bed.

"JD!" The gasp was a mixture of pain and fear.

"JD's fine, Vin. Calm down." The older agent could see the the strain on his friend's face and feared he would have a relapse.

"Chris's is right, my friend. Young Mr. Dunne is beside you and in good hands." Ezra had heard the soft voice the moment Vin had spoken.

Tanner turned his head to the left and as soon as his eyes fell on the form of his friend he visibly relaxed.

"You alright, now?" Chris eased his grip, but didn't break contact.

Vin just nodded, all his energy spent from the earlier exertion. "What the hell happened?"

"Do you remember anything?" Larabee raised an eyebrow at the younger man.

"Bits and pieces." Vin reopened his eyes, staring intently at his friends' faces.

"Not surprising, I assure you." Ezra smiled softly.

"Anybody else hurt?" The ex bounty hunter sighed, trying to shift to a more comfortable position.

The two agents' exchanged quick glances, before Standish answered. "Six fatalities and three critical including you and Mr. Dunne."

A penetrating glare was tossed at the conman, but he promptly ignored it, knowing the sharpshooter wouldn't have given up until he knew the truth.

"Damn. How?"

"Drunk driver." Chris waited for the other man to grasp the information fully before continuing. "He hit you from behind. He probably never even knew you were there."

"He dead?" The underlying fury wasn't masked in Tanner's words.

"No. He's cooling his jets down at the precinct."

"Good. I wanna have a talk with this guy." Vin breathed deeply, trying to ignore the pain beginning to pound its way through his left side and head.

"Not until the doc says so." Larabee made sure the ex bounty hunter understood exactly what he was saying.

"In other words, not until our great leader gives the okay." Tanner chuckled slightly and immediately regretted it as it added to his agony.

Standish and Larabee exchanged a quick glance, the undercover agent catching the concern still etched in the leader's face.

"I shall go retrieve the doctor." Ezra reached out and let his hand rest momentarily on the lanky man's arm, reassuring himself he wasn't dreaming.

"I'm fine." and "Thanks, Ezra." were said simultaneously, but the older agent won out as usual.

Standish imitated tipping his hat with two fingers as he left the men. He stopped once outside the room and couldn't suppress a smile as he heard Vin ask, how his jeep was. For the first time in the last 12 hours, he breathed a sigh of relief.

"Seems the hands of fate have dealt us a full house yet again, my friends'." The conman let a genuine smile crease his lips, assured that his family was still intact, vowing to always keep it that way.

END

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