Into the Fold

by Becky E.

Author's Notes: I would like to thank Ruby for her wonderful encouragement and Phyllis for her excellent job as beta. Also, thanks go out to Mog for creating this great ATF AU. Be forewarned this is my first posted Magnificent 7 story.

Part One

"Ok, let's do this. Buck, Vin, you're with me. Ezra's already in there, about to close the deal. JD? You stay here. And keep recording. You never know what these idiots are gonna say. We may be able to use it later."

Without a backward glance, ATF Agent Chris Larabee gave his orders and proceeded to strap on his Kevlar vest before heading toward the surveillance van's side door. Close on his heals were Agents Buck Wilmington and Vin Tanner.

Just as the three older men were about depart, JD remarked, "Mr. Larabee, you might need an extra hand in there. I've got plenty of tape with these jerks laying out the whole scheme, not much more I'll be able to get at this point. How's about I…"

Before the dark-haired man could complete his sentence, he found himself face to face with Larabee, who didn't look at all amused.

"Kid, I said stay here and that's what I meant. If I wanted to have to keep an eye on you too in there, I would have asked ya. Now stay put." Without giving JD an opportunity to respond, the older man pushed past Buck and Vin and exited the van.

As a flush of embarrassment at having been dressed down by Chris in front of the other two agents slowly colored his cheeks, JD quickly turned his attention back to the console in front of him. He replaced the headset he had removed just moments before in eager anticipation at the idea of helping assist with the sting. He failed to see the sympathetic, and somewhat concerned, face of his roommate, Buck, before he headed out. It had been bad enough that Chris treated him like a child in the first place, but to have done so in the presence of other agents was completely humiliating.

As the seconds ticked by, JD found himself getting more and more angry over his recent treatment. Finally, having let his usually non-existent temper get the best of him, he jerked the headset off and flung it across the van's interior.

"Dammit, when are they going to quit treating me like some dumb kid straight out of the academy? What the hell did they think I did back in Boston, write parking tickets? I don't know how much more of this I can take!"

Seconds later, having vented his frustrations, JD slumped down in his seat and ran his fingers back through his long black bangs, bringing his hand down to rub at his stiff neck muscles.

He had spent the last three nights holed up inside the tight quarters of the van, monitoring video and audio feeds of Ezra and Jackson Simmons as they worked out the details of their buy. The job had been quite a challenge considering that it was the first major field test of a newly designed audio wire. The wire had great range, but the quality of the feed at times became highly distorted, requiring the young agent to spend painstaking hours adjusting his equipment and making notes to insure accurate data for evidence.

It had also not helped matters that each night he had been paired with another member of Team 7, and usually his fellow agents were less than helpful when it came to assisting with his task. This was a job that required intense focus and concentration, and few of the team's other members were able to keep quiet or still long enough to be of much help. Tonight would be no different than previous evening for JD, with the exception of the fact that now he occupied his post alone, as his fellow team members took down one of the country's most sought after criminals. Once again JD had been abruptly regulated to warming the bench.

Later that evening the members of Team 7 were corralled into one of the conference rooms in the Federal Building, completing reports and cataloging the evidence gathered in their successful bust several hours earlier. Due to the sensitive nature of this particular case, the prosecutor's office had dictated that all members of the arresting team were to remain at the office until the last of the reports and evidence documentation was complete.

Upon review of their satisfactory handling of the evidence and case records, they would all be free to go. Needless to say, Larabee and his team were not happy, but they went along with the order to avoid conflict on a case that they very much wanted to win. It was now well after midnight, and all the agents were exhausted.

The late hour found Buck on and off his cell phone trying to rearrange his social calendar to accommodate the change in procedure. Nathan and Josiah, both whom had already been at the office making preparations for the other agents return, were discussing their need to get home and prepare their plans for the next day, which was Saturday. Chris and Vin rounded out the crew of agitated agents, waiting for their release by pacing up and down the length of the room and periodically muttering to themselves about why everything was taking so long. As each of the agents dealt with the strain of the day's work, none seemed to notice that one of their own was still feverishly at work, oblivious, or so they might have thought, to their displeasure.

JD found himself, not for the first time since reaching the office, cursing the archaic system the ATF utilized for records and evidence cataloging. The night's sting had brought into their hands literally hundreds of stolen guns, explosives, and other illegal goods that had to be cataloged for evidence. Each entry was complex and there was no margin for error.

The prosecutor had asked as soon as the agents had arrived which of them was responsible for handling the evidence recording, and when JD identified himself as the agent in charge of the collection, he had been met with the rather rude, but not unexpected, comment of "You've got to be joking! I haven't spent the last five months building this case to have some kid screw it up! Get me a real agent in here!"

It had taken all of JD's self control not to lay the prosecutor out on his European suit-covered ass. If it hadn't been for Chris stepping in and informing the man, in a tone that permitted no contradiction, that JD was one of his agents and was perfectly capable of handling the task, they still would have been standing out in the hall. As it was, they were all still confined to the conference room, waiting for JD to finish.

As the hours passed, Nathan took note of the way JD kept pausing in his work to pinch the bridge of his nose or rub his eyes. The boy had lines of pain etched in his naturally pale skin, his pallor accented by the dark circles under both eyes. JD had mentioned earlier in the week that he had been getting very little sleep, and that, combined with the stress of finishing so everyone could go home, was taking it's toll on the youth. The team's medic clearly recognized the signs of a stress-induced headache and decided he needed to offer the young man some relief.

Nathan made his way to JD's side. Crouching down beside the young man, he gently laid his hand on JD's leg, not wanting to startle him.

"How bad is your head, JD? You shouldn't keep pushing yourself. The last thing you want is a migraine. Let me tell ya, they're no fun."

JD slowed the pace of his typing and looked at Nathan. "I know they're no fun, Nathan, I've had them before. Computer work tends to lend itself to headaches. It's just been a long time since I've got one like this. I guess I'm overdue. Once I get out of here, I'm going to go to bed and try to sleep it off."

With that said, he resumed his work, never acknowledging Nathan's further attempts to access his condition. The sooner he could get done, the sooner he could crash.

As the clock ticked past 2 AM, Buck was swiveling around and around in one of the room's overstuffed chairs, his head thrown back, eyes closed, as he tried to reason with his latest flavor of the month.

"I know darling, I am trying. If it weren't for being stuck here, trying to close this case out, I'd already be snuggled right down there with ya. As soon as I can get out…" The sound of JD's laptop smacking the table abruptly cut his roommate's pleading to a halt.

"Will you shut the hell up, Buck?! Maybe if you and the guys would just hush up so I can hear myself think, we might all get out of here before sun up. I have got a headache trying to pound my eyes right out of my head, and none of your whining is going to help things."

After his angry outburst, it seemed as if all of the younger man's energy drained away, leaving him hunching over the computer, typing with one hand and rubbing at his throbbing forehead with the other.

Chris, not one to take such an outburst from one of his men, turned to JD and growled "Now wait a damn minute, JD! We're all tired, but yelling at Buck…"

"No, you wait a minute! I have had it with you guys treating me like some kid when the action's on and then expecting me to work miracles when it comes to the computer work. You guys have no respect for me at all. But I shouldn't be surprised. That's how it always is. You all think I'm too young to be of use in a bust, but expect me to take care of all the clean up while you move right on to the next case. Well, maybe you guys should take care of this crap yourselves for a change!"

Beyond caring if he had hurt the others feelings, or if his behavior was unprofessional, JD pushed away from the conference table, got up, and walked right past Chris, slamming the door on his way out.

The other men in the room had stopped whatever they were doing and now stared at one another in shock. They had never known JD to have such an outburst before. The agent was one of the most even-tempered, and laid back, men they knew.

After a moment, Larabee seemed to come out of his momentary paralysis, and rushed out the door in pursuit of his youngest agent. Having obviously missed him at the elevator, he rushed down the stairs to the garage, arriving just as JD was pulling on his helmet and starting his motorcycle.

"JD! Get the hell back up there, now. I don't know what you think you're doing, but I will not abide with you just getting up and leaving this job," Chris yelled as he made his way across the nearly vacant garage towards the younger man.

JD continued to adjust his helmet, seemingly oblivious to his leader's order. As he pulled out of the garage, he could still here Larabee bellowing in the background. After the past weeks, JD recalled how he felt like more of a burden to the team than a strength and it was all he could do to keep the tears of pain and frustration from blinding him as he sped off down the highway.

Part Two

Monday morning dawned cold and gray, comparable to Buck Wilmington's mood. Team 7's resident playboy had spent his weekend, not in the company of his current female companion, but instead sharing the time with his long time friend, and now boss, Chris Larabee. The two men had visited every place they could think of that would have held even the slightest appeal to the team's youngest member. They had pulled in several favors from the local PD, asking to be informed if anyone spotted JD's motorcycle, or its rider. Hours were spent on the phone trying to track the young man down, to no avail. It seemed that for such an inexperienced agent, Mr. JD Dunne had done a pretty good job of giving Denver's finest the slip. And the Magnificent 7, or 6 as the case might be, were very anxious to find him.

"When I get my hands on his scrawny ass, that kid's going to wish he had never left Boston. If he thinks things were bad before, just wait…" Buck's tirade was cut short by the raised hand of his oldest friend.

"Listen Buck, I know you're mad at the kid. Hell, so am I. But, as pissed off at him as I am, I know there's something rattling around inside that genius brain of his that we're missing here. You know that kid takes this job real serious; probably more so than the rest of us. It just ain't like JD to leave a job undone. We've got to find the kid and get to the bottom of this. And fast. Before Travis gets wind that it was Ezra, and not JD, who finished up the Simmon's case. If the kid's worried at all about the trouble he's in with me, he better be worrying about the trouble from the higher ups instead." Sighing, and looking completely worn-out, as one would expect to look after spending a whole weekend worrying, Chris sat down at his desk, his long fingers tapping out an anxious rhythm on the worn laminate finish. "Call the others in here, Buck, and let's see if we can actually get somewhere with herding our runaway youngster back home."

Just as Buck was about to open the door to the bullpen, the elevator door slid open revealing none other than the missing JD. Buck stood there, in the doorway of Chris's office, and stared across the room at his young roommate as JD slowly proceeded to his desk, never once meeting the worried gazes of his teammates. He carefully seated himself in front of his computer, turned it on, and proceeded to login and open his files, as if it were any other day. After taking a look at Ezra's handiwork on the Simmon's file, he cast his eyes down to the floor, and if the look that crossed his face was any indication, he was trying to gather the courage, or was it simply the energy, required to face whatever punishment was to be levied for his actions.

"JD. In my office now." Chris ordered. Buck, who had been heading out to talk to the younger man himself, turned around and headed back into the leader's office. "Not this time, Buck. Me and the kid, we need to have a little talk. Alone. Close the door on your way out."

"Now wait just a minute, Chris, don't go…"

As JD drifted past Buck and into the office, Chris interrupted, "Buck, I think I can handle this situation just fine on my own. Now, out." Sensing that Larabee was not going to change his mind, Buck cast a concerned look to his roommate, followed by a gentle smile, and retreated to his desk.

"Have a seat, Agent Dunne. It seems we have a rather unpleasant matter to discuss."

JD couldn't help but feel hurt by the formal tone and diction Chris used to address him. He sank just a little bit lower in the chair as he tried to meet the older man's gaze. He knew when he deserted the team Friday night that he was probably the biggest mistake of his life. Now his fear was confirmed. It looked as if he wouldn't have the chance to see if these six men were going to give him a chance to earn their respect and friendship, his time was, unfortunately, up.

The utter despair revealed in young JD's hazel eyes was almost enough to cause Chris Larabee physical pain. From the dark circles under the young man's eyes, to the too long bangs brushing across his forehead, to the trembling fingers clasped tightly in his lap, the young man screamed vulnerability and misery. Chris felt more like a father about to scold a child caught out after curfew, rather than a veteran agent about to read the riot act to a subordinate. Today, like so many days before, the paternal side of Larabee, which he had never expected to feel after the death of his own child, warred with the responsible side of being an ATF agent and a leader. "JD, take a breath, for God's sake, before you pass out. Don't get me wrong, you're in it waist deep for sure, but it's not like I'm going to shoot you. Whatever is going on with you, we've got to get to the bottom of it. Now. And no, you aren't fired either. Even though most others would have thrown you out on your ear as to look at you. No. You might wish after our little chat that I had fired ya, but you're still a part of the team. Okay, JD, let's hear it. What in the hell got into ya on Friday, and where the hell have you been?"

Still in a state of shock, and not believing his luck at not having to become a part of the unemployment line, JD opened his mouth to speak and closed it again, doing a fair imitation of a guppy. Chris couldn't help but smile just a little at the boy's obvious confusion at his apparent good fortune. The whole scene would have been very entertaining had it not been for the faint shimmer of tears in his agent's eyes. It was clear to Chris that whatever was troubling his youngest agent was no laughing matter. It was time to get to the bottom of things.

"Now, JD, I know you're upset with me and the boys, but I can't say that I really know just what we've done to make ya so mad. You know we don't mean anything by it when we tease ya about getting reports done faster or getting that godawful static out of the voice feeds. We know you're doing your best. Hell, you are the best when it comes to those things. You could put everything the rest of us know about computers and the like in a shot glass and have room to spare, so what is it we've done to ya, kid? What do we have to do to fix this?" It was often an embarrassment to him, and the others, just how much the kid brought to the team in the way of technical issues, as well as fresh perspective. It just wasn't in Larabee's make-up to heap affirmative comments on his teammates. He truly believed that each of them was confident enough in their own abilities to not require outward expressions of praise to be content. It seemed that his theory had been slightly flawed, at least when it came to young JD.

"Mr. Larabee, it's not the ribbing I get from you all, or at least that's not the biggest thing," the younger man stated, trying, as diplomatically as possible, to explain the pain he had suffered at the hands of his teammates. "It's just that I've spent most of my whole life trying to prove myself. At school, the academy, even to my mom. Trying to make people see that there's more to me than what they see, not just some lanky kid with a high IQ. That I can do the job, and do it well. You have no idea how many times I have had to show some idiot that I'm in this line of work because I want to do some good, and that I have the skills to make the grade. Every time you guys make me sit out to try and keep me safe, it's like you're saying that I'm not good enough to be here, and it's killing me."

Chris leaned back, arms crossed across his chest, listening intently to his youngest agent as JD tried to explain his actions. The boy had revealed more of himself in five minutes than he had the entire time he had been with the team.

"I left Boston to come out here, not just because of what happened with my mamma, but to try and make a fresh start. To work with people who would look at me and see potential, rather than another inconvenience to be dealt with. I really thought you guys were different. It just hurts too much to stick around. I'm really sorry if I screwed things up for you on the Simmon's case, but I'll see it through. When that's done, I'm heading back east. Maybe hook up with this computer outfit a friend operates. I've quit fooling myself into believing that I can make it as an agent. I should have given up that dream, along with the rest, when my ma died. It would have saved a whole lot of trouble for everyone." If possible, JD seemed to shrink even further into his seat. He closed his eyes briefly as exhaustion, paired with the stress of his confession, caused his world to spin.

Having been taking totally off guard by JD's confession, Chris found himself at a loss for words.

Interpreting Chris's silence as an indication that his confession had made little impact, JD took a deep breath to try and settle his head, and then began to rise, hoping to make a hasty retreat.

Before the young man could reach the door, he felt a warm hand on his shoulder turning him around to meet the concerned eyes of Larabee. "Wait a minute, JD, we're not done here yet. Sit back down."

Before JD knew it, Chris had steered him back to the chair, and gently pushed him back down into it. "What do you mean, you'll stick around to the end of the Simmon's case? That you're going back east to hook up with some yuppie computer outfit? You're a part of Team 7 and I'm not about to lose you, ya hear me? JD, I know we smother ya. Hell, it just seems like the thing to do, to try and keep you away from the nutcases out there. You're real important to the team, kid, whether you see it or not. Hell, Buck has practically adopted you as his own, and I never, I mean never, thought I'd see the day when Ezra P. Standish would unlock that lump of steel he uses for a heart to let anyone get close to him, but he has. And you know why? Because of you. You make him feel needed. So just get this crazy notion that we don't have faith in ya out of your head. If I didn't believe in ya, JD, you wouldn't be here. End of story. Now get back out there and get to work. And maybe spare a few words to the boys, especially Buck. They've been mighty worried about ya."

"But Mr. Larabee, …Chris, I…"

"JD, I know you've been hurt in the past, a lot, but this time's different. Do you trust me, kid?"

Looking up in surprise at such a question, JD replied almost instantly, "Ya, of course I do."

"Then get out there and earn your keep." Not giving JD a chance to continue the conversation, Chris diverted his attention to the ever-present mound of papers in front of him, his silence an obvious dismissal. JD stood, shaking his head in confusion, and just a little bit of awe, and returned to the sanctuary of his team.

Part Three

Upon exiting Chris's office, JD found himself contemplating how he was going to make amends to his teammates for his uncharacteristic behavior, especially Buck, who he knew was really taking JD's rejection to heart. If it hadn't been for Buck's warm heart and easygoing nature, JD didn't know how long he would have lasted after he arrived in Denver. The younger man had stepped off the plane with an overstuffed backpack, a laptop computer, and a battered cardboard box; his entire life compartmentalized into carry-on luggage. His first few nights in town were spent in a rundown motel room, watching reruns on a TV older than he was, and eating pop tarts from the corner store. Not the way he had pictured his fresh start at all. He arrived on his first day of work hungry; for both a warm meal and companionship. Within a week he found himself comforted by both; in the form of Team 7 and an invitation to become roommates from it's resident ladies man, Buck Wilmington. Shaking his head as he returned to the present, JD was determined to make things right again.

"Hey, Buck, wanna watch that new Clint Eastwood movie tonight? I could stop on the way home and grab it, and maybe get a pizza too. I mean, if you don't already have plans with..." JD couldn't bring himself to look at his roommate as he spoke, too afraid of the rejection he half expected to hear. He couldn't hide his relief, or his joy, as he felt Buck's large hand pat him warmly on the back.

"Well kid, I think that's about the best offer I've had in along time. Nothing beats a good pizza and Clint kicking ass to make an evening." And in a slightly more serious tone, "It'll be good to have ya home, son. The place has been mighty lonesome without ya." The two men exchanged contented smiles and each resumed their work.

As the morning drifted into early afternoon, most of the team had adjourned to lunch. JD, having felt guilty about Friday night, decided to stay in and catch up on some reports. The young agent had been fighting off a sick stomach and throbbing headache all morning, no doubt due to stress and lack of rest, and as he rose from his desk to deliver his reports to Chris, who had stayed in also, he found himself turning not toward the leader's office, but rather toward the men's room. As he weaved his way through the sparsely populated hallway, he prayed that his rolling stomach would stay under control until he made it inside. As soon as he entered the first available stall, he folded to his knees, swallowing convulsively as he was overcome with wave after wave of nausea. Finally giving in to his sickness, his gripped the sides of the bowl and began to heave. It was here, a few moments later, that Chris found his youngest agent.

'Ah, kid, you just can't catch a break, can ya?' thought Larabee. He was torn between discretely leaving the washroom and giving JD some privacy, and offering some sort of comfort to the boy. JD made for a truly pitiful sight crouched in front of the toilet, white as a sheet, and shivering like a newborn foal. It took all of a second for the older man to decide which course of action to take. Bending over the retching young man, he placed one hand on his forehead and the other at the center of his back, steadying JD, much as he had Adam when he had suffered from a rather violent flu. Chris found himself both surprised, and pleased, at the knowledge that even though his precious son was no longer with him, he still had it in him to offer fatherly comfort to his wayward charge.

With his eyes tightly closed and his breath coming in short, shallow pants, JD thought for a moment that he was imagining the warmth of the hand that held him steady, so much like his mother's when he had been ill. He was surprised when he finally looked up and saw the concerned eyes of 'tough as nails' Chris Larabee. "Mr. Larabee, ... I'm sorry... I think I must have eaten something that didn't...." Before he could complete his fabricated explanation, he found himself once again in the grip of painful heaving.

"Well, kid, I mighta believed ya, if I thought for one second you'd eaten a decent meal in the last three days. Just ride it out, JD, it'll pass soon." And with that, he settled in to ride out the storm along with him.

By the time the rest of the team had returned from lunch, the weather outside had taken a turn for the worse and rain pelted against the windows of Larabee's office. Across from his desk, well within view, slept one slightly feverish, and thoroughly exhausted, JD Dunne. Chris had managed to get JD off the bathroom floor and into his office where he had ordered him to take off his shoes, lie down, and get some sleep. A strategically placed wastebasket sat nearby, and a worn cotton blanket lay across his curled up form. As Buck entered the office, his boisterous voice announcing some new case development, he almost failed to notice the young man's presence. If it hadn't been for the almost comical 'Shhhh, don't wake the kid' Chris had issued, Buck probably would have sat on JD.

As it was, he immediately went to his roommate's side, concern robbing his features of their previous light. "Why's the kid in here on your couch, Chris? Damn, he looks awful. What the hell happened?"

"Now settle down, Buck. I just think the past few days, without your mothering, has left our youngest a little worse for wear. He just spent the last half-hour worshipping the porcelain god down the way, and I would've sent him home if the weather hadn't turned to crap. So I told him to lay down here and get some sleep. You can come and get him at five. I want the kid to go home, eat, and get some rest. We've got that Henderson stakeout tomorrow night, and I really need the kid to be there. No one gets a better surveillance tape than JD. I'd hate for you and Vin to have to try and get this one." The leader had an almost content look on his face as he ordered "Get on out there and finish up, so you can get him out of here."

As Chris resumed his glaring at the latest budget, and Buck made his way back to his desk, JD slept on, secure in the knowledge that his teammates might not always recognize his skills, but that they were always there when he needed them. When he headed out a few hours later, although still a little weak and under the weather, he couldn't recall a time when he felt as cared for or at peace.

Part Four

The following day, JD decided to get an early start at the office preparing for the team's upcoming case after having spent the previous evening lounging on the couch under the watchful eye of his roommate and allowing himself to truly relax for the first time in weeks. JD figured that it wouldn't hurt to get a head start since much of the equipment they were going to use that evening would require very tedious calibration and setup. As the other members of the team began to arrive, each was pleased to see the young man contentedly humming to himself as he adjusted the various pieces of equipment.

"Hey, kid, what's got you in here so early? Couldn't take Buck's snoring so ya decided to make your escape and come here for some peace and quiet?" Vin asked, with a mischievous grin.

"Who you accusing of snoring there, junior? I know you weren't talkin about me! That boy over there is blessed to share such a quiet and peaceful home as mine. Don't ya agree, JD?" Buck couldn't help but laugh at the expression that appeared on his young roommate's face.

"Quiet? Peaceful? Are we talking about the same place where I had to try and sleep through you 'entertaining' those twin stewardesses until 3AM the other night? I'd have more peace in a Toys-R-Us the day before Christmas!" JD exclaimed. "But no, seriously Vin, Buck didn't run me out of the place, I just wanted to get going on the equipment for tonight. Make sure there aren't any glitches I need to work out. Since I left out so early, I stopped and grabbed some breakfast for us. It's in the break room, so go help yourself."

As the other men expressed their appreciation at the kind gesture, JD just smiled and returned to his work. It felt good to joke around with the guys again.

As the day progressed, JD found himself very busy with preparations for the evening's surveillance of a very well connected, and sought after, arms dealer. This was one particular case where the younger agent was going to be the most vital part of the team. Although the other agents had more experience when it came to going undercover, or handling a raid, none of them could hold a candle to JD's expertise when it came to computers or the high tech toys used for surveillance. JD had even designed some of the intricate tools that were being utilized to gather information on the known felon. In the short time he had been with the ATF, the younger man had been consulted on numerous occasions to offer suggestions or provide support concerning everything from computer set-up to hacking into some of the most heavily guarded databases imaginable. It gave the other members of Team 7 an immense sense of pride to see their 'little brother' in action, showing more than a few 'old dogs' a new trick or two.

"OK, JD, you and Buck head on down and load up the van. I want you in position as soon as it's dark. From what our sources tell us, this guy Jackson is meeting up with some very wealthy gentlemen tonight to discuss a shipment he has coming in from Mexico. This will be the first time any team has been able to get close enough to get any evidence of a deal. I can't stress enough how big this one is to us. JD, make sure we get a clear tape, and Buck, you make sure that no one is the wiser of you two being there. I'll see the two of you later tomorrow to go over the tapes." Having given out his instructions, Chris stood and began gathering up his files.

Just as JD and Buck were about to exit the room, Chris added "And boys, try not to make too big a mess in that van, ok? The last time you two were out, the cleaning bill rivaled the national debt, and Travis about took it out of my ass. So behave yourselves."

Even though the leader was very aware of the importance of the mission ahead, he couldn't keep the hint of affection for Buck and the kid from coloring his statement. He was relieved to have the JD back to normal, eager to work and content.

"Don't you worry none, Chris. Me and the kid, we know how to behave. Don't we, JD?" Buck asked, giving JD a wink and sporting a big grin on his face.

"Sure we do, Chris. I mean, what do you take us for, a couple of little kids? And I have to say it, that reference to the national debt is highly exaggerated, don't ya think?" JD was barely able to duck out of the way as Chris reached out to swat him on the back of the head.

As the two roommates hurried down the hall laughing, Larabee just stared after them, shaking his head and muttering under his breath, "Damn those two, what am I going to do with them?"

'Well,' he thought 'I guess I'm just going to have to keep them in line. And what an adventure that's going to be. But, at least it's one adventure I am more than willing to take.'

The following afternoon found Team 7 gathered around JD's desk listening to the tapes he and Buck had made of Jackson's meet with his new clients. As always, the men were impressed with the level of detail JD was able to get. From the information JD and Buck had brought back, the team was able to start laying the groundwork for making a case against Jackson. Just as they were about to move into the conference room to continue their plans, JD's phone rang. He answered as he continued to gather up the tapes on his desk.

"Yes, sir, I'll be there right away. No, it's not a bad time. I will see you in a few minutes." Hanging up the phone, JD looked up to meet the curious faces of the other six men.

"Hey, don't look at me. I haven't got a clue as to why Travis wants to see me." It was evident by the expression on his face, and the way the younger man was chewing on his lower lip, that he was more than a little nervous about going to Travis's office.

"Well, son, I don't know what he wants you for either, but you best get on up there. Ya don't want to keep him waiting, I can tell ya that for sure." Chris stated.

"Good luck, kid. It was nice knowing you." Buck said with a teasing smile. "Now, JD, I was only kidding, get that look off your face." The young man's face having lost most of it's color at Buck's comments.

JD handed Buck the tapes he was holding and proceeded toward the elevators.

"If I'm not back in twenty minutes, Buck, you can claim all my sports gear and my bike. I just wish I knew what I'd done, so I could at least try to come up with some believable excuse."

In a moment, the doors to the elevator closed and JD was gone.

Entering A.D. Travis's office felt like being called to the principal's office. You just never knew whether you were going to come out surprisingly happy or with your tail between your legs. As JD walked into the room, the director reached out to shake JD's hand with a welcoming smile. Travis then motioned for him to take a seat in the solitary chair situated in front of his massive oak desk. JD shivered slightly as he slid onto the cold leather surface. 'Well, this can't be all bad if he's smiling' thought the younger man. He settled back in his seat and tried to relax.

"Agent Dunne, it has come to my attention that you have quite an extensive background with computers, and apparently I'm not the only one to take notice. Our office in New Mexico has requested your presence. It seems that they have to set-up a cover for one of their agents and they have asked me to send you out to assist them. I don't have all the specifics at this point, but in the interest of interoffice cooperation, I'm sending you out immediately. I will notify Mr. Larabee of your departure. Here is your plane ticket and all the information I was given concerning the case."

The older man handed JD a folder containing all the documentation he would need. Instead of dismissing the younger man, Travis instead looked at JD with a serious expression.

"Agent Dunne… JD… I have to admit, that you are one of the youngest agents I have ever hired, and I can't help but feel that sending you out on your own so soon might not be a wise decision. Don't take this the wrong way, but do you think you're ready for this kind of assignment, or should I try to find someone else?"

"No, sir, you don't need to find someone else. I can do this. I won't let you down sir, I promise you that. It looks like my flight leaves in about an hour and a half, so I best be going, sir."

He stood up and shook the man's hand again, gathered his paperwork, and left to prepare for his first solo case.

Part Five

As JD looked out the window, his mind wandered back a few hours, to his departure from Denver International Airport. He had been about to board the plane for his flight to New Mexico, when he noticed two men hurriedly making their way toward the gate. It was not until he looked up from retrieving his bag off the floor that he realized the two men were his boss and his roommate. For a brief moment, JD's heart had skipped a beat, thinking that something must have been wrong with one of his teammates, and that Chris and Buck were there to bring bad news.

"Hey, kid, did ya think we'd just up and let ya leave without saying goodbye? Can't believe Travis couldn't wait just one day to get you out to New Mexico. Just didn't give us enough time to give you a proper send off." The words practically flew out of Buck's mouth as he made his way over to his roommate's side.

Gently squeezing JD's shoulder, he said a little more quietly, "I didn't want ya to go without seeing ya and making sure you were ok." His warm smile helped quell any nervousness JD might have had about seeing the two men arrive so unexpectedly.

"Yeah, son, I'm gonna have to have a word or two with Travis about snatching my men right out from under me like this. Seriously, do you have everything you need for this? Got enough cash and all your paperwork? I can give you the Team's credit…" the leader didn't have a chance to finish as JD's flight was called.

"Thanks, Chris, but I think I'll be OK. Got my tickets and everything. I'm sorry to have to leave like this, but... Well…, I didn't think it would be such a great idea to say 'No' to the Assistant Director." Lowering his eyes to the floor, his cheeks coloring slightly in embarrassment, "Thanks for coming out to see me off. I hated not being able to see you two before I left. I have to admit, I'm a little nervous about all this. I hope I can do what these guys are expecting me to." Just as he ended his confession, the final boarding call sounded.

"Well, kid…, I guess that's you. You take it easy out there, and call us as soon as you can, ya hear?" Suddenly JD found himself engulfed in a big bear hug. As always, Buck seemed to know just what the younger man needed. The tension from just moments before slipped quickly away as JD returned the embrace. "I'll miss you too, Buck. I'll call as soon as I can," the young agent whispered as he broke the older man's hold.

"I'll let you know when to expect me back, Chris, …once I get settled. If you need any help with the Jackson tapes, just give me a call. Say goodbye to the guys for me, will ya?"

"Sure will, JD. Now you best get going. Take care of yourself, ya hear? Nathan will have both our hides if you come home exhausted. See ya later, kid." The older man watched as his youngest team member disappeared into the plane.

"I sure am glad we made it here before he left. I hated the thought of him flying out without us being able to say goodbye. Damn. I sure am going to miss him."
The ladies man was surprised at the depth of emotion JD's departure had evoked in him. 'This must be what it's like to watch your 'baby' leave home for the first time,' he thought. Turning to Chris, he caught evidence of similar feelings expressed on the leader's face.

"I hate to admit it, Buck, but I'm gonna miss the kid, too. I know he'll look out for himself, but I feel a whole lot better knowing we got to see him. I just hope those guys in New Mexico realize how special the boy is, that they don't push him too hard or anything. We've known him a lot longer, and we still don't do right by him sometimes." Sighing, Chris began the long trek back out to the parking lot.

Seeing that Buck still looked concerned, Larabee tried to reassure him,"Don't worry, Buck, the kid will be back home soon. We'll just have to have faith in him, and hope this job's over quick. Let's go home."

A few hours later JD was awakened from his impromptu nap by the stewardess announcing the plane's arrival in New Mexico. The young agent forced himself to quit thinking about how homesick he was going to be, and focus on the case at hand. He was anxious to get to work, so he could head back to his team.

"Agent Dunne, I'm Agent Saunders. Tom Saunders. Thanks for coming out on such short notice. When we got this case, I started to look around for someone to help us out with the computer angle, and your name was at the top of the list. It seems you've developed quite a reputation in the short time you've been with the ATF." The newcomer helped JD with his bags as the two exchanged greetings and made their way out to the parking lot.

"No problem, Agent Saunders. I'm glad to help. Hopefully, I can get your man set to go soon. I've been looking over the info you sent, and I think I can help leave a pretty convincing trail for your guy to use to get an 'in' with these people. Should be enough to make his cover look believable." By now the two men had exited the airport grounds and were well on their way to the ATF offices.

"I'm glad to hear it. I'll take you on over to your hotel so you can get settled. Then we can meet the rest of the team for some dinner. How's that sound?"

"Sounds good to me. I'm all yours." Little did he know just how true those words would turn out to be.

Part Six

The following days saw JD at the New Mexico ATF office from early in the morning, until well into the night. Unlike the team back home, these men showed very little concern for how JD was holding up through the unusually long hours. Although the young man was not unaccustomed to working odd schedules, Buck and the guys always made sure he had a hot meal and reminded him to take breaks to avoid getting run down. He hated to admit it, but as the days passed and he found his new 'friends' placing more and more pressure on him to process their fabricated 'money-laundering' transactions, JD found himself extremely homesick. Saunders was keeping such close tabs on the young man's activities that JD had only been able to make one brief phone call to Buck the day after he arrived. Since then, he had been kept tied to the computer, always with one of the others observing his every keystroke, until it was much to late to try and contact Team 7.

As the first week ended, and the second began, it seemed to JD that Agent Saunders and his men were becoming a little tense. Unlike the normal pre-raid jitters he had experienced when preparing for an assignment, the behavior of these men was almost bordering on paranoia. Unlike most teams, who never missed an opportunity to share stories of impending action with their fellow agents, Saunders and his group seemed to be going to great lengths to keep the details on JD's work to themselves.

This strange activity included the fact that even though JD spent the entire day working to set up false transactions and bank records, only Agent Saunders was allowed to handle the backing up of the system each night, placing the tape in a locked drawer. JD couldn't shake the overwhelming feeling that there was something going on, …that he was out of the loop. He planned to mention this to Chris the very next opportunity he had to call home.

Wednesday morning, JD decided not to wait for one of the team to arrive at his hotel to escort him to the office. He hailed a taxi, and found himself seated before the team's computer terminal well before the others were set to arrive. As he booted up the machine, he was surprised to see the flashing red light that indicated a disk still in the drive. Even though deep down he knew he shouldn't go snooping around, his inquisitiveness got the better of him as he double-clicked to open the files.

At first, nothing in particular seemed amiss with the data. Just the usual accounts and routing numbers he had created to provide Saunder's inside man with a convincing cover. These transactions were merely virtual representations of fictitious individuals and personal accounts. It wasn't until he really looked carefully at the records that he noticed that several of the initials and last names on this particular disk looked familiar. These few names would have been easily overlooked by the average programmer, interspersed among the false records such as they were, but JD saw them almost immediately.

As he scanned the data and pinpointed the names of the agents he had spent the past several days with, his heart began race and then pound in his chest. As he read down to the end of the list, he gasped out loud as one name jumped out from the others: John Daniel Dunne. 'Oh my god! Why am I in here?' Just as he placed the cursor over his name, preparing to open the file and see for himself what was going on, his hand was slammed down onto the mouse and the desktop. JD could feel the fragile bones of his hand grinding together as the unbearable weight continued to press down. Before he could react to the assault, his chin was roughly grabbed and jerked upward so that he was staring into the piercing gray eyes of Agent Saunders.

"Well, if it isn't little JD Dunne. Didn't your mama ever teach you to keep your nose outta other people's business?" As the older man taunted JD, his fellow agents could be seen just behind him. It was apparent that they were also quite unhappy with the young man's discovery.

"What do you think, kid? Pretty good cover, huh? And the best part is, you did almost all the work yourself. We really couldn't have done it without you. And I wouldn't even think of running home to tell Larabee about this if I were you. You know why?" At this point the older man released JD's abused hand and swung the chair around so that the young man was completely encircled by Saunders and his team.

Cradling his throbbing hand to his chest, JD looked up to meet the cold stares of the men he had spent his last few days working with. It was obvious that none of these men had any intention of letting JD cause them any problems. The young agent couldn't stop the faint trembling that overcame him as he realized just how much trouble he was in.

"I'll tell you why you're going to leave here and keep quiet about all this. Think about how bad it would look for the computer wizard of the Magnificent 7 to go down for money laundering and embezzlement. You know what everyone would say? 'Poor Agent Dunne couldn't make it on a real man's team and was about to be fired. What's a guy to do? Oh wait, JD can do 'anything' with the right computer, so it's no wonder he set himself up some overseas accounts and just funneled all that money right in." Saunders leaned in close, satisfaction written all over his face.

"And don't think anyone's going to believe ya when you try to tell them that we set you up. We're just a bunch of over-the-hill, computer illiterates. Hell, we needed you just to get the damn machine running, so how could we ever do something as complicated as this?" Saunders taunted as he took a step back.

"You see, kid, we might have needed a little help getting the money from where we found it to where we wanted it, but we aren't stupid. We've made sure that your accounts are just as full of 'dirty' money as ours. No one in their right mind is going to believe we did this on our own, and it's our word against yours as to how you play into it."

As JD fought to ignore the stabbing pains radiating from his hand, he tried to get a handle on what Saunders had just said. He knew he had to do something, he couldn't just let these guys fill their pockets with other people's money, even if it was dirty money. But as he considered the statements about what others would think of his being set-up by these 'upstanding career agents', he slowly began to realize that Saunders was right.

No one was going to believe him, and even if they did, the evidence in the accounts they had made for him was very incriminating. He struggled to keep the tears that had formed in his eyes from trickling down his cheeks as the other men continued to laugh.
"What are you going to do with me now?" JD asked, his voice barely more than a whisper.

"Well, son, I think your work here is done. In spite of your many hours of hard work and determination, the cover just didn't stick and we had to abandon the case. What a shame! But we'll make sure to put in a good word with your A.D. Travis. Let him know what a valuable asset you've been to our team. Who knows? You might even want to come back and visit. Right, kid?"

Jerking JD up by the arm, Saunders shoved him toward the elevators. As the older agent slammed him into the cold metal wall, JD had to struggle to keep from sliding to the floor.

"You listen here, Dunne. You get to that hotel, get your stuff, and go to the airport. I'll make sure you're on the next flight out. Just remember, not only will we see your scrawny ass in a jail cell if you talk, but we know plenty of guys out there that might just owe us a favor or two. Never know when an agent's cover might be blown or information not quite accurate. Could get a man hurt real bad. And you don't want to see Wilmington or one of those others go down, now do you, JD?" This last remark was said with such venom that JD literally shivered from its impact.

"No. I don't want any of them to get hurt. I'll keep quiet. Just leave them alone. All of them." The feelings of despair that filled the young agent's heart were almost too much to bear.

"That's a good boy. Now get going. You've got a plane to catch." And with that the elevator doors slid shut, leaving JD alone, in more ways than one