Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language
Characters: JD, Buck, Chris
Summary: When doubt sets in it's a downward spiral
Thank you Phyllis, for all you've done for me.
Thanks also to Sherry for pulling me up when I doubted myself and Robijean for cheering me on.
Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em...damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Buck was in hell. Sitting between two seriously injured friends was an ordeal of the worst kind. Sitting between your oldest best friend and long-time brother, and your newest best friend and brother of the heart after they were seriously injured was...torture.
At least Chris had woken up, though still dangerously ill. JD, however, had remained critical and in a coma. The team had been assured both men would recover...with time...but hearing it, and seeing it, were two very different things and Buck wouldn't be happy until Larabee was growling at him and JD...well...Buck would settle for just a smile right about now.
He glanced across at Vin. The Texan looked pale and tired, clearly feeling the strain as he stayed close to his friends, though determined to hide it. He wasn't fooling anyone. For that matter...the whole team looked washed out. They weren't used to Chris being motionless and unavailable. He was always the one that rallied the group, his calm strength and support ever-present.
But not today. Today their corner-stone was laying injured, pale and bandaged, his face lined with pain and it hurt to see it. Worst of all, it hurt to know they hadn't been there in time to prevent it. Despite Vin and JD's gallant efforts, it was a little too late, and the outcome was two injured agents and a distraught group of men. Buck sighed heavily and took hold of JD's hand while trying hard to remember the ventilator was only there to temporarily help his young friend.
Buck cast his mind back to the events of the previous day.
ONE DAY EARLIER
Vin was struggling to keep track of everyone, despite his high vantage point. Dando's men had come well equipped and weren't about to give up without a fight. Earlier in the week, JD had successfully cut off the man's finances electronically and it had forced his hand to complete his deal, but despite Dando's urgency, he had not been remiss in his preparations and now a serious gun battle ensued between Team Seven and the DPD, and Dando's men.
JD could hear Vin's M24 barking out consistently. His eyes searched and, one by one, he located his scattered teammates, his heart sinking as he saw Chris' position about to be compromised by a gunman lurking unnoticed behind him.
A fair distance away, Dunne raced forward to get a better shot, calling to Chris as he got closer. Larabee looked up and drew in a shocky breath as he saw his youngest agent racing toward him yelling his name, only to take a hit to his upper arm, near the shoulder, blood exploding from JD's arm on impact. Before Chris had time to react, he watched JD, lying on his back, aim from his position on the ground; firing at the same time Vin's rifle did likewise.
A third shot rang out and Larabee gasped as a pain tore through his side, buckling his knees and taking him to the ground as he grasped at the wound. He tried to sit up to see how JD was doing, but couldn't, his energy draining from him as blood oozed from his body while his team, guns blazing, was scattered around the area from ground to rafters.
Chris slowly became aware of Vin's, Nathan's and Ezra's concerned faces hovering over him, his eyes searching...Buck! There was Buck, he needed to tell him JD was down, that JD had shot at someone...and was down. As he tried to speak, Chris pushed his one hand to his wound while grabbing Buck's vest with his other
"Easy there, stud, help's on its way." Buck clasped the hand that was grabbing at his Kevlar.
"J...JD...JD...sh...shot... m..." Chris was frantic, his now bloody hand pointing in a vain hope of conveying his message, but he couldn't hold on and passed out.
Buck was confused and looked back to where Chris had been pointing to see a shaky JD, standing, gun in hand. For a split-second, a thought crossed the brunet's mind as to what Chris had meant. He called to JD as he pointed to Chris.
"JD...did...did you shoot...?"
He noted JD's dazed look and shake of the head accompanied by an unheard 'no', but a call from the paramedics to move Larabee drew Buck's attention back to the man on the ground. Next time he looked back, JD was gone. Noting Vin was pale and a little shocky, Buck took control and issued instructions to Ezra and Nathan.
"Vin and me are going in the ambulance with Chris. Find Josiah and JD and wrap this up. We'll see you all at the hospital."
The two men nodded, subsequently failing to find their teammates, and eventually head off to the hospital alone.
Oh God! He needed to move. JD aimed his gun as he ran, knowing Chris was about to be shot in the back. Ignoring his own safety, as he got closer he called out to alert his team leader of the danger, completely forgetting his available throat mic, only to catch a bullet in his upper arm. Despite the pain and the impact sending him tumbling to the ground, JD rolled and switched his gun to his left hand and as he lay on his back, bleeding, he aimed and fired, at first relieved to see the man behind his team leader go down, then alarmed, as seconds later a flash of gunfire to one side of Chris caused the blond to collapse to the ground.
With a huge effort, JD pushed himself to his feet, intending to head toward Larabee, but he found he couldn't move. As JD stared in alarm, he saw some of the team surround Chris, then saw Buck arrive. After speaking to Chris, the brunet looked back at him. What was he saying?
Was he was asking if JD had shot Chris? Huh? No...no...
He shook his head at Buck and was attempting to point to the man that had fallen to the ground somewhere behind Larabee, when Buck turned his attention back to Chris and the teammates and paramedics around the injured man. Feeling odd and light-headed, JD turned and dragged his way toward the safety of the surveillance van and leaned back heavily against it, trying desperately to regulate his breathing as the pain in his arm burned, though it wasn't hurting half as much as Buck's words. How could he think he had shot Chris?
Josiah was wandering back to where the larger gun battle had been. Isolated by the loss of his earpiece during hand to hand combat, he spotted JD leaning against the van, removing his own earpiece and mic. Noting the younger man's posture was decidedly awkward, the profiler approached.
"JD...son, are you alright?"
Dunne could hear Josiah talking to him, but now he barely had the energy to respond, he couldn't catch his breath and it was scaring him, his headgear dropping to the floor as he tried to maintain a rhythm. Swiftly, Sanchez was next to him, seemingly speaking and moving in slow motion.
"JD...JD, are you hit?" The big man was appraising the youth as he spoke, JD's skin was glistening with sweat, his pallor almost gray. "Oh dear God...you are, hold on son...HELP! I NEED HELP HERE."
The young tech clung to the profiler, panic setting in as he struggled for air.
"Can't...can't...brea... breathe...he... help...help me..."
Sanchez got right into JD's face. "Easy son, easy, I'm here for you."
As JD collapsed unconscious, Sanchez scooped his young friend up and headed for help, calling out frantically as he walked in the opposite direction JD had originally come from. As paramedics worked on the easterner, the profiler scanned the area for the other members of Team Seven, his hand clasping the younger man's as he wondered where they were.
"Are you going with him, sir?"
"What?" Josiah snapped back to the dilemma in front of him. "Yes...yes of course, what's wrong with him?" he asked, as he followed the gurney into the ambulance.
As the vehicle pulled off, the medic explained while he worked. "It would appear the bullet has entered his arm and ricocheted into his lung, collapsing it. His condition's critical."
Josiah could now see the chest drain and the other paramedic bagging his young friend. "Oh dear God."
Buck and Vin were sitting quietly together in the surgical waiting room. All they could do was wait, and pray. They acknowledged Ezra and Nathan's arrival. Seconds later, Buck again looked up at them.
"Where are JD and Josiah?"
"We were hoping they were here," Ezra confessed. "They were certainly not at the scene and no one seems to have seen them."
Vin was looking up now. "Where the hell are they, then?"
A few minutes after that, Josiah burst in, his clothes bloodied. Buck stood, a little stunned.
"Are you okay, Josiah?"
Sanchez nodded, gesturing to the blood. "Yes, yes, this isn't mine." He paused for a moment, he'd explain that statement next. "So it's true, Chris was shot? Dear God, how bad?"
"Bad enough, he's in surgery now." Wilmington was scanning behind Josiah. "Is JD following you in?"
The profiler looked surprised and gazed at all of them. Dear God...no one but him, knew. He held Buck's arms.
"Buck, boys...JD's just been taken to surgery, he's been shot."
Buck grabbed at Josiah's arms, almost taking skin. "No..." he breathed, his legs shaking as he spoke.
The others stood, shaken, Nathan approached, "How bad?"
"He was shot in the arm," Sanchez began, almost wishing he could stop there as they seemed relieved, "but the bullet ricocheted into his chest and collapsed his lung, he...he's critical and they're not sure how much damage has been caused until they go in." He helped Buck to a chair before the man collapsed completely.
"But..." Buck began, "...but he was standing...I saw him when I was with Chris, he looked right at me. When did it happen?"
Sanchez shook his head, "I don't know, I found him alone, leaning against the surveillance van. He was bleeding and very distraught; he couldn't seem to catch his breath, now we know why."
Buck was in agony, his best friend had been shot and in terrible pain... and he hadn't even known. Had it happened after Chris? No...there had been no more gunfire after that. He recalled that exact moment he thought Chris had said JD had shot him.
They all looked at him, questioning the expression on his face.
"Chris wasn't saying JD had shot him...no wonder he was so agitated, he was telling me JD had been shot." The brunet covered his face with his hands.
"Oh dear God...what have I done?" He called to mind that moment...that awful look of incredulity from his young friend at Buck's question. "Oh God, kid...I'm so sorry," he whispered.
Josiah touched his arm.
"Buck, what is it?"
After a few moments the brunet looked up.
"Something Chris was trying to say...I saw the state he was in...he pointed to JD...the kid was standing there, his gun in his hand...with all the distress and emotion...I heard...thought Chris was saying...I...I asked JD if he'd shot Chris."
The other four men were visibly shaken.
Ezra spoke. "Buck, when we left the scene, forensics was still working, but, what they have thus far is, Vin's rifle probably took out a man to Chris' right. This could have been where the shot that hit Chris came from. Some way behind Chris another man lay dead, probably from an agency bullet. Again, their conclusion at that point was clearly someone just ahead of Chris had fired, though there was no one on the scene to pinpoint. Once they have all our guns, we will know more."
Vin touched Buck's arm. "JD knows you wouldn't think like that, Bucklin; he'll be fine once we can talk to him."
"That's just it, Vin..." Wilmington pointed toward theater, his voice thick with emotion, "...he may be in there fighting for his life, and all the while...believing I think he may have shot Chris."
"Well, we'll just set him straight when he's outta there." It was all Vin had to offer, but the conviction in his voice produced a small nod from Buck.
Three hours later saw the five agents in recovery, checking on Chris after his surgery, while the medical team prepared to move him to ICU. His surgery had gone well, all damage repaired, although blood loss had weakened Chris somewhat and he was considered as stable, but critical. As they all watched him being rolled away, they at least had one piece of good news to cling to.
Two more hours and JD was alongside Chris in ICU. He had slipped into a coma and been placed on a ventilator to aid his repaired and re- inflated lung.
Now all they could do...was once again, wait.
Buck stared at his best friend, willing him to wake up to be able to set things straight between them. Twenty-four hours later, JD was off the ventilator. Buck talked to him constantly in the hope it would bring the young agent back to consciousness and several hours later, Buck saw the first signs of just that. He leaned in as the others quietly gathered around. Tanner bent down to whisper to a sleeping Chris.
"Looks like the little guy's gonna be joining us real soon, cowboy, you can rest easy, now."
In his moments of lucidness, Chris had been concerned about the kid. It felt good to be able to put Team Seven's leader's mind at ease.
Buck was right there with his partner, face to face.
"Come on, son...come on, JD...talk to Buck, come on kid."
JD's face became more animated. Finally he spoke in a whisper. "J... Josiah?"
Buck snapped upright, his hand covered his mouth as his eyes filled. For a moment, no one knew what to do or say, but JD called for the profiler once again. Sanchez looked apologetically at Buck and took the easterner's hand.
"Right here, son...so's Buck and the others."
Josiah smiled, "He's gonna be fine, JD."
JD relaxed, "Th...thank God..." and he was out again.
Josiah turned to a distraught Buck, cupping the back of his neck as he drew him toward him. "I was the last person with him, Buck, he was hurting and frightened. All he remembers is that...that and knowing Chris was hurt, too." As he guided Buck back to the seat next to JD, the brunet nodded, but it was obvious he was struggling with what had just happened.
Two hours after that, Buck was leaning in again, but this time, he was smiling.
"B...Buck...is everyone...okay? "
"Yeah, kid, everyone's fine, and so are you."
Dunne smiled. "Good...thanks. " Instinctively, JD's hand reached out and Buck grasped it willingly, clearly both men comforted by the action.
Chris looked wearily around his new room. There was another bed there next to him, ready for when JD left ICU, but not today. He presented a small smile as his eyes set on Vin. The Texan grinned.
"How are you doin'?"
Chris shifted slightly, his hand wandering to the thick dressings over his wound.
"I've been better," he rasped. "Do we know what happened, yet?"
Tanner nodded. "Dando's dead, so's three of his men. I saw the guy who fired on you and took him out, unfortunately I was a split- second too late, he was discharging his weapon as he was hit. The guy behind you was taken out by JD; forensics confirmed it was his bullet in the guy. The kid most likely saved your life, cowboy."
Chris closed his eyes as he absorbed the information, opening them as he asked his next question.
"How is he?"
"Doin' better. He's not talkin' much, but he's improving, they're movin' him in here with you tomorrow."
Chris sighed, "How the hell did I get so exposed that I put another agent's life at risk?"
Vin shook his head. "You were in the thick of it, Chris...I saw the guy to your side, I couldn't see the one at the rear. Thank God JD appeared when he did."
Chris swallowed hard. Tanner stood and helped the man take a drink, then settled him back down as Chris thanked him and relaxed. Sad green eyes focused on sharp blue.
"Jesus, Tanner...he got shot because of me."
"No...JD got shot because of Dando, and he survived, and so did you. We had a good day."
Buck had talked himself hoarse, yet all he had gotten for his trouble was an occasional tired nod, followed by a yawn, then JD sleeping. Ezra and Nathan had gone to check on Chris; Josiah remained and looked at the brunet.
"Go see Chris, Buck...I'll stay with him."
Buck sighed. "Maybe later, preacher, right now, I wanna be here for him."
Josiah nodded, "I understand, but maybe if you're not here, JD will miss you, and feel more obliged to talk when you return."
Their eyes locked in a moment of understanding and with a nod, Buck stood and left.
Josiah took his place at the bedside and relaxed back into the chair as he gently carded fingers through the sleeping youth's hair.
"Now then, John Daniel Dunne...how can we get you to talk about this?"
Chris smiled as Buck entered his room. "JD doing okay?"
The brunet nodded, "Yeah, he's doin' real good."
Chris frowned. "But...?"
"There's a 'but' in there, pard, what's wrong?"
Ezra shifted slightly to allow Buck to sit at the bedside, opposite Vin, the big man sighing as he pulled together in his mind what he wanted to say.
"He's not talkin' to me."
"Didn't the doctor say he might find talking a little uncomfortable at first, Buck?" Nathan remembered.
Buck nodded, "Yeah, he did, but I get the feeling there's more to it than that."
Ezra folded his arms as he scrutinized the man. "Do you think he may be harboring resentment toward you, Buck?"
The brunet shrugged, "I honestly don't know if he even remembers the incident. I want to address it, but I don't want to upset him, not while he's still so weak. I've talked about everything I can think of to prompt him, but he just...nods or shakes his head."
"Maybe he'll be more up to talking when they move him in here," Chris suggested.
Wilmington sighed, sadly. "God, I hope so, I can't bear this."
Josiah watched his young charge sleeping. Even at rest, JD was clearly not at peace. A few minutes later, Josiah grinned as he realized a pair of sleepy hazel eyes were focused on him.
"Would you like a drink, son?"
Dunne shook his head. "No thank you. Has Buck gone home?"
Josiah bit back a smile, "No, he went to check on Chris while you were asleep. Shall I go get him for you?"
JD again shook his head, "No, that's okay; I guess that's where everyone is, huh?"
Sanchez leaned in. "You were asleep, son, it's hard for everyone to see two team members, two friends, hurting and injured, they are trying hard to be with both of you as much as possible. Things will be much easier when they move you in with Chris."
"You...you sure it's not because..." JD tried not to choke up, "...they think I shot Chris?"
Josiah leaned on the bed to get closer to the youth. "Firstly, they don't and never did, secondly, ballistics has clarified who shot who... and everyone knows what you did for Chris and suffered because of it, so banish those thoughts from your mind, John Dunne."
"Yeah, now," JD scoffed, "I think Buck would have disagreed with you just before that." He quickly turned his head away.
Josiah's heart ached as he watched the usually vociferous younger man crumble, his hand covering his face as he struggled to remain in control. Sanchez got up from his chair and sat on the bed, placing a hand gently on the youth's bandages.
"JD...what happened that day was a mere misunderstanding, caused by confusion and fear. Have you ever known Buck doubt you, ever?"
JD dropped his hand back over his head to rest on the pillow, looking at Josiah, not answering, just listening.
"Do I not recall a conversation between you and me when you had just started with us, just after you prevented Buck from being hit by the speeding truck, of how you were so touched at how Buck stood up for you with Chris. You were reckless that day, hell son, you hardly knew us, but it was one of the bravest things we had ever seen, and Buck gave Chris hell over him admonishing you about it while you lay in the hospital. Chris confessed to us all, how much he had admired you for what you did, but it had scared the hell out of him, out of all of us, and he needed to make it clear that heroics were not to be encouraged..." Josiah paused to smile widely,
"...even though we all know we would do it all again in a heartbeat, to protect each other. Buck is human, JD...I believe, if you think about it, he asked you a question that day, not throw an accusation."
Dunne's eyes were wide as the profiler talked. Before he could comment, the door to his room opened and his doctor and a nurse entered.
"Hello, John, how do you feel about a little change of scenery?"
Josiah stood, JD grinned.
"Am I moving in with Chris?"
The doctor nodded. "As soon as we remove your chest drains and the monitors. I'm afraid your IV and catheter will have to stay for now." He looked at Josiah. "Will you excuse us, for a while?"
Sanchez grinned and nodded. "Of course." He turned to JD, squeezing the boy's arm. "I'll see you later, in Chris' room."
Josiah entered the two-bed room Chris was occupying and all eyes turned to the door. Buck stood.
"Is JD okay?"
The profiler grinned widely. "Yes, more than okay, actually, he'll be joining us shortly."
As the easterner waited for the orderlies to arrive to move him and his bed, he silently begged for the painkillers to kick in. The doctor's poking and prodding had ignited the fire in his arm and chest and he was in agony. To try and take his mind off it, he went over the events Josiah had been talking about as he lay there, hesitant to move for fear of causing more pain. As his mind grew foggy from the medication, he found himself lost in images from his first weeks with the team.
FOURTEEN MONTHS PRIOR
JD watched the monitors in the surveillance van, grateful to see all his teammates outside together and laughing as the bust was concluding. It was JD's first field op, and despite the initial disappointment of not being involved in the bust itself, his heart was pounding as the adrenaline coursed through his veins. Chris had praised the youngster for his guidance and co ordination, going as far as to say it had gone more smoothly, thanks to Dunne's involvement. In truth, Chris had been astonished and pleased at how well JD had read his teammates and pulled it all together with his instruction. It could not have gone better.
JD was frowning now, though. A white van had crawled into view and the young agent was trying to decide if it was a threat or not. He went to speak into his mic, but remembered the team had been stood down and headsets had been removed. His heart clenched as Buck broke away from the main group and the van rolled a little faster. Ripping off his headgear, JD slid open the van door and looked across. If he called out, the van could be on Buck in seconds, JD was out of view and nearest to him...so he jumped from the van and he ran.
Chris was about to call it a day when something caught his eye. Visibly paling, as he watched his youngest agent race across the compound toward Buck and an approaching vehicle. The others noted Larabee's change in demeanor and followed his eyes, inhaling sharply as the scene unfolded.
JD knew he was fast, but he covered the distance faster than even he thought possible. He had no breath to call out, so was grateful when he saw Buck turn to him, the brunet just able to take in what was occurring before the two collided.
Chris and the others were already moving, Tanner well in the lead, guns drawn. Realizing they would not quite make it, they took a position and fired at the van's tires and side window, stopping, more from shock than failure as they watched the vehicle plow on.
Dunne extended his arms and just managed to push Buck backwards hard, as the van caught up with them. Buck painfully rolled clear, but JD caught a glancing blow and flipped up and slightly backward, then down to the ground with a sickening thud. Somehow, he managed to roll over and flatten himself to the ground, his hands covering his head, as the van slowly rolled over the top of him and stopped.
For what seemed like an eternity, no one moved, shocked by what they had just witnessed. The driver had been shot and he staggered out of the vehicle, spurring them all into activity. Josiah and Nathan took custody of the driver while Vin dropped to the floor on his stomach, to look under the van.
"JD...kid...can you hear me?"
JD saw Buck fly backwards, then felt pain as the van just caught him, bouncing him backward and up in the air, to land hard just ahead of the still moving vehicle. Purely on instinct, the youth rolled to face down and lay perpendicular to the van, covering his head with his hands as he hugged the ground, his heart pounding as it went dark. 'Oh God.'
Buck groaned as he tried to get up. He looked around him and his heart thudded in his chest as he realized JD was nowhere to be seen. Chris was at his side and helping him up.
"Are you okay...are you hurt?"
Wilmington shook his head as he struggled to his feet. "No..." he lied, his hands resting on his knees as he caught his breath, "...just had the wind knocked outta me. Where's JD?"
Larabee's glance toward the van sent out a cry from the brunet as he dropped back to the ground to also look under the vehicle.
Vin scooted as close as he could.
Tanner's relief washed over him. "He's alive," he heard himself call out. "Somebody move this fucking van!"
In seconds, Ezra was in the driver's seat. "For the love of God, someone guide me back."
"Just stay straight an' go real slow," Vin called, looking across at Buck.
"Kid...answer me," Buck demanded.
"I...I hear ya."
Those words produced a collective sigh of relief.
"Stay perfectly still, this'll be over in seconds."
"N...not planning on g...going anywhere," Dunne rasped out.
Larabee took up a position at the front and, between the three men on the ground and Ezra's skill, the van cleared JD in seconds.
Nathan was there now and instantly warning them from touching him.
"JD, where does it hurt?" The medic asked.
"Everywhere, " came the reply, as JD tried to move his arm. "Aaah!"
"Stay still," Nathan admonished as he proceeded to check him over. Just as he finished, the paramedics arrived. "I think he's broken his left wrist, no other breaks...head injury and he's pretty banged up," the EMT informed them.
They thanked Jackson and prepared JD for the backboard and a neck collar. Though he had no idea why, Buck was stroking the youth's hair attempting to comfort him.
"You crazy sonofabitch, what were you thinking? You coulda been killed."
JD managed a quick glance. "You...you're...welcome, " he half laughed, half grunted, just before he passed out.
The youth smiled sleepily as he recalled Buck's words to Chris the day after the incident, right at JD's bedside."Don't you dare lay into him, Larabee. Yeah, it was a little crazy, but as far as I'm concerned, I could be paralyzed or dead now if it wasn't for that kid." He had turned to JD, "Pay him no mind, kid... he's just scared, is all, like we all were. When they release you tomorrow...you' re coming home with me..."
Still grinning, JD drifted off to a warm feeling of brotherhood. Yeah...things would work out...they had to.
Buck had been worried to see JD wheeled into the room so pale, his dark hair clinging to his forehead reflecting the pain he had been in. The doctor had explained everything, and later, when the youth was fully lucid...the two best friends had talked...for a long time, their final act of comfort, their now customary hand-clasp.
Buck could see JD was ready to sleep. He spoke softly, as the two hands remained clasped.
"So...we okay now, squirt?"
"I'm not gonna lie, Buck...it shook me up some."
Wilmington nodded. "I know, and for what it's worth...me too. But they were just words in the heat of the moment...I was confused by what Chris was saying...you standing there with your gun...logic kinda went out of the window, y'know?"
JD nodded back, he did know, but it had hurt, and for a brief moment had made JD think he might die while the people he cared for more than life itself believed it. But now, the anguish in Buck's face was hurting JD more and the kid's genuine smile lit up his face and warmed Buck's soul.
"All done, Buck. Let's move on, 'kay?"
Buck was all for that, and stayed well after his friend had fallen asleep.
Four weeks on and JD couldn't understand why he was nervous. It wasn't the first time he had returned to work after an injury, but he had butterflies. Buck watched the youth play with his cereal, then toss it untouched down the garbage disposal.
"Coffee?" the brunet asked.
"Yeah, please," the youth smiled.
"You okay, kid?"
Dunne grinned, but there was no real conviction behind it. "I will be, once I get back in there."
Buck approached and placed his hand on his friend's shoulder.
"If you're not ready...Chris'll understand, hell he's only just got back himself. Don't rush into this, kid...no one's gonna judge you, here."
For a moment, Buck saw that look in JD's eyes, the look that told him the young agent had total confidence in the words spoken, but more importantly, in the man saying them, but as quickly as it arrived...it was gone. The barriers had gone up...the ones JD had constructed since leaving the hospital. For now, Buck ignored it, despite it tearing at his heart, he felt sure once JD was back in work...everything would be fine.
FOUR WEEKS LATER
"ARE YOU TRYING TO GET YOURSELF KILLED, AGENT DUNNE?"
Five men stared toward Chris' office as the senior and junior members of Team Seven...talked.
Larabee paced, frustrated at the lack of an answer.
"That's sir to you, agent."
"Sir, no, sir."
Just about ready to slap his youngest, Chris glared at him, then melted. "JD..." he walked in front of the chair Dunne was sitting in and leaned forward, placing a hand on each chair arm.
"...what is going on with you? You've broken cover three times in a month. Buck is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I swear, and the rest of us aren't doing much better. We can't operate like this; I will not have mavericks on my team." Chris almost winced at the irony of his own words, expecting to have them thrown right back at him. What did come back at him surprised him more.
JD's stare was unnervingly steady. "Are you saying I should leave?"
Chris' brow furrowed and he straightened. "Are you saying that's what you want?"
JD sighed and dropped his head. "Maybe it would be for the best."
Alarm bells were ringing in Chris' head, he needed time to think. "Go and type up your report, and apologize to the guys. I'll talk to you later."
With a nod, JD got up and left, but instead of heading for his desk, he left the office. Chris followed, exasperated, stopping on reaching the bullpen. He looked at the five men staring at him, totally at a loss for words.
"Might I make a suggestion?"
All eyes turned to Josiah.
"Nathan and I were talking, and I wondered if we should do something together, something to help us all relax and...reconnect, it's been a grueling few months for us all."
"Do you have something specific in mind?" Ezra inquired.
The profiler shook his head.
"How about a camping trip?" All eyes turned to Vin. "Back to nature, no distractions... maybe take the horses or find a place to ride. Just seven guys and the great outdoors."
Buck grinned, "I really like the sound of that...Chris?"
Ezra coughed. "As much as it pains me to spend time in anything less than five-star splendor...I concur...this would be an excellent solution."
Chris pursed his lips, then slowly that kick-ass smile appeared. "I'll let Travis know we'll be taking a long weekend at the end of this week."
JD wiped his face. Throwing up was the pits, but he definitely felt better for it. Yeah, right...who was he kidding? He felt like shit. He shivered as he looked at himself in the mirror. What the hell was he doing to himself, and his friends? He knew he was sinking fast and felt he had no one to turn to for help...he couldn't burden his friends with any more crap. His whole team had had a rough time, he couldn't expect them to go through any more.
As JD made his way back to the bullpen, he practiced his apology. He really was sincere, but he just couldn't seem to get that across lately. On walking in, Buck scooped him up and swung him around.
"Buck!" JD half chuckled, half groaned.
Wilmington was beaming. "Guess what?"
"Uh...Ezra's running for President, Josiah's really an atheist...Vin's an eating machine...oh wait, we already know that."
Buck scowled and tapped JD softly across the head as the others snickered.
"Very funny, kid...we're takin' a little trip...we're going camping."
Dunne frowned, "What...all of us?"
They all nodded, Vin answered, "Yep...all of us."
For the first time in weeks, JD broke into a real smile. "Awesome!"
As the week progressed, JD's spirits lifted and the old banter was back. Chris was relieved; he often wondered how this team would subsist if one of them left...or worse...died. He had his answer. JD was very much with them, but his spirit had been lacking and everyone was feeling it. JD had a unique take on life, which could sometimes be exasperating, but was mostly uplifting and they had missed it. Not one man doubted this was the right thing to do.
The day for their trip was upon them, they were due to leave the office early to set off later that afternoon. Dunne had been clinging to their trip all week, convinced it was the only thing keeping him sane. He knew they needed it...he needed it.
All seven men were drinking coffee and standing around the bullpen, laughing and joking. JD's laughter had been infectious and all of their moods were becoming increasingly silly. They all snapped to attention as Travis entered, JD stopping mid-sip of his coffee as he wondered what would bring the AD down to their office. Ten minutes later, Travis left and Chris approached the team, his face somber.
"Guys, I'm so sorry. All leave has been rescinded until further notice. There's a huge sweep planned for tomorrow and they need all available hands. Looks like we're gonna have to postpone our trip until next week."
As he expected, a barrage of arguments and protests followed his announcement, and Chris fully understood, but his hands were tied. In the conflict, no one noticed their youngest's disappointment... or heard his heart as it shattered.
JD stood calmly and placed his mug down on his desk, silently gathering a few bits and pieces as he stuffed them into his pockets. It was the last straw. He knew he had been close to the edge, this had sealed it.
As the rest of the team argued their case, JD slipped quietly away. He needed this weekend, they all did. He and Buck were trying too hard and they needed an environment where they could reconnect...all of them. Trust was no longer an issue now, but a small cloud still hung over them all, this weekend would have given them a fresh start. How could Travis do this to them?
JD was on autopilot, his emotions and exhaustion driving him. Returning to the CDC, he packed a small bag, picked up his iPod and walked back into the living room. He turned slowly as he absorbed everything around him, the mess, less than usual, the 'wall of sound', Buck's recliner, the couch, the deck, the kitchen, a year's worth of past conversations, laughter and tears, echoing around him.
His stomach flipped constantly as he swallowed to stop his throat from tightening, but those efforts caught him off-guard and the emotion pushed upwards, causing fat tears to pool and drop from his lower lashes.
Shuddering breaths escaped as he picked up his keys from the hall table, put down his badge, and gun and headed for the door.
"I'm...sorry Buck, Chris...guys...I'm so sorry. I...hope you can forgive me," his words were labored as emotion overtook him.
Without looking back, he shakily left the apartment, the phone ringing as he closed the door. The next thing he was aware of after that, was realizing he and his bike were well out of Denver.
By the time Team Seven had exhausted all arguments and settled on sucking it up and postponing their trip, JD had been gone for a good half-hour. His cell was off, he wasn't answering at home, but despite the unease on seeing his badge and gun had been left behind, they all hoped he would turn up eventually. Two days later...six men were on a mission...to find and bring home their youngest teammate, and work out once and for all...what was messing up his head.
Initially planning on heading for the mountains, JD had raced on, but as he journeyed, he suddenly felt the call of the ocean. Before long, he had passed through Wyoming and, as he sat at a table in an internet café in Boise, Idaho, he studied various beaches along the Oregon coastline, finally settling for Lincoln City, as the beach reminded him of one in Boston. Arriving in Lincoln City in the early evening, JD booked into a motel and slumped wearily on the bed. In seconds, he was asleep.
The next morning JD was berating himself. He had been standing outside a phone booth for over an hour, at last stepping in. It had been six days since he had walked away from his friends, his job...his life. He had chosen not to use his cell, he didn't want to be pinpointed...not yet...maybe not ever.
JD dialed. His heart was pounding while it tried to make its way into the youth's throat. He rested his forehead against the cool glass of the payphone booth; it felt good, easing some of the ache in his head. JD's breath hitched as he heard Buck's voice...calling the office number had been the right choice. But now, he couldn't speak, his chest tight, hindering the airflow that would enable the words to break out. A solitary tear rolled down his lightly stubbled cheek as he closed his eyes and listened to the voice at the other end.
Buck reached over and picked up the phone. He was sick of looking at road maps, anyway. JD could be anywhere; they were only kidding themselves if they thought they could figure out where he had gone. The silence that greeted the brunet had him on his feet and snapping his fingers in a second. He pressed the speaker button as the others instantly gathered, alerted by Buck's demeanor. Chris moved next to him, his face taut, his eyes reflecting his concern.
Buck closed his eyes, his large hands wrapped around the phone as if embracing the younger man himself. "JD? C'mon, son...I know it's you, talk to me."
All the men could hear was the sound of hitched breathing. Buck's heart ached as his eyes grew misty. He pushed his fingers through his hair in frustration, speaking softly.
"C'mon, boy...you made it this far...please, JD...talk to me. I need to know you're okay."
Still nothing, but he was clearly still there.
Buck looked at Chris, and the blond nodded.
"Okay, squirt, I'll talk, you listen. I'm missing you, kid, the CDC's too tidy...I've been cleaning...you know that can't be good, right? We grew so attached to all the little science experiments we had goin', an' I miss trippin' over your sneakers. Chris needs ya to check on Milagro, he won't take carrots from Larabee...seems like only you got the magic touch, kid. Vin's threatenin' to come stay with me...ya gotta help me JD...I can't afford to take out another mortgage ta feed him. Josiah and Nathan are bored...got no one to practice on or tell stories to. Ezra...well, Ezra drank ordinary coffee yesterday, so you can see how you bein' away is affecting him. And as for Chris..." Buck looked at the blond.
Larabee took the phone, despite it being on speaker. He took a breath.
"Come home, JD. You have nothing to fear, we just want you back, where you're needed, and wanted...hell, where you belong. Talk to me, kid...I want to help you...we all do. Whatever it is...we can work it out. Come on...come home, son."
Dunne listened, his eyes closed...Buck's voice was like a warm, comforting blanket, enveloping his weary bones. He had no control over the sobs now, couldn't speak even if he wanted to. Abruptly, Chris' voice drew him upright, his eyes opening at the voice of his hero, while his heart pounded as Chris told him he was in no trouble.
JD heard the words, needed...wanted... belonged. ..God, yes, he liked the sound of all that. But he couldn't go back...not yet...he'd somehow lost his way, maybe was even losing his mind and he didn't know why, or how to get back. Instead of asking for the help he needed, he heard his emotion-filled voice speak, just before he put down the phone.
"I'm sorry...I'm so sorry."
Chris cursed the silence and looked directly at Vin as the Texan balanced a phone between his ear and shoulder while jotting something down, eventually replacing the handset as five men held their breath.
Tanner grinned. "He's in Oregon."
Dunne slumped down on the warm, dry, soft sand. He had never even heard of Lincoln City until recently, and on arriving, was instantly drawn toward the ocean. He stared out across the Pacific, hugging his knees to his chest as he composed himself after his emotional phone call. Why the hell couldn't he talk to these guys? They were like family...brothers... what was he so afraid of?
Duh! He knew exactly what he was afraid of...to have to face them, to be somehow coerced back to Denver, where he'd feel guilty for the rest of his life. None of the others would have walked away like he had...then again, none of them had been recently shot and accused of...
NO! He wasn't going to revisit that. It was done...over. So why couldn't he shake the words Buck had spoken, out of his head?"Did you shoot...?"
Dunne buried his face in his knees, rocking slightly to comfort himself as more words and images tumbled through his mind. He remembered the fear as he clung to his teammate."Josiah...I...I can't ...breathe..."
JD had thought he was dying...and no one even knew he'd been shot... except Josiah...and Chris, who had been shot himself. JD thought he was going to die virtually alone and being blamed for something he hadn't done.
And now JD was angry with himself. What the hell was wrong with him...why was he feeling like this? He and Buck were good...why couldn't he just let it go?
Never before had he felt like running away from the very people he knew he needed, had always been there to help him...so why now? It never even crossed his mind as to how being violently injured could affect a person mentally, it wasn't his first injury and he had never felt like this before. So...was this the real him...a coward now?
God, he felt so tired. JD closed his eyes, and started to drift off.
"Is that your bike?"
JD jerked awake. How long had he been asleep? Who the hell was talking to him?
He groggily looked up to see an older man, disheveled and unshaven, clutching a brown paper bag. JD dropped his sunglasses from the top of his head down over his eyes and nodded.
"Yeah, yeah it is...why?"
"Just askin' is all...if yer gonna doze off, ya wanna make sure it's locked up."
Feeling warm, the youth shrugged off his jacket. Not wishing to appear rude, he smiled at the older man. "Thanks, I guess I forgot."
"Best not be forgetting, young 'un...it'll git stolen." The man shuffled off, and JD was alone again.
Eyes now veiled by dark sunglasses, the easterner gazed out at the ocean, mesmerized by the water's movement and how the sun glinted off it. As he stared, he ran warm sand through his fingers, his mind attempting to sort through the myriad of memories that were tumbling through it. He found himself thinking about Buck...and Chris, but mostly Buck."...please JD...talk to me. I need to know you're okay..."
"Come home, JD. You have nothing to fear, we just want you back, where you're needed, and wanted...hell, where you belong. Come on... come home, son."
The easterner shivered, he wanted to go home, he really did, but...he just...couldn't. He couldn't bear it if things had changed, he had no way of explaining his behavior, or how he was feeling right now, so it was easier to stay away, and remember the good times.
As he gazed at the ocean,his mind drifted to happier times, his first few weeks of working and living with Buck.
Six men traveled in near silence in their rented 7 passenger Navigator. They were initially going to fly out to Oregon, but then remembered JD had taken his bike. The trailer they had also hired and attached to the back of the truck would take care of that little detail when they brought their youngest home.
Chris was once again at the wheel, Buck snoozing next to him, having just finished a seven-hour stint. Ezra snapped his cell shut.
"There has been no activity from his bank account except for a withdrawal he made, I assume, to go on the trip we canceled. I fear we may have quite a search on our hands."
"We'll find him." Vin's drawl was soft but full of conviction. "It's been too long."
They all nodded. They had only had the one call in nine days. It was odd, not hearing JD's voice and seeing him around, the only good thing about the call was the knowledge that he had seemed safe. Chris stretched slightly in his seat.
"We just crossed the state line."
Those few words roused Wilmington, causing him to look out of his window as he rubbed at his eyes. "Thank God," he mumbled.
"Amen, brother," Josiah agreed.
As the day wore on, JD had lost himself in his memories, thoughts of his friends, of his home.
Chris had given him a reason to get up in the morning, Buck had given him a reason to go home...he had given him a home, invited him to share his life. Because that was indeed what the two men were doing, sharing their lives.
Despite starting out as two very individual people, they had filled a void in each other's lives they hadn't even known existed. They had become as...brothers, sharing their fears and most intimate thoughts with each other. It occurred to JD now, just how much Buck had been prepared to change back then to help him out, and as his need to escape his misery overtook him, JD found himself once more mentally transported to those earlier days.
FOURTEEN MONTHS PRIOR
JD stretched and yawned. "Mornin' Buck."
Wilmington chuckled. He'd been caught looking in on the kid as he slept in Buck's spare room. He couldn't help himself, he had really started to enjoy the youth's company around the place.
"You all set to go back to work today, kid?"
The easterner sat up in bed, rubbing his eyes. "Yeah, I guess. I still can't believe Chris let me stay on the team."
Buck walked across the room and sat down on the bed. "Kid, you did yourself a heap of damage getting us out of the way of that truck. What you did was a little reckless, but real brave. Chris is a good man and saw it for what it was, and I'm mighty grateful to you, hell I'm even kinda growing to like you a little bit."
JD laughed softly. Buck continued.
"I know for a fact, Larabee's just glad you didn't do any permanent damage. You got a lot to learn, squirt, and six men willing to teach you...if you'll let us."
JD grinned, nodding. "I'm ready, Buck. Thanks for having faith in me and for giving me a place to stay while I healed. Once I'm back into routine, I'll get back to looking for an apartment."
JD frowned as the brunet went quiet, picking at the youth's bedclothes for a moment or two. Finally blue eyes met hazel.
"'Bout that, kid. I got ta thinkin', you and me...we get along pretty well now, right? I've always thought this place was a little...big for me. I'd really like it if you'd care to make this arrangement permanent. No pressure, just something for you to think about. 'Sides, it would help me keep an eye on you," he admitted.
JD's jaw dropped. "Live here...permanently? Buck...I...I'm flattered, I truly am...but, I mean...we work together...you like...entertaining... how could we make it work without driving each other crazy? I've only just gained you as a friend...I...I would hate to lose you now."
Buck smiled. "Well, think on it. For my part...I reckon we'd do okay. But you're right, it's a big step and I want you to be sure. It's not charity; you'd be paying your share. Anyway...like I said, think on it."
Buck got up and reached the bedroom door.
"I..." JD grinned. "I'd love to. I really love it here, and I kinda like you being around. I agree, I reckon we could make this work, just let me know what you need me to pay and when."
Buck beamed. "Well alright. Look out, Denver...the bachelor boys are about to hit town!"
JD laughed as he got out of bed to hit the shower. "You're so full of crap, Buck." He watched the ladies' man move to leave the room. "Hey, Buck..."
Wilmington once more turned, "Yeah, kid?"
Chris stood impassively, his arms folded, looking from Buck to JD then back to Buck.
"Are you guys sure about this? This job is very high-pressured, are you sure you want to go home at night and be in the same building?"
Buck hissed out a laugh. "Look, I'm not gonna lie to you both, there's a chance this could go wrong..."
JD's head snapped round to look at him, his eyes reflecting concern. Buck put up his hand.
"...but...in my heart...I don't believe that will be the case. Me and the kid get along pretty well...I think this will be good...for both of us."
"Good Lord," Ezra saluted them both with his coffee, "I wish you both the very best of luck."
"Well, it'll sure keep JD out of trouble," Nathan nodded. JD frowned at the EMT, why would Nathan assume only JD would get into trouble?
Josiah stepped forward, shaking hands with Buck and, after a slight hesitation, embraced JD. "Well, I think it's wonderful, an excellent solution for JD's need for a permanent home, and peace of mind for Buck." He laughed at Wilmington's glare.
"Oh come on, Buck, ever since JD joined us and then was injured getting you clear of that truck, all you've done is fuss and fret over him...right up to and after he got out of hospital and stayed with you. This will be a good thing."
As Josiah returned to his desk, Vin approached. "For what it's worth, I think it'll work just fine." He turned to JD. "You up to a session at the gym later, kid?"
Dunne grinned. "Yeah, sure."
With a nod of approval, Vin also went back to his desk.
Chris dropped his arms to his side. "Okay...I'll buy it. But if I see..."
Buck stopped him. "Let's not jinx this, huh, stud?"
Two weeks later and as JD returned home alone, from a work-out at the gym with Vin, the easterner groaned at the sight of a lady's panties, bra and shirt draped over the sofa. By the time he reached the kitchen, the noises coming from Buck's room left him in no doubt that Buck and his guest were doing far more than checking out Buck's 'etchings'.
Six times in the two weeks they had become housemates, Buck had 'entertained' and JD was growing weary of it, feeling as though he actually didn't want to come home any more. He didn't have a problem with Buck having lady friends around; he just didn't want to have to spend half the night listening to it. As his frustration with the situation grew, JD was slamming and banging around, finishing with a house-rattler to his own bedroom door. In the few minutes silence that ensued, JD relaxed and fully clothed on top of his bed, drifted off to sleep.
Alerted by a noise, JD sleepily reached for his drawer to get his gun.
"Hey, I know you're pissed at me...ya don't have to shoot me."
Unable to stop the momentum, JD rolled out of bed and onto the floor. Still a little drowsy, he pulled himself up to rest his arms on the bed, blinking hard as he tried to focus on Buck.
"Jeeze, Buck, ya trying to give me a heart attack or something? What is it?" His face dropped. "I don't have any condoms here, if that's what..."
Buck laughed nervously as he watched the youth scramble back onto the bed.
"Hell, no, that's not why I'm here. I was just wonderin' what got you so mad you almost took out three apartments, earlier. I believe the door slam alone reached 12 on the Richter scale." Buck watched the emotions wash over his new best friend's face. "Does me entertaining lady friends here bother you that much?"
JD wanted to say yes...but then, it wasn't completely true, he didn't really mind, just wished it would be a little less often. If he was honest, he was missing the fun they had had while JD was recovering from the run-in with the truck, movies, take-out, the guys dropping by. They never dropped by anymore...was this why? Buck could be entertaining... any night. JD sighed.
"I should move out," he said finally. "This is your home, you should be able to do whatever you want, whenever you want. I was out of order tonight, Buck...I'm sorry. It's been a long day...hell, a long week, I just wanted to chill out...I'm sorry. If you can give me time to look for..." He looked down at his arm as Buck grasped it...then up at the brunet's face.
"Kid...before you came here, I did this every night, well, unless I was working, but, yeah...pretty much every night. I've been trying to carry on as normal, but...it's not the same...not as appealing as it used to be."
JD cocked an eye. "Sure didn't sound like you were finding it unappealing. "
Buck laughed, "Hell, kid, I'm a man...I like having sex, but...before, I had little else to look forward to at night, now..." he smiled, "...now I got a little brother to keep me out of trouble."
JD was confused, and it showed. "Then why...?"
"Habit," Buck answered. "Help me find a balance...I really want this to work, kid. I've enjoyed the guys dropping by, watching movies with you, just sitting around, and talking. You're not forcing me to change, JD...I want to, just a little bit. Please don't leave, let's work this out...together. "
JD beamed. "Didn't really want to leave, anyway."
Buck returned the smile, "Well...that's alright then. What say we invite the guys over tomorrow night for some pizza and poker?"
Dunne nodded enthusiastically, "That sounds awesome, oh wait...I don't know how to play poker."
Wilmington laughed, "Hell, don't let Ezra hear you say that. Okay... we'll ask 'em tomorrow." Buck got up and moved to leave, turning back for a moment. He raised his right hand in the air just in front of JD, as if he was about to arm-wrestle.
"Promise me you'll always try and tell me if you have a problem, and I promise to do the same."
JD raised his right hand and clasped the larger one, looking straight into Buck's eyes. "I promise...big brother."
A seagull swooping close by startled JD out of his reverie. He looked around the deserted beach realizing the sun was slowly setting; he had been there all day. The easterner sighed as he remembered the promise he and Buck had made just over a year ago, cursing as his emotions got the better of him again.
"Sorry, Buck. I fucked up again, didn't I?"
Putting his jacket on, JD stood. Pushing his sunglasses up onto the top of his head and brushing the sand from his clothes, he walked over to his bike. Starting it, he headed for the motel room he had rented, prepared to face another night...alone.
By day fifteen of JD's disappearing act, the six men, studying yet more area maps, were jaded. No one had recognized JD's photo, no one had seen or spoken to him.
Chris picked up maps of Newport, Depoe Bay and Lincoln City, Newport likely to be their next port of call. He looked at the despondent faces of his teammates, his friends, as they sat around his hotel room in Waldport, dawn almost upon them.
"Anyone got any objections about moving on to here?" the blond asked, holding up the map of Newport.
They all shook their heads, but no one seemed keen to speak, startled as Ezra closed his laptop with a yelp.
"We have him."
Buck rose to his feet and walked toward his southern friend.
"Well, he's not going to thank me, but I've reported his credit card as stolen. A motel owner in Lincoln City answered the police alert that automatically goes out via email to all local businesses, apparently it's a courtesy afforded by the Oregon PD. He has informed them the card has been logged at his motel. I've already told the OPD to back off as this is a Federal matter." Ezra handed a piece of paper over to Larabee. "This is the motel the card is logged at."
With a whoop, Buck dragged Standish from his chair and bear- hugged him.
"Kindly unhand me, Mister Wilmington, you are wrinkling my clothes." He gave Buck a huge, gold-tooth-exposing smile. "But then, I can always change."
Larabee shook his hand. "Good work, Ezra, really good work." The other men lent their congratulations also.
"My only regret," Ezra continued, "Is that I did not think of it earlier. As I was sitting here tonight..." he checked his watch, "...this morning...I recalled a conversation JD and I had a while back about how everything can be traced if you know what you're looking for. As you may recall, before he and Chris were injured, he traced a few of Dando's recent purchases, making a comment about wishing he could see the guy's face when they cut up his cards the next time he attempted to procure items. I suddenly realized tonight what he had been referring to...I now believe JD had logged Dando's cards as stolen."
Chris took a deep breath and threw down the map of Newport, picking up the one for Lincoln. "Well, at least now we know where we're heading."
He looked at Buck and nodded to the weary, misty-eyed agent, receiving a nod back.
"We're gonna find him Chris, I can feel it," Buck insisted, and no one was about to disagree as they prepared to leave.
JD had showered, and shaved, and bought some new t-shirts. Sitting in his spot on the beach once more, he felt a little more at peace. The movement of the ocean and the bracing air had been good for him. For the first time since leaving Denver, he had begun to think about his next move. He figured law enforcement was out, no one would take him on after going AWOL like this. He was over-qualified for an IT job, but if it helped him survive the next few months, it would be a good fall-back. Without warning, he choked up. God, what had he done? He'd given up everything he had ever wanted. Why hadn't he just asked for help?
Convinced now he could never go back to the friends and agency he had let down, he decided he would move on...tomorrow. He nodded to himself, yes... tomorrow. He waved wearily to the vagrant as he passed by him, the man mumbling something JD couldn't quite catch, and then crossed his legs to once more stare out at the ocean.
As the six men watched from the truck, Buck's heart was breaking. They had spent most of the day searching for him as they realized he was not near the motel, finally finding him alone on the vast stretch of beach.
"Let me go to him," Buck said, softly, his eyes never moving from the young man sitting cross-legged on the near-empty beach.
Chris shook his head, smiling kindly at his oldest friend. "Not here, Buck...we need privacy. Let's stick to the plan."
Reluctantly, they all nodded, as six pairs of eyes stayed transfixed to the form on the sand, pulling quietly away when JD finally went for his bike.
"Are you sure this will work? Buck asked. Chris shrugged.
"Can you think of anything better at this point? The last thing we need is for him to find us out and run."
The six men sat quietly together in the Navigator, as daylight was fading.
"Just don't want the poor kid to have a seizure when he gets here."
Vin snorted a soft laugh, "Now, that really is something we hadn't thought of."
They remained sitting in silence, hoping they were doing the right thing.
An hour later, yawning, JD parked his bike, noting the Navigator parked outside the room next but one to his, but not really taking much notice. Balancing a pizza box in one hand, he unlocked his door, vaguely aware of the sound of car doors closing, as he felt along the wall for the light switch. Snapped it on, he turned as he felt someone was behind him, shocked as he stared open-mouthed at six anxious and familiar faces looking back at him. He touched his chest lightly as he gasped to catch his breath, the pizza box slipping from his hand as he did so.
"No..." he breathed, as he was bombarded with emotionally charged feelings of shock, embarrassment, and panic. He turned in an attempt to grab the door, get into the room and lock them out, but Buck was on him and touched JD's shoulder, alarmed at the anguish in JD's face as the youth spun to face him.
"No...no, don't look at me...oh God, please...don't look at me." He tried to turn again, shaking hands and fumbling fingers desperately seeking out the door handle.
"You... have to leave...you have to leave...please...I' m sorry, I'm so sorry..." Why was his chest so tight?
Buck grasped his friend more firmly with one hand to turn him, while putting the other hand against the door frame, concerned now at the boy's erratic breathing.
"Take it easy, kid...we're here to help you, come on now...it's us, calm down, it's gonna be alright." Wilmington looked around at the other five equally concerned faces, this was not going at all as they had expected and they were feeling decidedly conspicuous, six grown men seemingly harassing a younger smaller man, in full view of the complex.
JD was frantic, he couldn't catch his breath, something he had only recently experienced and had terrified him. He screwed up his eyes to try and calm himself and regulate his breathing, but it just made him light-headed, eventually opening them to look into Buck's worried eyes. He clutched anxiously at the big man's shirt front...and passed out.
"Shit!" Buck clasped the sliding form to his body as Chris and Josiah helped him get JD into the room and onto the bed. Nathan raised the youth's feet onto some pillows and checked him over.
"His breathing's a little shallow and his pulse is fast but I think he just passed out from hyperventilating. If you're gonna move him, now might be a good time."
Chris nodded, "Let's do it, let's get him out of here."
As JD fought to open his eyes, he already knew he was in unfamiliar surroundings. The room was large and airy, a far cry from the motel he'd been staying in, the bed he was lying on considerably bigger and more comfortable. He jerked as a stranger hovered over him.
"JD, isn't it? Hello, I'm Doctor James Carlisle. Your friends asked me to do a work-up on you, check you over. You'll be pleased to know that you're fine, possibly a little underweight, judging by your jeans and the slight hollowness to your face, and clearly exhausted, but otherwise, fine. Is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
JD swallowed nervously and shook his head slowly, his eyes reflecting a little apprehension at the unfamiliar person standing over him. With a smile and pat to JD's arm, the doctor left his bedside and walked into an outer room. Dunne watched the man until he exited the room. Unable to keep his eyes open, the youth drifted back to sleep.
Six men stood.
"Doc?" Larabee stepped toward the medic.
"He woke up for a minute. He doesn't appear confused, but he's not talking right now. His work-up was fine, though I highly recommend he sees his own doctor when he returns home. If he's wearing his regular clothes, I'd say he's lost some weight, and appears to be suffering from exhaustion. I see he recently suffered an injury to his arm."
The blond nodded.
"That may have a bearing on his state of mind. He's young and everyone expects younger people to be resilient, and for the most part, they are, but it only takes one time for an incident like that to cause something akin to a 'short-circuit ' in the brain and a healthy, happy, strong individual can turn to mush."
He smiled at the men. "JD's fortunate to have such support. It will help considerably in his recovery. Do you have any questions?"
"When can we take him home? Is he fit to travel?" Vin was asking, instantly.
"I would think in a day or two, yes. He just needs rest and time to adjust to you all being here. By what you've said, he may have been alone with his thoughts and fears for some time...just take it a day at a time, I'm sure a few days will be enough."
The doctor shook each man's hand, and left.
As the door closed behind the medic, Josiah stood and looked out of the window. The others waited, they knew Josiah was deliberating something.
"You know...that day, the day Chris and JD were shot, I held that boy in my arms and I saw a look on his face I have never seen before." He turned to the others, who were clearly hanging on his every word.
"I've seen JD scared...when one of us is injured, missing, or in danger, it terrifies him. I've seen him frightened when he's been injured himself, but what I saw that day...I'm not even sure I could begin to describe it. His fear is never borne of cowardice, I truly believe although he doesn't want to die, he is not afraid to make the choices that could end his life. That day..." He smiled as the word he was looking for popped into his head.
"...that day, along with the fear of what he was experiencing was... resignation."
The others looked shocked. Buck approached the profiler, anger slowly building within him.
"What are you saying? There's no way in hell are you gonna convince me JD was giving up on us. Is that what you're saying this has all been about? He thinks we know something...he' s ashamed of himself...what? "
Josiah placed a gentle hand on Buck's shoulder. "I can't say, son... maybe none of it...some of it, or...all of it. I can only tell you what I saw that day...and this...facing your own mortality is never easy...when it comes from violence it can do strange things to your mind, something I saw every day in Nam. Add to that JD's age..."
Nathan stepped in. "...something had to give."
Nathan continued. "Of course...I see it now. He's seen more action in a year than some cops see in a lifetime. The doc hit on it perfectly...a short-circuit. Something inside his brain 'blew' and instead of asking for help as he sank further and further down, he probably thought there was something wrong with him and..."
"...ran away rather than face it." Chris finished, positively relieved at the deliberations. "Damn...how did I miss that?"
"Getting injured yerself didn't help," Vin reminded.
"Wait a minute...hold on here..." Buck was getting anxious. "So...are you saying JD's not...himself? Do we have a problem here?"
"I'm deducing what happens next will provide that answer," Ezra said.
Nathan and Josiah nodded together.
"Well let's damn well get to it," Buck insisted.
The next time JD awoke, familiar voices were drifting through his subconscious. He lay there with his eyes closed, enjoying the peace and distant banter.
"You never were any good at faking sleep."
Dunne's eyes flew open and he turned slowly toward the voice, offering a little smile as Buck's face came into focus. Buck returned the smile.
"How are you doing?"
Emotion from deep within his chest bubbled up and JD covered his face with his hand, his whole body shaking. In seconds, Buck was on the bed and holding his distraught friend as tightly as he dared. He couldn't give a shit about how it looked, his boy was in pain, and he was determined to make it go away.
He rested his chin on the dark head. "You know...we gotta stop doin' this, people will start talkin'. Not that you're not fanciable or anything, but I draw the line at hair on the chest, even if they are few and far between."
Something between a sob and a laugh burst out of the younger man and he relaxed. The other five men had entered the room, deciding to stay as Buck talked.
"We're gonna have us a proper a talk kid, but not just yet, first we all need to get back to square one, take some quality time. But I will say this...we never gave up on you, just like you wouldn't ever really give up on us. This is just a little blip, we'll get through it."
The two men separated and sat up. JD scrubbed at his face while looking around at his friends. Tanner sat next to him and punched him playfully. JD smiled in return then looked around at them all, hanging his head as he spoke.
"You'll never know how close you came to finding out just how wrong you are," he whispered. Buck squeezed the back of the youth's neck.
"Nah...you may think that, but subconsciously you left us little clues." He shifted to see JD's eyes.
"This here bond we've all developed is just too strong to fight, kid. When we became a group of seven, something changed, both professionally and personally. Y'see, kid, it's simple...we all six knew ourselves, or at least we thought we did...then...came you.
"You made us all look at ourselves, we began remembering why we signed up for this crazy ride and think about what we wanted to teach you, help you develop into a good agent, and make the transition from boy to man. So whether you like it or not, and despite that huge personality lurking in that compact body of yours ... there's a part of each of us in you, just like there's a part of you in each of us. We're stuck with each other, kid."
JD heaved a sigh and licked his lips, contemplating Buck's words for a moment or two. Then six men were treated to a semblance of a smile. "You really are full of crap, Buck," he rasped, his voice raw with emotion.
Wilmington laughed, his first good, deep one in weeks as he touched the youth affectionately on the head. "Hell, yeah."
JD looked around at six men that had become his life. "What did the doc say? Am I going crazy?"
"Not from where I'm sittin'," Vin answered.
Chris raised his hand. "JD, Let's do as Buck says...get back to square one...see where we go from there."
They all nodded their agreement.
The team spent two days relaxing. As Chris watched JD and Vin chasing a Frisbee around on the sand, he looked at the others as they were sitting, soaking up the sun.
"I know this is gonna be hard, but I need for JD and me to have a little talk."
Buck sighed. "Yeah, you're right, pard. I guess we need to get back, huh?"
Chris nodded. "Travis has been remarkable. He knew we'd hit times like these, especially JD. His commitment to seeing the kid through this is absolute. Reckons the Bureau's lost too many good agents by being inflexible, ignoring the pressures. He's had us logged on a special assignment, so the powers that be aren't gonna come looking for paperwork, but..."
Josiah stretched. "Enough, is enough, so to speak."
Chris nodded. He put his fingers to his lips and let out a piercing whistle toward his two youngest agents. They acknowledged him and headed back toward the group, tussling as they approached.
JD sighed. "I guess we'll be heading back soon, huh?"
Vin nodded, "Guess so, are you up to it, kid?"
"Yes and no. I'm looking forward to getting back, working again...but..." he looked at the Texan earnestly, "...what if I've lost it, Vin...what if I can't cut it anymore?"
The sharpshooter grinned. "Firstly, if Chris thought that, he would have handled things differently, secondly...ain' t gonna happen, kid, this is over...I know in my heart, you're ready and strong enough to move on."
JD swallowed the lump in his throat. "Thanks, Vin," he whispered, "I sure hope you're right."
Tanner placed his arm around the younger man's shoulders. "I am, and there's no need to thank me for speakin' the truth."
The two men stopped as they reached the group.
"I think it's about time we had that talk, JD; don't you?" Chris asked.
Dunne dropped his head for a moment, then nodded. "Yes, sir."
They made their way back to the hotel to pack and to talk.
After packing their few belongings, they all gathered in the main room of the hotel suite. JD sat in a chair next to Buck, his leg jiggling nervously. He gulped as Chris approached.
"You okay with this, JD?" Chris asked.
Dunne nodded as he watched all the men take a seat. Chris remained standing in front of the chairs Buck and JD were sitting in.
"How are you?"
JD looked sharply up at the blond. He wasn't expecting that.
"I...I'm fine, I guess, thank you."
"Why didn't you tell us what you were going through, son? We would have tried to help."
The easterner hung his head as he fought through the emotion to find his voice, eventually standing to look directly up into Chris' eyes.
"Before I answer, may I ask you something?"
Chris returned the gaze. "Yes, of course."
"Have...have you ever woken up one morning, and despite knowing you have everything you ever wanted...are in the very place you want to be... with the only people you want to be with...despite all that, have you ever woken up and thought, 'I can't face this today?...I can't be here?'"
Five agents shifted their positions in anticipation of Chris' answer, looking on with concern as the most senior and most junior members of Team Seven stared at each other.
JD's heart was pounding, he needed this answer, wanted it, but was terrified it would confirm his deepest fears...that he wasn't cut out for this life, the only life he had wanted since signing up for the Police Academy, since hearing of Chris Larabee, and the team he was forming...the team that had a position to fill. He felt Buck's hand rest supportively on the small of his back, but JD's gaze remained locked with Larabee's.
Chris' features softened. "Yes."
The easterner was failing to keep his emotions in check. "H...how did you stop it from driving you crazy?"
Chris smiled. "I'm still working on it."
He took a step forward and held JD's shoulder. "It's one of those 'bumps in the road', kid. We all find them; we just have to decide whether they're a small obstacle that can be conquered...or the barrier that sends us back the way we came. The trick to them is to know when to tell a friend you can see one coming, or in our case...six friends."
"I...I just didn't know how."
"Do you feel you can from now on?"
"Good. JD, we each have military backgrounds, or are long-term serving officers. You have neither that kind of experience, long service, or age advantage. I never expected this transition to be easy for you. I would never have taken you on if I hadn't liked what I saw. Everyone screws up one time or another, especially when they're learning. Your strength is your belief in your ability and your teammates. Some would call it cocky...I see it as insightful and refreshing." Seeing he had got through to his young protégé, Chris issued a gentle command.
Dunne did so without hesitation, he trusted this man with his life, and would gladly die for him...for any of them. He felt his heart soar as those feelings of warmth, friendship, loyalty and trust surged through him, feelings he had been repressing too long.
He watched Chris reach behind him to the table, turn back and extend his hand. In it were JD's gun and badge. Once again, hazel eyes met green.
"This is a one-time offer, JD, I want you to think carefully about this. You've done nothing worse than any one of us have at some time or another, so this is about you. I want you to be absolutely sure what I'm about to offer you is what you truly want. I'm offering you a dangerous lifestyle, long hours, grueling work, dead ends, loose ends, false starts, endless searching. Dedication, frustration, loyalty, trust, tears, laughter, pride...justice, and six men who will stand by you till the bitter end." Chris extended the badge and gun toward JD's body.
"Do not take these unless you still want all those things...and no doubt, much more, but most importantly, don't take them unless you're prepared to admit you'll fail... often, get hurt...a lot, feel frustrated... every day, and remember that we may be seven individuals, but as a team we survive and function as one. Is this still what you want, John Daniel Dunne?"
JD looked at Chris' hand, then back at his hero. "I still have so much to learn."
Chris nodded, "That you have."
JD looked at them all, one by one, stopping on Chris. "Will you all still help me?"
The six men smiled at the endorsement, Chris answered. "For as long as you need us to."
JD offered a shy, lop-sided smile. "As long as that, huh?"
They all laughed softly.
"JD?" Chris needed an answer.
Dunne blew out a breath. Once more looking around at his friends, acknowledging a wink from Buck, JD held out his right hand, his gaze fixed on his hero. "Yes sir, it's what I want."
Chris placed the items in the younger man's outstretched palm, holding on for a few moments as he took JD's hand in his.
"We can't help you unless you tell us you need it. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes sir, I do." JD squeezed Chris' hand back. "Thank you."
"Are you ready to go home, Agent Dunne?" Chris was grinning now. JD returned the gesture.
Buck was on his feet and placed his hands on his partner's shoulders. "That it does, kid...been way too long."
As they all came around to welcome JD back, the easterner spoke.
"Can we make one stop before we leave?"
Six men waited patiently next to the Navigator as they watched their youngest stand alone on the sand and look out to sea.
JD closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, a long, deep, cleansing breath. He couldn't help but smile as a new calm descended on him. The vagrant from his time there, staggered up to him, looking around and pointing as he did so.
"See...I done told ya ta lock up yer bike."
Dunne smiled, "Yes, yes sir, you did."
The drunk continued on, waving his arm in a dismissive gesture. "I done told ya...if ya don't look after the things important to ya...you lose 'em."
"Sir...wait!" JD trotted after the man. Taking his wallet from his back pocket and removing a twenty, he handed it to the vagrant. The old man smiled and flung his arms around the youth, patting him on the back. With a wave, he continued on.
JD smiled widely as he watched him go, looking back at his six friends and nodding to himself, as he realized how close he had come to losing everything.
He thought about the words the vagrant had just spoken. "Yes, sir...you did..." he whispered to himself, "...and you were absolutely right."