The following story is a work of fan fiction. It is not intended to infringe on any copyright or to make a profit. The Magnificent Seven belong to John Watson/Trilogy Entertainment, MGM, and probably others; only the story is my own. Please do not copy, post, or redistribute without permission from the author.

RATING: PG; Thanks to Shellie for fast beta work and for encouragement!

Set-Up
by the Desperado's Daughter

Ezra literally ripped the boy's shirt open. Chris was taking his own off and whispering orders all at once.

"We gotta do this fast. They'll be back." Chris wadded his shirt and pressed it against the gaping wound that started just above JD's pubic bone and sliced through his abdomen to the base of his ribs. He needed more material.

JD was sitting up against Vin, his wide eyes staring down in disbelief. His mouth was frozen open, but no sound came. Vin leaned forward, balancing JD against himself, but reaching around to take off his own shirt. He handed it to Chris, and Chris noticed the usually sure sharpshooter's hand was shaking.

"Josiah?" Chris hissed.

"He's coming around," the preacher said. Chris spared a quick glance up to see Josiah patting Buck's face to wake him up.

"Breathe, JD," Ezra said, and Chris' attention immediately returned to their youngest.

"JD!" Chris echoed as sternly as he dared without alerting the others to them.

The mission had been cursed from the start. In trying to rescue Nathan Jackson from what they'd thought was an amateur kidnapping, they'd wound up as hostages at the hands of the mob. The mob! The "don" wanted to know how the ATF was anticipating every move they made. Chris wasn't about to tell them that Rupert Briggs, their second in line to take over the business, was about to turn state's evidence.

Why hadn't anyone seen this coming? Someone had done his homework. Someone knew that they'd just taken down a two-bit punk dealer. Someone used that information to make it sound like the dealer's brother was holding Nathan in exchange for the dealer's release. Whoever it was knew that Jackson's own team would come after him. No need to involve anyone else for such low level players. The mob knew that.

When the bad guys had thrown the six of them into this concrete room, Chris was baffled. Clearly this was a pro job. But how could anyone have known how his simple rescue was set up. One of the guys had finally come in to describe how they intended to "extract information" if Larabee didn't cooperate readily. God, why did they always start with JD? He knew the answer, of course. But that didn't make it any easier to see someone hitting the kid a few times just to make a point. And it sure pissed off the rest of the team. Of course, JD would usually get in a couple of good licks. But this time, he hadn't had a chance. This time, Briggs came in to "save the day". He stopped the guy from kicking JD--then he kicked him himself.

"Get out of here!" Briggs yelled at the other guy. "I'll take care of this myself."

The little rabbit of a man scampered away and Briggs laughed. Once the door was closed, Briggs pulled JD to his feet. "Sorry about that, but I had to make it look real."

JD looked at the man incredulously. "What the hell did you do that for?"

"I told you. If this is gonna work, they gotta believe I'm on their side."

Vin Tanner stood up behind JD. "Why didn't you tell us we were being set up?"

Chris frowned. "Where's Nathan?"

"I don't know where they're keeping him, but I'll bring him back to you. I'll tell them I'm going to off him." Briggs glared at Vin. "And, just to set your minds at ease," he said sarcastically, "this was going down before I had a chance to tell you."

Vin glared back at him and rested his hands on JD's shoulders.

It was Buck who figured it out.

And when Buck's eyes got the light of understanding, his expression turned maniacal, and he stormed toward the snitch who'd double crossed them. "You're the only one who knew we had busted that dealer--and you're the only one who heard Chris say the dealer had a brother."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Briggs stammered.

"You were the last one to see Nathan, weren't you?"

"What are you . . ."

Buck bolted over to the criminal. Briggs was ready, though, and grabbed Buck's hair and pulled Buck's face down into Briggs' raised knee. JD was closer than the others. JD saw the blade no one else saw. JD got between Briggs and Buck who was staggering back, his big hands over his face.

And Briggs missed his target.

And stabbed JD.

But when Briggs pulled that blade up JD's torso, Chris Larabee broke Rupert Briggs' neck.


"Breathe, JD," Ezra repeated, and finally, the kid gasped.

JD's mouth was still open in that same expression of horror that had reflected the boy's terror when the knife first plunged into his belly. But now his lashes fluttered and great tears rolled down his face.

"Easy, JD," Chris said, working on the kid's injury, but glancing up to reassure him. "You'll be ok . . ." Chris had no idea if JD would be ok. The boy's lifeblood was surging from him. Chris could feel it saturate one shirt after another. He spoke quietly to Ezra. "We've gotta keep intense pressure on this. Can't let up at all." Ezra nodded his understanding.

"Keep breathing, son," Chris said. "I know it hurts, but you've gotta breathe and you've gotta stay awake. Can you do that for me?"

JD's eyes had changed from shock to pain--but his mouth stayed opened. He seemed to be trying to say something. He pulled his lips slowly together--like he was moving in slow motion -- until they met . . . to form a "b".

"Buck?" Ezra asked.

Suddenly, the kid started to thrash and fight.

"Hold him!" Chris commanded Vin.

"Buck's dead . . ." JD cried and he jerked his head back, slamming into Vin's jaw.

To the sharpshooter's credit, he never let go . . . in spite of the fact that his jaw was probably broken.

"Be still, JD," Chris commanded. "Buck's fine. You're not. Now shut up and let us work."

God, Chris hated this. JD was dying and Chris was yelling at him.

But they had to try to save him.


The first thing he felt was shock. He was completely shocked.

Then a lance of white-hot pain tore him apart. He could feel the blade sever those tender muscles that spanned from his belly button to his groin. He would have sworn that the blade tip has nicked his spine from the inside--but that couldn't happen, could it?

The pain took his breath away. Everything stopped. Time was suspended. All there was was pain. Pain and . . .

What? There was something worse. What?

Oh, God. Oh, please.

Was Buck dead? He'd seen it. He'd just seen it. Hadn't Briggs just made Buck's head explode?

Oh, God, his gut . . .

Time started up again when that shaft of pain that impaled him suddenly jerked through his torso. And JD Dunne felt like he'd been . . .

Split. In two.

JD hurt too bad to fall. He stared into Briggs' smug eyes. Briggs was glad he hurt. Briggs liked stabbing him. And he liked pulling the blade up to cut him more. The sick bastard got off on hurting him.

And JD didn't understand that. He was still staring at Briggs, when Briggs' neck snapped.

Briggs was dead.

Buck was dead.

Buck was dead.

And if Buck was dead, JD just didn't have the fight in him to hang on.


From his vantage point, Ezra saw everything. He saw the horrific blade rip into the young man's body, and he saw Briggs shift his grip on the weapon and pull it like a lever through the boy's tender abdomen.

Dear Lord . . .

Ezra couldn't get to JD fast enough to suit himself. But he was the first one to catch him. Once Chris had ended the assailant and flung its body aside, Ezra gripped JD's arms and tried to ease his rigid body to the ground. But every muscle in the boy's body was gripping--as if by staying taut, the pain in his middle could be assuaged, if only for a bit.

"I've got you, son. Let go now." His words fell on deaf ears. Ezra could see that Vin Tanner was trying to ease the boy down from behind. But it was a struggle. JD's body quaked. The muscles around the injury rippled and quivered.

And the bleeding was . . . profuse.


If he moved, he'd come apart. He couldn't let go. Ezra's voice? Did he hear Ezra? Why did they keep moving him? Didn't they know that they were killing him?

He tried to get his hands to his belly, but somebody wouldn't let him. He needed to press. He needed to press against that muscle. Even though he sensed the pain pulled into his diaphragm, it was that part of him--that part of him under his belly button. If he didn't press there, the pain would kill him. If he didn't hold that together, he'd . . . die inside.

Everybody was pressing on him. He could see the blood everywhere. His own blood . . . everywhere. They were trying to stop the bleeding. But he needed them to know that he was . . . splitting in two.

He'd yell--but his mouth wouldn't work. His lungs wouldn't work.

He saw black spots . . . and he heard . . .

Chris? telling him what?

Breathe. Wasn't he?

He tried, but if he pulled in the air, it would push against his belly and . . . he'd rather die.

"Breathe JD."

He couldn't help it. Breath rushed in. His belly swelled . . .

And he felt his insides . . . roll out.

Help me, Buck. Help me . . .

Oh Buck, Buck couldn't help him.

Buck was dead. Buck was dead.

JD had to get to him.

But he had to get loose first.

So he jerked. He felt the back of his head whack into something, but he still fought.

If he was gonna bleed to death . . . if he was going to die . . .

It'd be next to Buck.


Whoever was smacking him was about to get a mouthful of fist. Buck Wilmington felt the sting of an open handed slap first then the lifting of the veil of unconsciousness. And he woke up mad.

"Get your dad-blamed hands off a . . . "

A big hand clamped over his mouth and he could feel hot breath against his ear.

"Pipe down, Buck." Josiah? "We're in trouble here and JD's hurt, so you've gotta be quiet, ok?"

Buck nodded vigorously but the hand didn't move. Buck squirmed. "I mean it, Buck. You've gotta stay cool-headed. You can't go flying off the handle. You understand?"

Again Buck nodded his head, and he got angrier.

But still the hand didn't move.

"Your nose may be broken, Buck. You've gotta tell me if you're hurt anywhere else. Now I"m gonna take my hand away, and you're gonna whisper. OK?"

Buck nodded once. Slowly. Buck had to prove he wouldn't start yelling. Josiah wouldn't take his hand away until he knew Buck was calm.

"OK," the preacher said. Buck studied his face for a moment, but his eyes were drawn immediately to a scene playing out just over Josiah's shoulder.

Oh God . . .

He crawled two steps, and Josiah rested his hand on his shoulder. "It's bad, Buck."

Vin's back was toward him, but Buck could see JD's hand lying limp over the sharpshooter's leg. He could see Ezra covered with blood--working on the boy in Vin's arms. And he saw Chris -- a grim determination on his face.

And against the wall lay Briggs, his dead eyes open in surprise, a bloody knife still clutched in his hand.

Buck scrambled forward and he grabbed Vin's shoulder. Vin turned red eyes toward his friend and smiled sadly.

"Easy," Vin said, and Buck didn't know if he was talking him or to JD, who lay struggling in his arms. Buck felt the breath freeze in his body as he pulled forward to look at the kid. This time it was Vin holding onto Buck's shoulder.

"JD?" Buck said softly, and the thrashing boy turned toward the sound.

"Move, Buck," Chris commanded. Angry, Buck turned on his old friend. But it only took a split second to see that Ezra was having to work around Buck.

"I'll take him, Vin." Buck said it, but it was more of a question. Vin nodded and eased out from behind JD, all the while easing JD into Buck's arms. The kid groaned during the transfer, and Buck whispered in his ear.

"I got you, boy. You're gonna be fine."

JD's breathing got fast and he got agitated and he strained to turn around to look at Buck. Voices all around him were telling JD to calm down. They were fussing at Vin and Buck for upsetting the kid. But JD's tormented eyes met Buck's and immediately the boy relaxed.

"You're . . . alive." Poor boy had to work so hard to get it out. For a moment his lip quivered, then his eyes squeezed closed when someone pressed the cloth more tightly to the boy's torso. When JD's eyes opened again, they were full.

"'Course I'm alive, son. I'm too ornery to die."

JD laughed and cried at the same time. He lifted a hand--a hand sticky with his own blood--and touched Buck's jaw. He was hanging by a thread, and it was as though he waited for Buck before letting the pain overtake him.

JD nodded slightly,

Then his head fell back over Buck's arm.

"Aw JD, please don't do this." Buck held onto his partner more tightly. "JD, you stay. You hear me. You stay."

JD was chillingly still. Buck looked down and saw the injury for the first time. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. It was hard to see the parameters of the wound for all the blood. If the kid went into shock, he'd die.

Buck felt sick. He bit his lips closed and heaved--fighting the bile in his throat. He held the boy more tightly in his arms and watched as his friends fought to stop the bleeding. It was almost surreal. How could this be happening? This morning he and JD had been eating breakfast arguing about who was gonna unload the dishwasher next. Now this?

"His pulse?" The question drifted in from somewhere.

"Buck, his pulse?" Even whispering, Chris Larabee could command attention.

"Hey," Josiah whispered.

Buck held his broad hand against his partner's throat and rested his middle finger against the pulse point on the side.

"Buck?" Chris said.

"Can't find it . . ." Buck started to panic, but he kept one hand on JD's throat and the other holding the boy's clammy forehead. People kept chattering and he couldn't tell anything. "Hush . . ." he snapped and the room became silent. Buck pressed his finger more deeply into the side of JD's throat.

There. There! "OK, I got a heartbeat. It's weak, but it's there." Thank God! Oh, thank God.

Everyone must have been holding his breath, because it sounded like everyone exhaled at the same time.

"Hey," Josiah said.

"What?!" Chris snapped.

Josiah held up a ring of keys and grinned. "Briggs had a key to everything."

"Check it," Chris ordered.

"Let me do that, Josiah," Ezra said, out of breath. "I need you to take over for me here. You keep this blood flow staunched." They switched places and the increased pressure against JD's wound woke the boy and he jerked.

"NOOO---!" JD cried out, but Chris pressed his hand over the kid's mouth. Buck could feel the tremors coursing through his partner's body.

"Be quiet, JD." Buck's eyes met Chris'. He could see that this was killing his old friend. Chris slowly pulled his hand away. "We're getting out of here, but we don't want the bad guys to hear us, ok?" JD nodded slightly.

"Chris," Josiah said, nodding to Chris' part of the injury. "Lemme do that. I can cover the whole thing. You go figure out a way to get us out of here."

Josiah's strength applied to the whole of the laceration was almost more than JD could bear. He arched back into Buck.

"Please . . . " he breathed. "Chris . . ."

Chris held JD's face in both hands. "This has to be right now. You'll die if he doesn't keep pressure on it." Even though Buck couldn't see JD's face, he could see everything reflected in Chris' expression. Chris didn't think JD was gonna live. Buck knew that look. Maybe JD did, too.

"I'm dying . . . anyway." It was little more than the hint of a whisper, but everyone in the room heard him.

"No, son," Chris said. "You're not."

"Not . . . a good . . . liar, Mr. Larabee."

Buck smiled at Chris then spoke. "OK, kid, tell you what. Stay alive until we get in the car. Can you do that much?"

"Huh?"

"Stay alive until we get out to the car." Hell, he knew it was silly, but JD needed a plan to latch onto. "If you feel like you're fading, tell me, ok?"

"OK."

Chris patted Buck's shoulder and shot him a puzzled look.

Buck shrugged. What could he say?


Where was Vin? Chris was relieved--slightly--to be away from the second by second ordeal JD was going through. Getting his team out of this place was something he could do. Keeping JD alive . . . wasn't.

Vin? What . . . Leaning against the wall opposite Briggs, the sharpshooter was working his jaw around and frowning.

"Hey," Chris said softly, squatting beside his friend. "The kid really nailed you, huh?"

"Sore, but it ain't broke."

Chris nodded. "Good. Can you do a little scouting?"

"Sure."

Chris stood up and extended his arm. Vin grabbed it and Chris hauled him to his feet.

"Ezra's figuring out which key it is."

Vin didn't seem to be listening. He walked over to JD and watched the little scene. Only when Chris moved did Vin realize that his friend had kept a firm grasp of his arm. Vin swayed slightly then righted himself by leaning on a support beam. Vin didn't follow Chris. He just watched.

Buck was talking about something. JD would listen and try to talk. But usually he groaned.

Vin thought he'd be sick, but he wasn't . . . anything. He was numb. This was so wrong.

"Vin, come here," Chris said, and the sharpshooter turned away quickly. He'd find a way out.


For a moment, the kid lay very still and Buck's face registered the panic he felt. "JD?" Buck said.

"Buck. . . I'm . . . fading." The kid kinda laughed, then he trembled all over. One shaking hand reached back and clutched Buck's shirt. "Oh . . . help me . . ."

"What can I do for you, son?" Buck asked, but JD started to scream. "No," Buck said. He didn't put his hand over JD's mouth. He just cradled the boy's head into his chest to muffle his cries. "You don't want the bad guys to hear us."

I'm . . . coming . . . apart . . ." JD was obviously trying to keep his voice down, but he was hurting so badly.

"No, son, it just feels like it," Buck said. And when Buck felt the scream start to erupt from his partner again, Buck covered JD's mouth with one hand and stroked his hair with the other.

"I know it hurts, boy. But just ride it out, ok? Just let the pain go through you, but don't let it stay."

JD made a sound that would have been a scream, but it turned into some kind of a hoarse groan.

"That was a bad one, wasn't it?" Buck said gently. "They'll get easier now. You'll see."

Buck felt the head on his chest nod slowly. JD trusted him to tell him the truth, and Buck prayed that the suggestion that it would get easier would become a self-fulfilling prophesy. But to be on the safe side, Buck reached to his own waist and undid his belt buckle. With great effort not to jostle the kid, Buck slid his belt off.

"'Member them old cowboy movies? Biting the bullet?" Buck folded the strap once and showed JD. "This is better than a bullet." JD started to open his mouth to take it, but groaned instead. This time the pain was so great that the kid tried to dig his heels into the floor and he fought to pull Josiah's hands away from his abdomen.

"Stop it, JD," Josiah said--too harshly. Buck's eyes narrowed at the preacher, but he knew Josiah was right. Josiah's words seemed to shock JD into stillness. Buck put the belt in JD's mouth and slipped his arm tightly around JD's chest. JD clutched his friend's arm and held on for all he was worth. Buck could feel the fight leaving the boy.

Josiah's voice gentled. "You're doing great, son." He glanced up at Chris and the others working on keys and, he trusted, a plan.

"Chris?" Josiah whispered. Their leader faced him. "I need your shirts--t-shirts, whatever." The three standing at the door obliged wordlessly. Josiah took one of the fresh shirts and pressed it atop the already blood-soaked bandages.

JD didn't even groan with the intensified pressure. He just lay staring straight ahead, clutching Buck's arm, his breaths becoming more and more ragged. Buck kept talking to him, but he didn't answer anymore. The grip on Buck's arm became weaker and weaker and Buck's eyes filled.

In a whisper he knew sounded desperate, Buck called on his oldest friend. "Chris--get us outa here."


Stay awake until we get to the car. Promised Buck. Stay awake until we get to the car. I will, Buck. I'm holding on. I'm hanging on.

Don't let me go. You hang on, too. OK, Buck?

Oh, God--I'm coming apart.

Where'd everybody go? Am I dead? Is this dead? Just nothing?

"Find me, somebody . . ."

"We're here, son." Who was that?

"Help . . ."

"You're ok. I've got you."

Buck? "Buck? What happened?"

The answer was garbled, and it terrified him.

Hadn't Buck just been there? Where were they?

He'd failed. He hadn't stayed awake until he'd gotten to the car. And Buck had asked so little.

Why couldn't he fight?

Why couldn't he feel?

I'm sorry, Buck.


Josiah was gonna need someone to take over for him. He looked over at the three working on a way out. Chris was still silently checking keys. Vin was nursing a sore jaw.

It had to be Ezra. Josiah peered down at the face that was devoid of all color. JD looked dead. Buck looked like he hadn't noticed that yet. He was talking a blue streak.

Josiah hoped against hope that he wouldn't have to tell Buck the kid had lost the fight.

"Ezra," Josiah softly got the gambler's attention. After a word with Chris, Ezra came over. "Check his pulse," Josiah told him . . . and Ezra's face went as pale as JD's.

"What?!" Buck said--too quickly. Chris shot a reproachful glance at him, but he stood stock still as Ezra lifted JD's wrist and felt for a pulse.

"No!" Buck hissed and he held JD more tightly. "You don't need to do that, Ezra." And then, raising his voice, "Get away from him!!"

Chris strode over to his old friend, about to reprimand him, then, in one glance, he knew. JD was Buck's Adam. And if JD were dead, Chris would make sure he had this moment.

Chris Larabee gripped the back of Buck's neck and squeezed it, supporting his friend the only way he knew how to.

"Quiet," Ezra said. Then he nodded. "Weak, but steady pulse."

For a second time since Briggs attacked, the men breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Chris slid his hand to Buck's shoulder and squeezed it. Then he went back to work.

Ezra was in the process of taking over--

When the door burst open.


Vin Tanner fell back when no fewer than fifteen men stormed the concrete room. Unarmed except for one knife, Chris and his men maneuvered into the safest positions they could find. Seeing Vin start to lose his footing, Chris grabbed his arm and hurled him out of the potential line of fire. Josiah covered Ezra and JD with his body while Buck shielded the kid's head. Chris hid the knife under his sleeve and prepared to defend his team if there was any way he could.

Thank God, he didn't have to.


Nathan Jackson led the SWAT team into the little room and it took a moment for him to assess the situation. Briggs lay dead--and he'd had no idea that Nathan had escaped using his own key. Briggs had been really slow on the uptake. Nathan had figured out Briggs was working both sides in much the same way as Buck had. And Nathan had double crossed Briggs by never letting on that he thought Briggs was bad. By keeping Briggs in his confidence, Nathan had gotten close enough to find out how the Team was to be kidnapped. It's amazing how much someone will say when he's planning to kill the listener.

Ezra called for Nathan at about the same time as Nathan's eye traveled to where JD lay.

The EMT uttered a prayer and moved quickly to help his hurt friend. The waiting paramedics had JD in an ambulance and en route to the hospital in under five minutes.


EPILOGUE

"Quit fussing over me, Buck." JD said his roommate's name as though it were an expletive. But Buck shook it off, unable to keep from giggling at what he knew was coming. "I don't need a wheelchair, either."

Buck fumbled with the doorkey. "The doctor said . . ."

"I don't care what the doctor said. I don't need a . . ."

"SURPRISE!!!!!!!!!" The team was all there, hollering and clapping for him.

Their apartment was decorated with streamers and balloons and there was a huge banner stretched above the door on the far wall. JD looked at everyone and everything with his mouth hanging open and wide, surprised eyes.

"Well . . . say something!" Buck said.

JD started to, but he erupted in laughter. He stood up and walked over to the banner.

"'Glad we're all back together,'" he read outloud, still laughing. His hand moved instinctively to his incision. "Guys, don't make me laugh!"

"Oh," Vin deadpanned. "Then you won't be wanting your cake." He picked up the big box with the sheet cake inside and let JD open it. He just laughed harder. JD's face looked back at him. Someone had cut his head out of a photograph and put it at the top of the icing man. That was funny enough, but the zipper that went *across* the abdomen was the funniest--especially since it went the wrong way. JD was laughing so hard, he couldn't quite catch his breath. Buck grabbed his arm and made him sit on the sofa. The kid didn't fight it. He just kept chuckling.

"I made these for you . . ."

Oh, not Chris Larabee. But there he was, holding a plate covered with aluminum foil. JD glanced up, even in his off time asking permission. Chris smiled and JD pulled the foil back and found . . . halves of gingerbread men. Evidently the other guys didn't even know about that, because they laughed harder than JD.

"Hey, thanks you guys," JD said when he'd recovered his breath. "Now what's for supper, 'split pea soup'?"

The room was absolutely silent. JD frowned. He tried again. "Then we could have 'banana splits'."

Still nothing.

"Oh, guys, come one. It's funny. Get it? Banana splits?"

Buck sat beside him, ready to "counsel" the boy. He put a hand on the kid's shoulder. "Now, son, you can handle a computer better than anyone I've ever seen, and there ain't a one of us here that wouldn't trust his life to you in a shootout." A grin pulled at Chris' mouth and Nathan and Ezra exchanged amused glances.

JD caught it and started to speak, but Buck didn't give him a chance. "I've always been honest with you. You cannot tell a joke. You're just . . . " He turned to Vin.

Vin shrugged. "You're not funny, kid."

"Vin?" JD's ally had turned on him. He looked to Josiah.

"Sorry, son. I'm afraid he's right."

"But--"

Chris squatted in front of the kid as though telling him some great truth of life. "Son, you couldn't tell a joke if someone wrote the material for you. You've just gotta face it."

"Come on, didn't you guys get it? 'Split pea soup?' C'mon . . ."

"JD, you're gonna have to leave the humor to the professionals," Chris said. "And that's an order."

"Oh, Chris, now you're just 'splitting' hairs." JD grinned and it was infectious. "It's funny."

"It's NOT funny!" Vin and Nathan said at once, but they had to laugh at the kid's persistence.

"Aw, guys--cut it out," JD tried to sound mad. The guys shook their heads and started back to the table.

"Get it?"

THE END


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