Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!
Thanks to Mog for the wonderful ATF/AU
Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
Thanks to Phyllis, Karen (krhwriter) and Kay, whose efforts toward this story are deeply appreciated.
This has developed from a deep and personal experience when my own son was eleven months old. I reached a point when I actually believed he would not survive. Memories can be a powerful and comforting phenomenon.
Buck had watched his young teammate for about a half hour and he now knew there was something seriously wrong.
JD could hardly keep his eyes open and if he wasn't wearing his sunglasses, an odd thing to do in the office, or screwing up his eyes, he was fighting sleep.
Buck had commented on the youth's flushed face as they rode in to work together that morning, but had been assured it was just a sore throat and a headache, and that the stiffness in his neck was due to sleeping awkwardly.
Wandering over to JD's desk, the ladies' man touched the back of his hand to his friend's forehead, alarmed at the heat he felt. Deciding enough was enough, he called to Nathan, wondering, belatedly, if he should have waited as he noticed the medic talking to Larabee.
"Buck, no." JD whispered as his left hand propped up his aching head, but his words carried no real conviction.
"Hush," Buck admonished, "You're sick and Nathan should check you out."
Despite his feeble protest, JD knew he felt dreadful and was secretly grateful Buck had addressed it. He groaned to himself however as he saw Nathan approach, followed by a frowning Chris.
Reaching the desk, Nathan crouched down, balancing on the balls of his feet, so as to look the younger man in the eyes. After a series of checks and questions, the medic stood and faced the two hovering men.
"I'm not sure, but I think it would be a good idea to go to the hospital."
Larabee and Wilmington couldn't hide their shock at the statement.
"I just need to check one more thing," Jackson added, then turned back to Dunne.
"JD, would you mind standing up for me? I need to check your stomach."
Shakily, the youth stood and realized he didn't even have the strength to care that three men were now staring at his exposed stomach as Nathan lifted his shirt.
A soft touch to the exposed skin and Nathan gestured with his head to the other two to move away. He thanked JD and then followed his teammates to a short distance away.
"We need to go NOW," he insisted.
A little alarmed, Buck grasped Nathan's left wrist. "What the hell is it, Nate? You're scaring the shit outta me here."
Nathan sighed, "I don't want to alarm anyone, but...it looks like meningitis."
Buck and Chris both paled, "Isn't that life threatening?" Chris asked, but received no answer as a loud crashing noise drew their attention.
They quickly returned to JD's side as the youth lay sprawled out, unconscious, on the floor, some of the items from his desk lying next to him. Nathan felt for a pulse and then looked to his two friends,
"He needs an ambulance...NOW!"
+ + + + + + +
Three pairs of eyes looked up as the remaining men of Team Seven burst into the ER waiting room.
"What the hell happened?" Vin asked, stopping just in front of the sitting trio.
Buck ran his hands through his hair and gulped; Chris answered.
"JD wasn't feeling too good this morning. He collapsed about an hour ago." The blond looked to Nathan to continue.
Nathan stood. "I can't be sure, but I think it may be meningitis."
Josiah, Vin and Ezra were stunned.
"Oh dear Lord, but isn't that...?" Ezra started, unable to complete the sentence for fear of speaking the dreaded words out loud.
Nathan sighed, "Yes, it can be, but if they catch it in time..."
"But he seemed fine yesterday," Josiah noted.
Nathan nodded. "He probably wasn't feeling too bad, but I'm guessing his symptoms started at least yesterday, if not a day or two before. The virus lives in the nose and throat, all he'd need was to be exposed to a sneeze or a cough from a carrier and bingo."
"Where is he now?" Vin wanted to know.
"Once they gave him a shot of benzyl penicillin, they took him for an LP." Nathan noted the quizzical looks. "LP, lumber puncture, or spinal tap. Fluid is drawn from the base of the spine, a pretty nasty procedure which can leave a bad headache, although, I doubt JD will notice that right now."
Buck grunted and Nathan placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He resumed his explanation.
"The fluid they draw can show if the virus is present."
"Then what?" Chris and Buck were on their feet now.
"Then, if he has it, it's strong antibiotics and a lot of prayer, because he's gonna be real sick."
The room fell silent. A minute later the ER door opened.
"Gentlemen, are you with Mister Dunne?"
They all nodded.
"My name is Wilkes, I'm Chief Resident here. Would you like to take a seat?"
Again, they answered with a collective shake of the head.
"I'm afraid John has bacterial meningococcal septicaemia. If not diagnosed quickly, death can occur within hours."
The Doctor stopped speaking as he watched the tall mustached man sway, to be steadied by a blond man wearing black.
"To explain, he has been placed in isolation and is on a course of strong antibiotics. There is no other treatment for this strain, I'm afraid. The next twenty-four hours are critical. You may visit with him, I have no objections to you being with him full time should you so wish, however, you must wear gowns, gloves, caps and masks at all times, removing and disposing of them each time you leave. This is a highly contagious disease. Also, you and anyone he has been with in the last forty-eight hours will need to take a course of medication."
Buck sat down hard in the faded plastic chair, covering his face with his hands. Chris swallowed hard to ease the dryness in his throat.
"When can we be with him?" he asked quietly.
Doctor Wilkes looked at his watch. "Give us time to get him settled and someone will come and get you."
He nodded to the six men and left.
+ + + + + + +
As they put on their protective clothing, the six men of Team Seven looked in through the observation window at their youngest. He looked small as he laid on his left side, dwarfed by machines, tubes, and an IV, a nasal canula positioned across his face and over his ears. He had no covers or clothing, save for his underwear, to assist in keeping his temperature down. With a collective nod, the men entered the large private room; each lost in his own thoughts of the young man on the bed, looking, except for the paraphernalia, as if he was sleeping.
Buck instantly took hold of his roommate's free hand and gently stroked the back of it with his thumb; the brunette's other hand gently resting on the youth's head. Buck felt no shame as a tear rolled down his cheek and soaked into his paper mask.
"Ah hell, kid, whatcha gone and done this time?" he sniffed.
The nurse that had remained in the room was finishing her final checks and looked to the group as she noticed them examining the rash on the boy's torso.
"The rash indicates blood poisoning, which the antibiotics should address. The main concern is if it goes to an extremity, the danger being he could lose a toe, a finger or even a limb, but that seldom happens."
She left, leaving the group in shock.
"Well isn't she a 'little miss fucking sunshine'?" Buck growled.
Chris patted the man on the back, "It's best we know, Buck, no matter how hard it is."
They arranged the chairs left for them and settled in for the inevitable long wait.
Several hours later, Chris and Vin had persuaded Buck to step out for a cup of coffee. As Josiah stood over his young friend he noticed the boy twitch. The big man leaned in.
"John Dunne, can you hear me, son?"
JD's eyes opened, and Josiah had begun to smile when the glazed hazel eyes rolled back, almost into the boy's head, at the same time his body stiffened and shook violently.
Alarms and beeps sounded as Ezra, Nathan and Josiah were now all on their feet, staring in shock. Nathan stepped forward.
"He's convulsing!" he shouted, looking at the door as doctors and nurses came running in.
The three men were ushered out and stood outside the room, observing through the window as their young friend was surrounded by the medical team, each man's heart pounding.
Wilmington, Larabee and Tanner were just returning to JD's room when they noticed the large group of medical staff entering, the noise of the alarms reverberating.
Buck's face paled. "NO!" he screamed, running toward the room, only to be stopped by Josiah and Ezra.
"GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME!" he yelled into Josiah's face, but the man held firm, catching the fist aimed at him.
Larabee linked his arms around his oldest friend's waist and lifted him up and away from the room door, eventually pinning him to the wall opposite. He put his face right up close to Buck's, speaking softly to the brunette through clenched teeth,
"Enough, Buck, we don't know anything yet, let these people do their job, it's the only chance JD has."
At the mention of his surrogate little brother's name, the trapped agent crumbled, misty eyes glancing around the small concerned group.
"I...I'm sorry, I..."
Everyone relaxed a little, only to tense again as Doctor Wilkes approached.
"Would you follow me please?" He walked ahead and into a large, comfortably furnished waiting room.
The doctor faced the six men. "I understand John is from a Catholic background, does he have a priest I can contact...?"
Buck stepped forward, "NO! No way, he is not going to die!"
"I didn't say he was, I just thought, under the circumstances... "
Chris stopped Buck as he was about to speak, "Thank you, doctor, but no, JD isn't a practicing Catholic at the moment."
Ezra looked at his friends then addressed the doctor.
"I am not normally a gambling man, but if I were to ask the odds on this young man surviving the night, what would be your answer, sir?"
Doctor Wilkes sighed, "Honestly? At the moment I would have to say fifty-fifty. I'm sorry, I have to get back, and I must ask you to remain here for now, I will arrange for someone to come for you when it's appropriate. "
As the man left, the agents looked to Ezra who had a small smile on his face.
"Did I miss somethin'?" Vin asked, "Those odds..."
"...Can be beaten, Mister Tanner, they can be beaten."
They all took a seat.
+ + + + + + +
About twenty minutes later, Ezra chuckled to himself. He looked at the horrified faces of his teammates and quickly explained.
"I was reflecting on the occasion Mister Dunne stayed with me while you were all away on the Semple case."
The men sat up.
"Care to share, brother?" Josiah asked, noticing how the others had become interested in a new focus for a while.
Ezra smiled, " Well, I suppose I should have hardly been surprised....."
EZRA'S APARTMENT- SIX MONTHS PREVIOUS
"Welcome, Mister Dunne, please, do come in."
JD shifted his duffle bag on his shoulder and walked into the apartment, narrowly missing Ezra's nose as he passed him. Standish raised his eyebrows and then shrugged it off.
"This will be your room, JD." He walked toward the guest bedroom and gestured for the young man to enter.
"Wow, Ez, this is really mine?" JD asked, tossing his bag on the bed, narrowly missing a porcelain figurine positioned on his nightstand.
Standish gasped and quickly retrieved the item, hiding it nervously behind his back, so as not to embarrass the young man, then watched mildly horrified as JD bounced down on his imported feather bed with such ferocity as to send the pillows a few inches into the air.
"Th...that's pure silk..." he began but stopped as JD was already exploring under the bed by hanging upside-down over it.
"This bed's HUGE." The young agent grinned as he flopped onto his back and made 'angel' movements over the silk bedspread "And this is so smooth."
Ezra started to back out of the room, preferring not to witness any more.
"Get settled, and then come and join me for a beverage. Do you like tea?"
JD laughed to himself, 'this guy needs help' he thought. "Got any Coke?" he called after him.
Ezra was glad he had consulted with JD's usual roommate as he opened the fridge to extract a can of Coke. Mumbling to himself as he placed it next to his teacup. A few minutes later they were enjoying some sandwiches and their chosen drinks.
"This place is great, Ez," JD spluttered through a mouthful of food.
"Please, JD, refrain from speaking when your mouth is full, I do not need to be sprayed as I showered earlier."
JD blushed. "Oh, sorry."
"And have you never heard of a coaster?" he asked, pushing one toward the condensation-covered can and placing it underneath.
The young agent gulped down his sandwich. "Sorry, Ez."
"Right, just a few house rules, there will be no loud music, no leaving up of the toilet seat, you will remember to replace the top on the toothpaste and I do not like the smell of fast food, so please do not bring it home with you."
JD nodded, now looking a little nervous.
"Respect my neighbors and enter and leave this dwelling quietly, no slamming doors or shouting into mobile phones. Clean up after yourself and if you fill the trashcan, please remove the rubbish to the chute located down the hall."
The two men looked at each other; JD nodded again. "Ok Ez."
"Oh and please do NOT call me Ez, my name is Ezra."
JD rose from the table with his can, intending to check out the TV but stumbled, sending the contents of his drink directly over the sofa. Mortified, JD attempted to mop it up with a napkin.
"JD, that's genuine hand-made Italian leather; stop RUBBING at it!"
"I...I'm sorry, Ez, I...I mean Ezra." JD took one look at the agent's angry face and decided to make himself scarce. "Erm... I think I'll just go on to bed, ok? Goodnight and...thanks for putting me up."
As Ezra watched the young man leave, he checked his watch. Eight PM seemed a bit early. He looked at the cloth in his hand and softly muttered, "Damn."
The next morning, Saturday, Ezra knocked on JD's door and entered carrying a breakfast tray. Normally one to enjoy his slumber, he felt he owed it to the young agent to make up for the previous night. He stopped in his tracks as he saw the disaster area that was once a dignified guest room, clothes, magazines, food wrappers, and shoes everywhere. Standish took a breath. "Courage, Ezra." He walked further in. "Good morning JD, rise and shine, we have a full day ahead!"
A soft 'humph' came from JD's general direction but no movement.
"It's a beautiful day, young man; let's make the most of it."
One eye peeked at the clock on the nightstand. "Ezra, it's only seven thirty!"
"And you were in bed at a reasonable hour, I believe, so rise and shine, here is your breakfast. I will expect you to be ready within the hour."
Placing the tray down on the dresser, Ezra patted the exposed foot peeking through toward the bottom of the bed, chuckling to himself as he left the younger man to get ready.
Within the hour JD was ready and waiting, Ezra was impressed, but noticed how the younger man's face dropped as he glanced at the couch.
Standish placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Mister Dunne...JD, to put it bluntly, I behaved like an ass last night. I invite you into my home, and then treat you with contempt. If you can find it in your heart to forgive me, I simply ask that you allow us to make a fresh start, as from now?"
JD's smile lit up the room and warmed the undercover agent's heart.
"Sure thing, Ez, no problem. Now, what's on the agenda for today?"
"Well, I thought we could first go to the museum, and then..."
"Whoa, stop right there. I promise to go to the museum, but you have to come somewhere with me first." Dunne's grin was infectious and Standish couldn't help but return it.
"Why do I have the feeling that I may live to regret this?" the man chuckled.
JD pulled Ezra gently by the arm, "Good thing we only live once then eh?"
DENVER GENERAL- PRESENT DAY
Ezra was chuckling, aware that the others were too.
"So where did you go?" Vin asked.
"The scallywag took me to a local traveling carnival, where we partook of numerous sticky, smelly and cholesterol loaded comestibles, rode every God-forsaken ride they had to offer and won a shaggy, furry abomination, he insisted I keep and name Horace. By the time he left to return to his own home, I was exhausted, near- penniless and overweight, while he glowed with health. It took weeks to restore my home to normality."
"Would you invite him to stay with you again, brother?"
Ezra smiled at Josiah, his gold tooth flashing.
"In a heartbeat, my friend...in a heartbeat."
As the men laughed softly, Vin coughed, causing them to look his way.
"I remember this one time we went hiking."
All eyes turned in interest to the sharpshooter.
FOUR MONTHS AGO-TWIN LAKES RESORT
"Ya gotta pick up the pace, JD or we ain't gonna make it to where we wanna be by tonight."
"Does it matter, Vin? As long as we get to SOMEWHERE..."
"We made a plan, kid, if we can't keep to it on day one, we ain't gonna see what we planned ta see."
"Ok, ok, I'm coming." JD caught up and stepped in front of Vin, walking backward to see his friend's face as he spoke.
"SEE? All caught up!" he mocked, pulling a face.
Vin laughed, but like lightening had grabbed the youth and had gently forced him to the ground, pinning him with one knee.
"Ya not gonna give me grief are ya, kid?, 'cause I can make this real easy..." he leaned in to JD's ear and whispered, "...or real hard."
Chuckling, JD grunted "Easy, easy..." but as Vin released his grip slightly, the younger man flipped Tanner onto his back and returned the pinning with ease.
"Tut, tut, Tanner, you're getting sloppy in your old age."
Vin laughed, "Nice move, kid. Now help me up. We're wasting daylight."
Clasping both the downed man's hands JD pulled him to his feet. Soon the two friends had settled into a comfortable pace.
As they camped that evening, JD couldn't help himself.
"Do you ever wonder what it would be like if we'd never met?"
"Who? You and me?"
"No, all of us."
Tanner lay back, looking up at the stars, "Can't say I've ever really thought about it." He turned to face the other man, "Why, have you?"
"Sometimes, yeah. I can't say they're the happiest thoughts I ever had."
"I'm guessing ya don't regret us meetin' then, kid."
JD smiled, "Hell no, life is so good sometimes, it scares me."
Tanner frowned, "How so?"
"I dunno, what if something happens to one of us, or they disband the team, or they promote one of us?"
Vin chuckled, "Yeah, well I guess those are valid concerns, except the last one, I reckon you're the only one of us that got any real long-term future with the Feds."
"W...what does that mean?"
"Chill out, kid. I just mean, you're young enough to move on, less tainted than the rest of us."
"Oh, right. I...I thought you meant..."
"Hey, no! Don't think like that. One day at a time kid, one day at a time."
"Yeah, one day at a time. Goodnight Vin."
"G'night John-boy." Vin snickered as something soft hit him in the face. "I hope them ain't yer drawers, boy, or you'll be eatin' 'em fer breakfast."
JD chuckled and both men drifted off to sleep.
As they neared the end of their hike, Vin looked at the swollen river in disgust.
"Looks like we may have a long walk ta find a crossing place."
JD sighed, "Oh whoopee," he shrugged, "Come on...let's do it then."
As the two friends walked along the bank, Vin peered across into the water.
Dunne's head spun around, "What?"
"Over there," Tanner pointed, "Is that a body?"
Squinting, JD scanned the water, his eyes suddenly flying open. "Oh God, I think it is."
"Call it in, kid. I'm gonna see if I can get closer." He turned as he felt a grip on his arm.
"It's ok, JD, I ain't gonna take no risks."
The younger man nodded and proceeded to call the ranger's station.
As Vin waded close to the bank to get a better view point, JD called out.
"They're on their way."
Tanner waved his hand, gingerly taking another step. Suddenly, a heavy branch swept behind Vin's legs and crunched into him, taking the Texan off his feet. He hit the water with a yelp and a splash, and started to drift out further.
Desperately trying to gain purchase, he struggled to turn. Feeling something solid, he lashed out to try and take hold.
"Ow, shit...Vin, it's me, try and stand."
With strength they never knew they had, clinging together, both men pulled, pushed and struggled until they were close to the bank. With one mighty effort, they threw themselves sideways, landing just on the bank's edge. That was just the amount of ground they needed as they both clung to the vegetation and pulled themselves out of the water.
Both men lay on the bank, on their backs, as they attempted to catch their breath.
Eventually Vin turned to JD. "Shit kid, yer nose is bleeding."
JD touched the back of his hand just underneath his nose and examined the blood.
"Yeah, well a punch in the face will do that."
They looked at each other and burst out laughing, looking up at the sound of rotor blades.
DENVER GENERAL-PRESENT DAY
"Did they recover the body?" Chris wanted to know.
"Nah, turns out it was just a blanket caught on some rocks. Sure looked like a body though." Vin looked at his friends.
"I guess that was the day I saw JD as the man he's turning into. I know he's into sports an' all, but the strength he showed that day... pulled me clean up onto my feet almost, and I hit him fer his trouble." Vin smiled, "He's a great kid, an' he's gonna be one hell of a man."
Each man nodded, reflecting. Buck checked his watch.
"Why are they taking so long?"
Chris patted his arm, "Relax, they'll let us know as soon as they know themselves.
"Did I ever tell you about the day JD came to help me build the kitchen at the center?"
They turned to Josiah, shaking their heads.
The big man chuckled, "What a good day..."
ST. AUGUSTA'S MISSION of MERCY-THREE MONTHS AGO
"Where d'ya want these, Josiah?"
Sanchez looked up to see a stack of timber floating above a pair of legs and heading his way.
"Just put it down, John Dunne, before you..."
A crashing sound cut into the man's warning as the timber clattered to the ground.
JD blinked at him, "Sorry."
Josiah chuckled, "No problem, no harm done, just don't try to lift as much next time."
"Yeah, that was a bit mad, wasn't it? I couldn't even see where I was going."
"How about we take a break?" Josiah asked, "I have a bag just over there if you'd care to bring it over."
The younger man obliged and plopped down onto the floor next to the profiler. He watched as a flask and two cups came out of the bag, along with an assortment of sandwiches, chips and cakes.
"Did you do all this, Josiah?"
"No, not me, one of the Sisters brought it for us. Her way of saying 'thank you', I guess." He offered the youth a drink and took a sip of his own.
"Thank you for offering to help me out, JD, it was very kind of you."
"You're welcome, Josiah. I asked Buck to come, but he was seeing someone called 'Blossom', I mean, who calls their kid 'Blossom'? Someone with a sense of humor, that's who."
As JD took a bite of sandwich, Josiah chuckled, quietly at first, but it slowly grew to a deep rumble.
"Something funny, Josiah?"
"Oh no, John Dunne. Just listening to what you were saying."
The youth shrugged, "Well, it is, too...a funny name."
"Indeed," Josiah answered, but his real amusement was at the way this vibrant young man could just pick up a subject and run with it, oblivious to all once he started. Some, he thought, might find it irritating; he, on the other hand, found it refreshing and endearing and he knew that despite their teasing, the rest of Team Seven did also.
After their break, they resumed their work, JD eager to help and willing to learn, Josiah happy to have him there. Five hours later, and they had lapsed into a comfortable silence when Josiah looked across at the younger man, smiling to himself as the youth worked while his tongue poked out of one side of his mouth.
"A sign of a diligent worker," the profiler stated.
"Your tongue...a sign of concentration. "
"Ha, yeah, sorry, I always do that. Mom said I'll probably bite it clean off one day."
Noting the silence, Josiah looked across, alarmed to see a tear rolling down the young man's cheek.
"JD?" Sanchez approached him, placing a hand on his shoulder, "What is it, son?"
The young agent scrubbed at his face, a little embarrassed.
"N...nothing, I'm sorry."
Josiah caught his gaze, "Talk to me, JD, tell me what's wrong?"
The youth sighed, turning toward the man, "I don't know why, but I just woke up this morning and...missed her. I wanted to hug her, and... this is so pathetic, I can't believe I'm telling you."
Josiah pulled the young man toward him and hugged him tight.
"Will this suffice?" A slight nod could be felt against his broad chest. After about a minute, they pulled apart.
"Thanks. Please don't say anything; the guys think of me as young enough as it is."
"I won't, but there's no shame to missing someone. You and your mother were alone together for nineteen years, John Dunne, it's only natural you feel drawn toward her sometimes."
As the young agent was about to return to his task, Josiah called a halt.
"Enough. I think it's time we got us some dinner and maybe a drink or two."
"Sounds good. Are you sure, though? There's still a bit to do."
"And it will still be here tomorrow, but for today, time to eat."
"Can you imagine if Buck married Blossom? How could you not laugh at the ceremony? Would you, Buck...take thee Blossom...?" The young man had emphasized the B sounds and had now started chuckling.
"Even more interesting, if you were to be best man..."
DENVER GENERAL-PRESENT DAY
Josiah laughed, his shoulders moving as he did.
"His face was a picture, and then he said, "Nah, that'd be Chris' job."
Buck looked up, "I wondered what was with him that day; he should have said something."
"He didn't want to spoil your day with Blossom," Josiah reminded.
"Well, the best man thing is not an issue."
"How's that, Buck?" Nathan asked.
"I aint getting' married, especially to Blossom. She is one scary lady. What she can do with her..."
"Thank you, Buck, but we don't need the details," Chris insisted, smiling.
+ + + + + + +
Josiah had noticed Nathan had gone very quiet.
"Are you alright, Brother Nathan?"
Nathan looked to his teammates, his eyes full and jaw set as if to stop his chin from trembling.
"Nathan?" Buck walked over and sat next to him. "What is it?"
Nathan coughed, "Sitting here listening to y'all... all I ever seem to do with JD is give him medical aid or tell him off for something. I don't think I've ever really given us a chance to get to know each other."
The five men sitting around the waiting room looked back at him, a little shocked by his statement.
"Surely you are mistaken, my friend," Ezra finally said.
"Nathan," Chris added, "JD adores you, you must be doing something right."
Nathan's face reflected his doubts.
Vin smiled, "Oh yeah? Well what about that 10K fun run you and him entered when I got injured and had to pull out?"
The medic's face cracked a smile. He chuckled, "Oh yeah...."
DENVER FUN RUN-EIGHT MONTHS AGO
"Are you sure you want to do this, brother?" Josiah watched as Nathan did his final warm-up stretches.
"Yeah, sure I do, 'sides, JD's all fired up, I can't let him run alone, and this way, y'all can just wait at the finish to cheer us back instead of showing up along the route."
Josiah chuckled, "Well, I think Buck still wants to, but Chris and Vin are determined to keep the man focused on the finish line."
"Good," Nathan agreed, "I'll have enough to do to keep an eye on JD, without him yelling at Buck every other mile."
Josiah smirked at Nathan's presumption JD would need keeping an eye on.
The noise from behind alerted them to the arrival of the remainder of Team Seven. JD walked through the rapidly swelling group of runners and slapped Nathan on the back.
"All set, Nate?"
"I am, are you?"
JD chuckled, "Primed and ready. Come on, we need to get to the start." He turned to his friends, "See ya at the finish, guys."
Wishes of good luck were called out with a resounding "Be careful" from Buck. Once the run had begun, the team made their way to the finish line.
The two men had run for about a mile in virtual silence. Nathan smiled to himself as he caught the grin on his young friend's face.
"Ya having fun, JD?"
"Oh yeah, this is so cool, I'm gonna make loads of money for charity. Which charity did you choose, Nathan?"
"I opted for The Red Cross. You?"
"Good choice, I went for Cancer Research."
Nathan nodded his approval and they continued on their way.
Half-way through the run Nathan suddenly toppled and went down hard on the asphalt, rolling to the side of the road to get out of the way of the other runners coming from behind. Realizing he was suddenly alone, JD turned, furrowing his eyebrows as he saw Nathan sitting at the side of the road. He jogged back to his friend.
"What happened? Are you alright?"
Nathan grimaced, rubbing at his ankle and his knee.
"I...I'm not sure, my ankle just gave out and I banged my knee when I went down."
"Can you go on?"
"Help me up, JD; I'll see how it feels."
The youth pulled the taller man up, allowing him to lean on him until he was confident to let go.
"Hurts some, but I think I'll be ok."
"Ok, Nathan, but just say if you need to stop, ok?"
Nathan nodded his agreement and they continued on, dropping back considerably. The two ATF agents eventually lost sight of the group and were walking.
"H...how much farther do ya think?" Nathan puffed.
"Only about a mile or so now. Shall I run on ahead and get help?"
Nathan looked at JD, his eyes reflecting his disappointment. JD made a decision.
"Tell ya what; we can make it from here, lean on me."
Two determined men continued on their way, aware early evening was approaching.
"I'm sorry, JD"
"Well, I thought I could help, I know you were disappointed Vin couldn't do this today. And now this."
The younger man was puzzled. "Nathan, this here was an accident; as for Vin, I'm just glad he's alive, we can always run another day. You volunteering to do this with me was...awesome. You didn't have to, but you did anyway. You're a good friend, Nathan, I hope you know that."
Nathan beamed, "I do now."
Sitting on, or propped up against their vehicles, Team Seven were getting very concerned as to where their teammates were as the light failed. Everyone else had long gone home and only one road marshal remained. Buck jumped off the hood of his Chevy in exasperation.
"Okay, that's it. I'm goin' lookin' for 'em."
Chris nodded, "I think you may be..."
"Well, well, do my eyes deceive me, or is this our long-lost brothers approaching? " Ezra grinned.
All the men looked and saw the two missing teammates, one leaning heavily on the other, slowly approaching the finish line. The marshal rose to his feet and as the two finally crossed the line, he congratulated them, handed them a medal, foil blanket, drink and certificate each, and said his goodbyes, driving off with his wheels squealing.
'Jerk' Vin thought, then joined the others in congratulating the pair who were now collapsed on the ground with weariness.
"What the hell happened?" Buck wanted to know.
"I fell," came Nathan's tired reply.
"Are you ok?" Vin asked.
"I am, but poor JD had to practically carry me for the last part."
Buck patted the youngest agent on the head.
"Hey, you with us, kid? Ya did good."
"Uh, huh." He replied pulling the foil blanket over his head, "Sleep!"
Chuckling, the five agents of Team Seven started to pull the two men to their feet.
"Shower, food and bed," Buck whispered in his roommate's ear as he pushed him into the truck.
DENVER GENERAL-PRESENT DAY
Nathan smiled. "He wouldn't give up, he just kept pulling me along, determined we'd get our medal and the money for the charities. Spunky li'l SOB."
They all nodded, and then as if in anticipation, they looked to Chris.
Larabee REALLY didn't want to do this, but he suddenly found himself talking.
"I was just on the verge of telling him I couldn't use him on the team..."
WAREHOUSE DISTRICT-THIRTEEN MONTHS AGO
Larabee had decided to stick close to his youngest agent for this bust, as after it was over he would probably break the kid's heart by informing him he wasn't suitable for his team.
It wasn't really the kid's fault at all, it was that the blond found himself worrying about the youth until the headcount at the end of an assignment, and he realized he cared too much, no more or less than the other men, but this boy was an unknown quantity that Larabee felt he could do without and who had stirred deep feelings in the man, feelings he had hidden for two years. Yes, his departure would be for the best, now all he had to do was convince the rest of his team, especially Buck.
For now, though, he watched in awe as the young man deftly twiddled knobs, twisted wires, checked dials and tapped on a keyboard with total ease. The smile Larabee received was blinding as the youth stated, "All set."
"Have you done your checks?"
"Yep, did them first, I've just locked in all the frequencies and all tapes and cameras are operational. "
"Good, we need to let them run, I need everyone today." Chris ordered.
JD tried to contain his smile, but he knew he had failed.
'Focus, Larabee, this is the right thing to do' he thought to himself, desperately trying to convince himself that letting JD go was for the best.
Checking their vests and weapons, they stepped from the van and headed into the warehouse to their appointed position. Verbal responses told the blond everyone was in place, now they waited.
Thirty minutes on and Chris seriously doubted Ezra's contact would show. JD had requested permission to return to the van to check the tapes, and Chris saw no reason not to. Ten minutes later, cold steel at Chris' head told him there had been a serious miscalculation.
"Move," a voice breathed and pushed the team leader forward while relieving him of his gun and headset.
As JD checked the cameras, he gasped.
'Shit' they're already here.' He picked up a spare gun he stashed in the van for emergencies and stealthily returned to his previous position. His heart sank as he saw Larabee moving slowly forward with his fingers interlocked and clasped behind his head.
Pacing them as he kept his head down, JD looked to locate Tanner, spotting the sharpshooter tracking the men rounding up the main body of the Team. At least he wasn't alone, but now he had to focus on Chris. Catching his leader's eye he watched and noted the direction as Larabee's eyes looked downward and slightly forward. With a burst of speed, JD sprinted forward. In the split second the armed man looked away, Chris dove low and forward, just as JD tossed the spare gun and dove to the floor himself. Both men rolled and one after the other discharged their weapons at the assailant. The man fell dead before he could get off a shot. Another burst of shots from up high alerted them to Vin's assault and they jumped to their feet, running instantly. By the time they reached the rest of the team, it was over and all Team Seven were present and correct.
Back at the Federal Building and just as Team Seven finished their debriefing, Larabee asked the youngest to stay behind.
"Sit down, kid," Chris suggested. He watched the young man sit next to him at the end of the conference room table, the young face beaming from all the plaudits he'd received from his teammates. After thirty seconds or so, Chris spoke,
"JD, you did great today."
"I mean it, the mics, the cameras, saving my ass...real good." Larabee shifted slightly in his seat. "This morning, I decided that I wouldn't be able to offer you a permanent position on this team..."
The gulp in the quiet room was clearly audible; the color had drained from the boy's face, with a look of horror that would be forever etched in Chris' memory.
"C...Chris? W...what did I d...do wrong?" JD gulped again, desperately trying to hold down the bile rising in his throat while struggling with the blood pounding around his head making him light-headed.
Chris stood and leaned over the young agent, "That was this morning, but I've come to realize it would have been a grave error of judgment."
Hardly listening and staring at the floor, JD raised his head to look at his leader,
"Wh...what are you saying, then?"
"I'm saying I don't know what I was thinking. I was wrong in so many ways, and I know I didn't have to tell you any of this, but I've always believed in being straight with the people under my command, so I'm telling you now, I'm concerned that you are so young, but not about your abilities, so if you forgive us oldies for any occasional slips in reference to your age, I'll promise you that you will receive the best training and support possible to make you into the agent I know you can become."
As they both stood, they shook hands and Dunne headed out into the bullpen, followed by Larabee, however, as JD caught the looks from his teammates, the bile made a reappearance and he ran to the bathroom.
"What the hell did you say to him?" Buck asked.
"I told him he had a permanent place with us here."
All six men broke into grins. After a minute Wilmington turned to Larabee, "Fuck, if that's how he reacts to good news, don't ever tell him anything bad, will ya?"
DENVER GENERAL-PRESENT DAY
Chris sighed, "I realized that day, it's never too late to change your mind."
Buck was now back on his feet and pacing, running his hands through his hair as he stared at the ground.
"So, Mister Wilmington, would you perchance have a tale to share with us?" Ezra pushed, hoping to distract the pacing agent.
"Not right now, Ezra."
"Ah, I understand, living with Mister Dunne has that effect."
"Living with him? Try being mother, father, big brother, nursemaid..."
Ezra grinned in secret triumph.
Buck continued, "Hell, there was this one time just after we started sharing the apartment..."
CDC-FOURTEEN MONTHS EARLIER
"Hey, Buck, what took you so long?"
Wilmington tossed his keys onto the hall table with force.
"Fucking Larabee thinks he knows everything. Where does he get off telling me off in front of Vin like that?"
JD had walked from the kitchen to join Buck in the living room.
"What's happened? I only left you an hour ago."
"Do you know where I left that file I brought home to read yesterday?" the ladies man continued.
Dunne started shifting some of the detritus that had accumulated, Buck was doing the same. Suddenly Buck exploded, scattering papers and pizza boxes everywhere.
"Fuck JD, I know we said we'd only clean once a week but this is ridiculous, it's a pigsty, and I can't find a fucking thing!"
Visibly paling at the older man's outburst JD mumbled an apology.
Wilmington didn't look up until he heard the slam of the front door.
"JD...? Goddamnit Larabee! Now look what you made me do!"
In a few steps, he was at the balcony and looked out to see the younger man striding purposefully away. Placing his hands onto the rail, he gripped hard, shaking his head.
"Aw hell, kid, I'm so sorry. Please come back soon." He picked up the phone and dialed.
An hour later, the apartment was cleared and tidied, the missing file recovered and the Chinese food Buck had ordered was ready to dish out
As the ladies man heard the key in the door, he looked to heaven and said thank you. He couldn't help but chuckle as the young agent stumbled in with a bag full of DVDs.
"Kid...JD, I'm so sorry about earlier. I was so pissed off and I took it out on you and that was unforgivable. You know it had nothing to do with you, don't you?"
Huge hazel eyes stared deep into blue then crinkled in a smile, "Aw hell yeah, I knew that. That's why I went out to get you something to help you unwind. I got The Magnificent Seven, The Alamo, Chisum, The Untouchables, Starsky and Hutch, to name but a few. There must be one or two there you like."
As JD dumped the bag on the table Buck strolled over to him and gave him a big bear hug, releasing after about twenty seconds.
"You're somethin' else, kid, d'ya know that?"
JD chuckled, "Well at least you kept it clean. You usually say something more colorful!"
The two roommates settled for the night wading through two westerns and a comedy. JD rubbed his eyes and looked to his sleepy friend.
"What did Chris do to make you so mad, Buck?"
"Aw nothing much, he just knows how to push my buttons is all. He called while you were out, to check on me, and I think, somewhere in there was an apology."
The younger man spun onto his side on the sofa, leaning on his left elbow, his chin resting on his hand.
"Do you think this team will stay together?"
"What brought that on, kid?"
"Chris gets so mad sometimes. I don't show it, but, he kinda scares me a little."
Buck laughed, "Hell, if he barks at ya, it just means he likes ya. To tell you the truth, he's mellowed since you joined. Maybe you're good for him."
Dunne pondered that for a moment, and then snorted as he got up from the couch.
"Yeah, right. G'night, Buck."
Buck rose from his recliner, stretching.
"See ya in the morning, kid." He checked his watch, "Five hours to be exact!" He looked toward Dunne's bedroom door.
"Damn kid, can't even tell when people like him." Switching off the lights, Buck headed for bed, surprised that he found himself actually looking forward to work the next day.
DENVER GENERAL-PRESENT DAY
Buck's guard dropped and he started to shake, "God, I can't imagine what the apartment would be like now if he..." The brunette covered his face with his hand; Chris now stood next to Buck, his hand on the big man's shoulder.
"Not gonna happen, pard. Trust me."
Buck was just about to speak when Doctor Wilkes stepped into the waiting room, drawing the attention of all six men once again.
"Gentlemen, we have John stable, for now. Would you like to return to visit with him?"
"Do bears sh..."
"Buck," Chris warned "Yes, thanks Doctor, we would.
"Oh and here are your pills; it's a three day course." Wilkes handed each man a small brown bottle, "The instructions are on the bottles. We are still in the most critical phase, and can only wait to see if John wakes. We were going to use a cooling blanket to keep his temperature down, but the fans seem to be working for now."
Protective gear on, the six men entered JD's room. The young agent was on his back, the head of the bed tilted up slightly, his black hair blowing gently in the breeze from the fans. The canular was gone, replaced with a clear oxygen mask that covered JD's nose and mouth. Without hesitation, Buck was at his side and bent over to JD's ear.
"Hang in there, li'l brother, you can do this...fight kid...fight," he whispered and instinctively, through his mask, placed a soft kiss on the top of his friend's head.
They resumed their seats and settled in.
+ + + + + + +
Taking it in turns to stretch their legs, eat and use the bathroom, quickly took them through the night and into the morning. By mid- afternoon, the men were despondent that their youngest had not woken up.
"Well, he hasn't gotten any worse," Nathan soothed, receiving a slow nod from each man. Vin and Josiah were just about to step out of the room when Buck moved to the bed.
"JD...Kid? Can you hear me?"
The other five looked on, saddened by their friend's actions thinking he was desperate for the young man to wake.
"Come on, kid. I saw ya twitch, listen to my voice and follow it. Come on now, Chris is awful worried about ya. C'mon kid, you can do it, do it for ol' Buck"
A soft sigh, a swallow and a slight move of the young man's head, caused all six men to step in closer to the bed.
Buck couldn't contain his smile and continued to keep talking, encouraged by the increasing movements. Without realizing, six hands were connected to the small body at some point as each man willed the youth to open his eyes.
Wilmington started chuckling quietly, the chuckle slowly growing to a deep rumbling laugh.
"Whassso funny?" JD whispered his eyes still closed, unaware of the tears in his best friend's eyes.
Pushing the boy's hair back, Buck said softly, "Chris is telling jokes again."
"T...tell me l...later?"
"Oh yeah," Buck sniffed, "You can count on it."
SIX DAYS LATER
As Buck pushed JD out from the hospital and into the bright sunshine, he couldn't help but grin to himself.
"You ok, Buck?"
The brunette leaned over the wheelchair, snapping on the brake as they reached the Chevy.
"You bet. All set?"
JD nodded and weakly got out of the chair and was helped eagerly into the truck by his attentive 'big brother'.
It saddened Wilmington to see his friend so weak, but he had been warned and advised what to expect in the coming weeks, including the tests to JD's eyes and ears to ensure the meningitis had left no lasting physical disabilities. Buck gulped; they would cross that bridge when they came to it. For now, the doctors were satisfied with the young man's progress.
Sitting behind the wheel ready to drive home, Buck turned to the younger man. "Ready?" he asked.
"More than you'll ever know," came the youth's reply. "Hey Buck, are those pills still making your pee orange?"
Wilmington laughed, "Oh yeah, all six of us, Chris is not amused."
"Cool, bright orange pee, ha!"
They pulled away from the hospital parking lot for the CDC and to five friends, waiting on them to celebrate an occasion they feared might never happen, the reunion of Team Seven.