Disclaimer:  Don’t own ‘m… don’t profit off ‘m.  ‘Nuff said.

Warnings: Angst, language, other elements to make a decent H/C fic

Characters JD (and Casey) receive the hurt, the others are there to deliver the comfort.

Universe:  ATF

Notes:  Written for Phyllis, our resident JD fan, for her birthday.  May your day be wonderful and the year ahead magnificent!

AcknowledgementsMany thanks to KET and Lynda for their assistance with the medical stuff.  And thanks to Jeanne, Jean and Jill for reading this over, and making it better.  Any residual mistakes are all mine.


Part One

 JD Dunne looked across the front seat of his car, trying to catch the attention of the young woman pressed against the passenger side door.  Casey Wells stared out the window at the passing scenery. 

Only she wasn’t Casey Wells any more.  As of two hours ago, she was Mrs. Catherine Elizabeth Wells Dunne. 

“You seem about a million miles away,” he said softly.

Casey shrugged her shoulders.  “Just never expected it to be this way.  Always expected something a little more… fancy, I guess.”

He reached out, taking her hand in his and gently rubbing his thumb across her knuckles.  “I promise you, we’ll have a real nice ceremony in exactly one year.  It’ll be great.  We’ll have all the guys there, anyone else you want to invite.  It won’t feel…”

“Forced?”  She finished the sentence when he didn’t.  “Won’t feel like a shotgun wedding.”

“Casey, that’s not what I meant.  Look, if you want to have it earlier, we can.  You pick the date.”

“Well, it’s safe to say it won’t be anytime in the next four months or so.”  Instinctively her hand went to her belly, settling over the soft swell there.  It was still small enough that she could hide her condition from all but the most discerning eye, but it was becoming harder every day.  She knew that, if her Aunt Nettie were still alive, she would have been found out a long time ago.  Even if the old lady hadn’t been witness to her daily bouts of morning sickness, Nettie Wells was a shrewd observer.  She probably would have figured it out before Casey herself.

Of course it was the loss of her great aunt and guardian that had led to all of this in the first place.  The child she carried had been conceived the night after they had laid Nettie to rest.  JD had been her constant companion and greatest source of strength in the days prior to her losing her only living relative.  With Josiah’s guidance they had made all the arrangements and took care of all Nettie’s affairs after she slipped away in her sleep . He stood beside her, both physically and emotionally, throughout the wake and service, holding her while she wept at the graveside. 

They had spent the night together, JD holding her in his arms throughout the long hours.  He had coaxed her to sleep, rocked her when she woke once more, in tears over the loss of her surrogate mother and the woman she looked upon as her best friend. 

She had no clear memory of a conscious decision for what happened next.  Giving herself to JD, giving herself for the first time, was little more than a disjointed set of bittersweet memories.

The young ATF agent watched his bride out of the corner of his eye, knowing what was going through her mind.  It was the same thing that had been on her mind for weeks.  It was the same thing that had been on his own mind since she let him know of her condition. 

They had spent hours and hours weighing their options but, in the end, there was only one that they could live with.  It was what they had dreamed of… only the circumstances were wrong.  With that decision made, they had slipped off to a little wedding chapel for a private ceremony without telling anyone.  And now they were married and expecting their first child in a few months.

“Are we going to tell the boys first?”  Casey asked, breaking into Dunne’s thoughts.  She figured he would want to tell the other members of team seven first.  The six men were the closest thing either of them had to a family now.

With a vague nod, he asked, “do you mind?”

A sudden flash of anger burned through the mother to be and she snapped back, “don’t you mean let’s get it over with?  Don’t you mean let’s go let them yell at you and look at me like I’m some sort of – “

“Don’t say it,” JD’s voice was soft, but she heard the pain in every syllable.  “Don’t you call yourself that, because you aren’t.”

“But that’s what they’ll think, isn’t it?  That I’m some sort of – “


“Whore.”  She spat the word out.  “A whore that took advantage of their little brother.”

“God damn it, Casey!”

“Well tell me they’re not going to feel that way… especially Buck!   Hell, he’ll probably insist that I prove you’re the father!”

“Casey, that’s enough!”  Deep down he knew she didn’t mean the things she was saying, but they still hurt.  When she didn’t respond he slid a glance in her direction, his breath caught as he saw the tears streaming down her beautiful face.  Cursing himself silently, he pulled off the highway onto the shoulder.  Parking, he unfastened his seatbelt, turning to face her. 

Reaching out, JD stroked a hand through her dark hair.  Softly, he said, “I’m sorry.”

She let go a chuff of laughter, shaking her head.  “I act like a maniac and you apologize.”  Her head dipped down and she let out a trembling breath.  “I’m sorry Johnny, I didn’t mean any of that.  I know… I know that they’re going to be upset about this.  But I also know that they’ll understand… eventually.”

Drawing her to him, JD wrapped his arms around the young woman’s trembling form and said, “it’s gonna be fine.  I promise.”

With a sigh, she snuggled against him, letting his love embrace her as well.  It was easy for her to believe that everything was going to be all right, as long as JD held her.  After several minutes she sighed again.  “we’d better go.  I’m not sure how long I can keep my nerve up.”

Kissing her gently on the forehead, the young ATF agent said lightly, “just stick with me, kid.  I’ll protect you.”

Giggling, Casey smacked him on the arm and playfully pushed him away.  “Yeah right.  One growl from Buck, or glare from Chris, and you’ll be hiding behind me!”

As he started the car and pulled back onto the highway, Dunne said, “Well, another couple of weeks and two or three of us can hide behind you.”

Trying on an imitation of the Larabee Glare and failing miserably, the new Mrs. Dunne groused, “you’ll pay for that John David.  You’ll pay big.”

The young couple continued down the road, the teasing banter replacing the harsh words.  They drove for several miles, the road moving along more level ground as they neared Denver.  Suddenly JD frowned, watching the rear view mirror intently.

Casey noticed her husband’s change of mood and asked quietly, “what’s wrong?”

“Not certain.  That truck is driving awfully close to us.”  To verify his observation, the brunet pressed the accelerator to the floor, the car lurching forward.  And as they sped up, so did the truck.

“Damn it.”

“Maybe they’re just in a hurry?”  She knew it was a lame thought, but voiced it any way.

Shaking his head, Dunne said, “they’re after us.”  He pulled his cell phone off its belt clip and thumbed it open.  Handing it over to the woman beside him, he said, “call Buck.  He’s number one on the speed dial.”

“Shouldn’t I call 9-1-1 first?”

“And report what?  They haven’t done anything but follow too close.  Call Buck and let him know what’s going on and where we are.”

She followed his instructions, frowning when the call went directly to the big man’s voicemail.  She left a brief message then looked at her husband. 

“Vin’s on two.”

She nodded but, before she could dial the Texan, the car was hit from behind.  The cell flew from her hand, forgotten as the young woman cried out, slamming her hands against the dashboard in an effort to brace herself.

The attack continued, JD’s skillful driving keeping them on the road for some time.  Their luck ran out as the car went into a skid on a curve.  Before he could regain control, the truck slammed into them, sending the car off the road, lurching over the side.

The only thing that saved them was the fact that the ground was relatively flat, the car rolling and bouncing down a fifty foot embankment.  Five miles earlier would have seen them careening down a drop measured in hundreds of feet. 

The car came to a rest against a moss covered boulder twice its size.  There were no sounds from inside; no signs of movement.  Above them the three occupants of the truck stood, watching.  Finally, satisfied that their work was done, they climbed back into the big vehicle and drove off.


 “Larabee.”  The blond answered his ringing phone absently, his mind on the game in play on the table before him.  He, Vin, Josiah and Ezra had commandeered the corner table at the Saloon to play poker.  Busy trying to figure out what Standish was doing that had already netted him three healthy pots he absently said, “hey Buck.”

The others looked up at the greeting.  The big ladies man had forgone the poker game in favor of a date with his latest conquest.  Then they all watched in growing concern as the blond sat bolt upright, his face losing its color as he continued listening to his old friend.  “Where?  Where!?  Yeah, we’ll meet you there.”

The senior agent turned off the phone and looked around at the other men.  “Buck just got a call on voicemail.  It was Casey.  He said she sounded hysterical… said someone was chasing her and JD.  He’s tried to call them back, but can’t get an answer.”

“Buck know where?”  Tanner asked, already pushing to his feet.

Joining the other man, Larabee said, “yeah, Casey gave him their location.  Let’s go.” 


He awoke to a red haze of pain.  He found that he could move one arm, the rest of his body held immobile by the jolts of agony that coursed through him with every breath he took.  He heard a soft moan, but couldn’t figure out where the sound was coming from.  Then memory came crashing in on him, and he cried out, “Casey!”

When his young wife didn’t respond, Dunne reached out with his one working limb, using it to search for her.  Everything was strange and off-kilter, confusing the already befuddled man.   It took several minutes but, finally, he touched a too-cool hand.  “Casey?”

On the other side of the wrecked vehicle, the injured woman tried desperately to make sense of what was happening.  Then reality barreled down on her in the form of intense pain.  She opened her mouth to call to her husband, but all that came out was a strangled scream.

“Oh Jesus… Casey!”  he forced himself to ignore the pain, pulling himself forward.  Fueled by the woman’s cries, he struggled to reach her.  “Casey, what’s wrong!?”

“John!”  She screamed again, searching for her husband in the wreckage of the car.  “John!”

He found her then, on the other side of the car, crumpled in the little well between the seat and the dash.  And he saw the blood.  Everywhere.  “Oh my God.  Casey!”

She looked up at him, pain radiating from her dark brown eyes.  She reached out a trembling hand, seeking the comfort of his touch.  “Johnny… help me… oh God, it hurts!”

He knew.  On some level, he knew what was happening.  And, looking into her pain-whitened face, she knew too.  Tears burned his hazel eyes and he strained to cross those last few inches that separated them.  “Casey… oh, baby… Casey…”

She watched as he slumped over, the pain drawing him into unconsciousness as it overwhelmed him.  She cried out once more, then collapsed, herself.  Her own pain wasn’t as merciful toward her, and she remained awake and aware for long minutes longer.  Awake and alone.



Three vehicles converged on the place Casey had called them from.  Six men emerged, gathering into a tight group.  The fact that they hadn’t passed JD’s car on the way to the scene let them all with cold knots of fear in their guts. 

The one bit of information JD’s young lady had failed to provide on the voicemail was the direction they were traveling in.  Nathan, Ezra and Josiah drove off in one direction, Chris, Buck and Vin in the other, leaving Buck’s car on the side of the road.  The blond could tell with one look that his old friend had been lucky getting this far.  The big man was far too shaken up to drive.

With Larabee behind the wheel and Vin focusing on the road from the passenger side, they drove slow enough that the team sharpshooter could study the roadside.  Behind the two men, Wilmington leaned over the front seat.

“Damn it, Chris, get movin’!”

“Take it easy, Buck,” Larabee said in a quiet voice.  “Speed’s not going to count for much if we pass them by.”

“Pass them – “ The big man broke off, all hint of color leaving his face as he faced the reality of the other man’s words.  Looking toward the shoulder and beyond, where the ground dropped away he groaned.  Dismissing the thought, he spoke in a tight voice.  “No.  They’re not … no.  No, damn it!”

“Here, Chris,” Vin spoke for the first time since entering the car. 

Not questioning his friend, the blond pulled the car off onto the shoulder, parking and cutting the engine.  All three men sat for several seconds, as if their silence could put off the inevitable.

Finally Tanner broke the silence, climbing out of the car and edging along the shoulder, keen eyes focused on the drop off beside the road.  As he came to a stop at the place that had called to him, the earth torn up by tires, the other two were beside him.

Three pairs of eyes focused on the same terrible spot below them.  They stood, three statues held immobile by pain and fear. 

“Oh… God…”  Buck moaned, his knees threatening to buckle at the sight of JD Dunne’s car, now a mangled wreck, so far below them.

Chris grabbed hold of his old friend, steadying him with a hand on one arm.  With the other he pulled out his cell phone, calling 9-1-1, making a quick report and requesting two ambulances. 

On the other side of the big brunet, Vin placed a hand on the man’s shoulder as he pulled out his own cell and speed dialed Nathan, calling the other three men to join them.

Then, with a sound halfway between moan and pained cry, Buck Wilmington broke away from the two men.  With quick strides he was soon sliding over the edge of the steep embankment, heading for the wreck.

“Buck!  God damn it,” Larabee growled.  He exchanged a quick look with the slender man beside him, than led the way after the distraught man.



He approached the crumpled wreck that had once been his friend’s car accompanied by pure, cold, fear.  With trepidation he moved to the driver’s side door, the other side of the car crumpled against a boulder.  Before he could look inside, though, he felt a strong grip on his arm.  Looking behind him, he saw Larabee looking at him, compassion written on the handsome face.

“Let me, okay?”

He wanted to argue with his friend.  But, with a single, quivering breath, he nodded and moved back a step.

Chris leaned into the broken window of the driver’s door, careful not to dislodge any of the jagged pieces of glass as he surveyed the scene inside.  His heart pounded against his ribs as if it were going to leap out of his chest as he found the two young people sprawled over the front seat.  There was blood.  Everywhere.  It seemed to cover the two broken figures lying there.  It seemed to cover the interior of the car.

“Oh, Jesus,” he groaned.

“Chris?”  Wilmington sounded far away.   He sounded lost.

“Stay where you are, Buck!  Vin, keep him back.  There’s broken glass all over the place.”  He didn’t add the fact that there were broken bodies as well. 

“Chris?”  It was Vin this time.

“I don’t know yet,” he answered the other man’s unasked question.  Carefully he began pulling the shards of glass from the door.  That threat taken care of, he pulled on the door itself, but found it jammed shut.  Leaning inside, he reached for the bloodied form of his youngest agent, carefully running his hand along the pale throat.  Finding a faint, thready pulse he called out, “the Kid’s alive.”


He looked at the young woman, barely visible in the wreckage.  Stretching out, he found himself coming up short.  “I don’t know, can’t reach her.”

Just then the distant wail of sirens announced the approach of help.  At almost the same time, they heard the other three men calling to them as they made their way down the embankment.

Chris pushed back out of the car, turning to look at his friends.  Vin had one hand clamped on Buck’s broad shoulder, the other wrapped around his bicep.  Larabee wasn’t certain if the Texan was restraining the other man, or holding him up.  Looking up into the midnight blue eyes, the blond repeated, “he’s alive, Buck.”


 Why did it seem like hospitals were built from blocks of ice?  It didn’t matter how many bodies were packed into one of the rooms, the air still seemed only a few degrees from freezing.  Vin kept watching, half expecting to see his breath puffing out in little clouds.

 The Texan sat slouched in one of the hard, plastic seats, arms wrapped around himself in an effort to retain some hint of body heat.  His wide blue eyes took in the scene before him with compassion.  Chris Larabee sat beside Buck Wilmington just as he had since they entered the ER waiting room.  The big ladies man sat in a chair, elbows propped on knees and head in hands, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around him.  The blond sat quietly beside him, one hand comfortingly on the bowed back.  From time to time he offered a whispered word or two to his friend but for the most part just sat with him.

 Buck had been operating on fear fueled adrenaline throughout the rescue, leaving him with nothing in reserve now.  Vin’s mind conjured up images of the brunet having to be pulled back more than once while the rescue workers pulled the two passengers from the car.  It had taken him, Ezra and Josiah to hold Wilmington back when the limp body of their friend ad been extracted from the wreckage on a backboard and stabilized before being shipped up the incline in a basket stretcher. 

 If any of them thought he might not be as emotional when they managed to pull Casey from the car, they were wrong.  At the sight of the young woman they had drawn into the fold, unconscious and bloody, the big hearted man cried out, dropping to his knees.

 They had followed the emergency workers back up the steep hill, Josiah and Chris keeping hold of Buck the entire time.  At the top, they split up.  Nathan and Ezra would stay at the scene, turning over what information they had to the investigating officers.  Chris tossed the undercover agent his truck keys as he and the others piled into Josiah’s Suburban, following the ambulances down the highway.

 Pulling himself from his thoughts, Tanner looked to see a nurse enter the room. He sat up straight, blue eyes never leaving her as she scanned the room. 

 “Who’s here with Mr. Dunne and Ms. Wells?”

 Three heads snapped up, joining Vin in staring at the woman.  Finally Chris found his voice.  “We are.”

 If the quartet of intense gazes unnerved her, she hid it well.  “Who has authority to make decisions for them?”

 Without a word, Buck and Vin stood.  Wilmington was listed as JD’s emergency contact with power of attorney and, as a favor to Nettie, Tanner had taken on that duty for Casey.

 Nodding, the nurse said, “Follow me, please.”


 Twenty minutes later, Tanner and Wilmington emerged from the little consultation room.  Both men looked washed out, only partially due to the fluorescent lights above them.  Vin looked over at his friend, reaching out to place a hand on the other man’s arm.  “C’mon, Bucklin.  Let’s go fill th’ boys in.”

 With a nod, the mustached man followed his friend down the hallway.  They moved quickly to the emergency waiting room.  Josiah rose as they entered, pulling his large frame from the hard seat.  He had moved to sit next to Larabee, the two of them waiting with growing impatience for the other two men to return.

 Looking up when Sanchez stood, Chris locked eyes with his oldest friend.  He saw the raw pain in his face had softened, and felt hope reborn in his heart.  “Well?”

 “They’re takin’ ‘m t’ surgery right now, so let’s go on down t’ th’ waitin’ room down there,” Vin said. “’Sides, th’ chairs ‘r more comfortable.”  Despite his attempt at humor, his voice wavered and the others could see sadness covering the finely chiseled features.

 Nodding, Chris led the way down the hallway.  They were all familiar with the layout of the hospital, and needed no help in finding the waiting room that was attached to the surgery suite.  Reporting to the volunteer on duty, they settled into one corner of the room, one of several knots of people waiting for word on loved ones.

 Larabee turned to the two men.  “So?  What did the doctor say?”

 “Their chances are good,” Buck said without preamble in a soft, relieved voice.  “JD broke both legs and his left arm, along with a couple of ribs.  He’s also got a concussion and some internal injuries.  They’re going in to stop the bleeding, but say it doesn’t look to be as bad as it could have been.  They’ll probably have to do surgery on his right leg, the break’s a bad one, but they’re not going to do that right now.  Yeah, it sounds nasty, and it’s gonna take him a long time to heal up, but the doc says he’s young and healthy, and that’ll count for a lot.”

After that information sank in, the blond said, “what about Casey?”  Tanner and Wilmington exchanged pained looks, leading the blond to ask, “What?”

 Bowing his head and taking a deep breath, Vin said, “she suffered internal injuries, but other than that her injuries are pretty minor.  She might need some cosmetic surgery on her face later, she got cut up from the glass of the side window.  The glass in them older cars ain’t as safe as the newer ones, y’ know.”

Chris could tell that his friend was stalling.  He reached out and laid a hand on the man’s wide shoulder.  “Vin, what aren’t you telling us?”

 “Well, we found out… well, she…”

 When the younger man again hesitated, Larabee prompted, “she what?”

 Drawing his gaze from the floor, the Texan said, “she was pregnant Chris.  Doc figures about five months gone.”


 Nodding, Tanner repeated, “Was.  She lost the baby.  They’ve got to repair some damage.  It… well, there’s a strong possibility that they’ll have to do more surgery later.”


 Shaking his head, Vin finished softly, “she might never be able t’ have kids.”


Consciousness came to him slowly, wrapped in a fog that kept everything just one step away from reality.  Managing to pry his eyes open to hazel-hued slits, he tried to focus.  The tip of his tongue slipped along dry lips, followed by a soft moan.  Then he felt something touch his arm, and worked to discover what it was.

 “You with me, Kid?”

 He slowly matched a face and then a name to that voice and managed to rasp out, “Buck?”

 “In the all too beautiful flesh.  Here, let me give you a hand.”  He elevated the bed slightly, then picked up a glass with a spoon propped up in the middle of it.  Carefully he fed the younger man a few ice chips. “How’s that?”

 “Kay,” he croaked.  “Wha…what hap… happened?”

 “You had a little accident.  Doc says you’re gonna be fine though, you’ve just got to rest and let yourself heal up.”

 “Acc… accident?”  He struggled to make sense of what his friend was telling him, but the fog was coming back in, making it hard to think.

 “Yeah.  Look, don’t worry on it, Kid.  Just concentrate on getting’ better.”  Wilmington gently squeezed the other man’s arm.  As JD drifted off, he let the worry register in his face once more.  His friend and housemate looked horrible.  The right side of his face was bruised and swollen, the flesh mottled black and blue.  There was a neat line of stitches going from just above his brow ridge to his hairline.  His left arm and leg were both encased in casts, his arm from palm to elbow and his leg from his toes to his knee.  His midsection was heavily wrapped in gauze. 

 His right leg stood out even beyond the other hideous reminders of the accident.  It was immobilized in a framework of metal, held stable with pins and wires.  They would have to wait for the swelling to go down before they could determine the extent of the damage to the limb.  Then they would decide what more the leg would require in order too heal. 

 There was a chance that JD may never recover full use of his leg… might walk with a cane for the rest of his life.  Might not be able to use it at all. 

 Buck shook his head, banning that thought from his head.  That was the worst case scenario, and he refused to consider it.  JD would be fine.  He would recover.  He would once more drive them crazy with his boundless energy and bad jokes. 

 Oh God, let it be so.



Vin padded softly into the dimly lit room, left in shadows by drawn drapes despite the brilliant sunshine outside.  He moved to the bed, watching its occupant for signs of consciousness.  “Casey?”

 “Go away Vin… please.”

 He sighed.  They had tried several times over the course of the last three days, but the young woman refused to respond to them.  He had watched Chris come out of her room, face dark with frustration.  He had watched Josiah exit with tears in his eyes.  He himself had left her bedside more than once, feeling impotent and useless. 

 But this time he was determined to get her to at least listen to him.  “Sorry, honey, but I can’t do that.  Not this time.  Not ‘til I’ve said my piece.”

 “There’s nothing you can say that I want to listen to, so why bother?”

 Dropping wearily into the chair at her bedside, he said, “maybe cos I can’t stand t’ see y’ like this.  I know yer hurtin’ – “

 “How do you know how I feel?  How could you?”  There were tears in her voice, but she steadfastly refused to release them.

 With a sigh, the Texan said, “okay… so I don’t know how y’ feel.  Don’t mean I don’t understand th’ hurt a losin’ somethin’ ‘r someone important to y’.  Don’t mean I don’t understand feelin’ like dyin’.”

 Her eyes opened then, and she turned toward him.  The pain was still raw in her dark eyes, the tension pinching her pale features.  “You don’t understand a damn thing, Vin Tanner, don’t act like you do.”

 Blue eyes flashed with anger, but he quelled it before he continued.  “Well, if rippin’ on me ‘ll make y’ feel better, go for it.  Reckon I’ve got broad enuff shoulders t’ take ‘t.”

 “Go… away…” she ground out.

 “Reckon I’ll stay,” he said with a tone of finality.  “Kind ‘a like ‘t rght here.”

 “Suit yourself.”  The injured young woman gingerly pulled herself over onto one side, facing away from the stubborn Texan.

 He was nothing if not a persistent man.  Vin simply sat there, waiting her out. 

 What little they knew of what was going on had been pieced together.  JD was still too out of it to tell them much, and Casey had closed in on herself.  They had found the wedding license in the wreckage of the car and realized that their friend had done what he would consider the right thing by the young woman.  Buck had been angry at first, an anger born of hurt.  He had considered himself something of a surrogate big brother to the young man.  The thought that JD would go through such a life changing experience without seeking his input was a blow to his ego. 

 Ezra and Nathan had been scarce during the past several days.  The two team members had stayed as close to the accident’s investigation as they could.  They supplied information to the investigating team and, in turn, supplied the rest of them with information on the search for the driver who had run the Dunnes’ off the road. 

They stayed at the hospital as much as possible, partially because – until their attacker or attackers were caught – JD and Casey could be in danger.   The real reason, however, was that they were all concerned for the young couple.  JD was still groggy and confused, sleeping a lot and unable to recall recent events.  The jury was still out on his right leg, but they were all hoping for the best. 

So far Casey was recovering nicely.  Physically at least.  She had accepted the news of JD’s injuries with stoic silence.  She had already known that she had lost the baby, experiencing the painful miscarriage while she lay in the wrecked car.  She had turned a blank stare toward them when the doctor explained that she may require further surgery.  She had seemed to accept it all with an uncommon calm, but they all knew better.  Casey Wells - Dunne wasn’t accepting any of it.

Sitting there, waiting, Vin’s estimable patience was put to the test by the great niece of the woman who had become a surrogate mother to him.  He mused that he could see more of his ‘old biddy’ in the girl every day.  But finally she moved, shifting to her back.  She glared at him, eyes snapping, but said nothing.  Even the thick bandages covering the right side of her face couldn’t soften the fire in her eyes.

Allowing himself one brief smile, the Texan said, “Yer even lookin’ more like Nettie, ever’ day.”


Shaking his head, Tanner said, “Never mind.  Look, all I want to do is to try and help you.  No, I can’t know what it is t’ lose a baby.  No, I can’t know what it means to maybe lose the ability t’ have a baby.  But I do know that sometimes it helps t’ have someone t’ lean on.  Sometimes it helps t’ have someone t’ talk to.  If it ain’t me, well, that’s fine.  But’cha need t’ talk t’ someone, honey.”

“I wish she was here,” Casey said softly.


“Aunt Nettie.  I wish she was here.  I know it’s selfish, but I need… need her… here.”  Her voice wavered and, finally, the tears found their release. 

Moving cautiously, Vin slipped up and settled on the edge of the bed.  Conscious of her injuries, he carefully gathered her into his arms, rocking her as she cried against his shoulder.  The dam had given way, and she sobbed openly for nearly an hour.  She grieved for her unborn child and for the aunt who had been the one stable force in her young life.  Hot tears flowed as the pain of what had happened, and what could yet come to pass tore at her heart. 

Finally, exhausted, Casey’s tears slowed to a stop.  She lay limply in Tanner’s embrace, nearly asleep in his arms. 

Vin stroked a hand through her brown hair, then gently rubbed light circles on her back.  His own back ached from sitting in the same position for so long, but he wasn’t about to call a halt to what he had hoped for these past several days.  For the first time since the accident, he held some hope that Casey was coming back to them.