Starting Over

by Becky E


NINE
Chris stood in the entryway to Mercy General's ER, waiting for Buck to arrive with their ailing computer tech. 'I knew I should have made him see Nathan after the way things went down. Damn, stubborn kid! Why'd he have to put up such a front?' the leader thought, guilt gnawing at his insides. Just as he was about to pull out his cell and dial Buck's number, Chris caught sight a flashing red light quickly approaching the drive.

Seconds later, the surveillance van jerked to a halt and Buck came rushing around to the passenger door. Chris quickly made his way over to his friend's side. "How's he doing, Buck?" he asked, his voice edged with concern.

"He passed out just a few minutes ago and he's real pale, Chris. I just hope the fool kid isn't hurt real bad. I don't know what he was thinking, running around messed up like this," Buck ranted, as he unbuckled JD's seatbelt, and looked behind him to see two orderlies arriving with a gurney.

Gently lifting the limp youth from his seat, Buck proceeded to lay JD on the gurney. Under the harsh lights of the entryway, JD's normally fair skin took on an almost translucent appearance. As the gurney was shuttled down the hall, Chris and the rest of the team followed.

As Chris and Buck looked on, JD was quickly taken back to an examination cubicle. Ezra, Vin, Nathan, and Josiah had already located a row of seats for the men to occupy as they prepared to wait for word on their youngest member’s condition.

"Excuse me, gentlemen, but I have a few forms that need to be filled out for the young man you brought in. Now, which one of you is the boy's father?" asked the desk nurse, a petite woman with deep blue eyes.

"Ma'am, that young man is our teammate, an ATF agent. As nice a boy as he is, none of us can claim him as a son," Josiah informed her, noting with a smile the incredulous look that crossed the nurse’s face in reaction to his revelation.

"An ATF agent? You’re serious? Just a moment, I need to let the Doctor know that your friend is a little older than he looks. In the meantime, would one of you please fill in as much of this information as you can? I'll be right back," the nurse sputtered as she hurried back to where JD was being examined.

"Well, I guess I know more about our youngest that the rest of you, so give me those forms. Buck, has the kid shared any important 'personal' info with you lately? A little help here," Chris indicated, settling down in one of the hard plastic chairs to complete the required paperwork.

Within an hour, the double doors leading from the exam rooms swung open, and Dr. Gibson, as his nametag indicated, approached the anxious group of agents. "Gentlemen, I'm Dr. Gibson, and I have just finished examining Agent Dunne. Much to his displeasure, the boy is going to be spending the night with us this evening and probably most of the day, tomorrow. Someone needs to let Agent Dunne know that a concussion is nothing to play around with. And running around in the cold, soaking wet, didn't help his cause, either. Right now, we are going to get him set up with a room and move him upstairs. The young man will be fine in a few days, but for now, we're going to keep an eye on that concussion," the Doctor informed the worried agents. Noting that he had the undivided attention of the six men in front of him, he continued, "We also need to make sure that the cold he has started to develop doesn't turn into something worse."

"Dr. Gibson," Nathan began, "How bad is his concussion? Fool kid didn't let us know how badly he was hurt, so he's been up and around more than I would have allowed, otherwise. He got pretty sick on the way over here, too."

"Well, after taking a look at the x-rays, I can assure you that, although Mr. Dunne has a moderate concussion, things could have turned out much worse. He just needs to take it easy and stay off his feet for a few days. I guarantee that when he wakes up, he is going to be sorry that he didn't take better care of himself."

"JD's new here in Denver, Doctor. No family. Can I run back and see him for a minute? I don't want him to think he's all alone," Chris asked.

"Yeah, Doc, I'd like to look in on him myself if that's alright with you," Buck added, his request earning him smiles from his teammates, as they realized that although it took awhile, JD had finally broken through the ladies man's tough exterior.

"Well, technically only family is allowed in, but seeing as the young man is an agent of the law, I think we can make an exception. Follow me, gentlemen," Dr. Gibson ordered.

"You boys might as well head on back to the office. Buck and I will be along soon to finish up our reports. Thanks for coming over," Chris stated to the remaining four men.

"Where else did you expect us to be, Mr. Larabee? After all, young JD is one of us, now. And we look out for our own, don't we?" Ezra inquired, an amused smile lighting up his often-reserved features.

"I guess you're right, Ez. I don't know when the kid managed to sneak in under our radar, but he sure has. See ya back at the office, guys."

Turning away from his retreating team, Chris quickly joined Buck as they made their way down the hall to where JD was being treated.

TEN

As he entered the small emergency cubicle, Buck couldn't help but smile, just a little, at the scene before him. JD lay, curled into a ball, and almost completely covered by the white hospital sheets. Tendrils of damp ebony hair fell over the agent's closed eyes, making him look very, very young. With a sigh, Buck made his way over to JD's bedside. 'So young. Did I ever look this innocent? Hell, was I ever this innocent?' Buck contemplated as he peered down at his new 'partner'. Unconsciously, he reached out and gently brushed the kid's bangs back, out of his eyes. Looking up, slightly embarrassed at his impromptu show of affection, his eyes met those of his leader, his longtime friend, Chris Larabee.

"I thought you didn't have time to deal with some fool kid, Buck? Coming in and thinking he knows it all. Seems things may have changed just a bit, huh?" Chris observed, surprised to see Buck looking upon his newest agent with an almost parental caring.

"Well...I don't know, Chris. At first, I didn't want any part of him. Too young, too green to be working with men like us. But ya know, over the last few days I've been watching him, the way he handles himself, gets the job done. The kid may be younger than any of us, but he's got it together. I just wish he didn't feel like he has some kind of image he has to live up to for us. And you're gonna hafta kick his ass for scaring us like this. Can't have him hurting and not telling anyone," Buck admonished.

"Yeah, I'm gonna have a talk with him, as soon as he's outta here. And hopefully before Nathan gets hold of him. That man is as mad as hell that the kid didn't let him take a look at him in the first place, so we could've avoided all this," Chris said, rubbing at his neck to relieve the tension created in the last few hours.

Unbeknownst to the two men, JD had been lying there, his eyes closed, feigning sleep as he listened to them speak. He was surprised by Buck's words of praise, and it warmed his heart to know that the ladies man seemed to care so much about his welfare. He was also a little surprised to hear that Nathan and Chris held similar feelings. Never before had he worked with people who actually saw him as a valued teammate, rather than some whiz kid to answer to their every whim. Unwilling to break the spell created by his two teammates, JD continued to lay, eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of Buck's hand gently stroking the hair from his forehead.

"So, the doc says your gonna be here a little while, kid. I guess we better let you get some rest," Buck said, in a soft, comforting voice. He was unaware that JD was hanging on his every word.

"Damn, kid, I'm too old to be worrying like this. You'd better behave yourself and get better," Chris added, taking a moment to gently squeeze the youth's shoulder before motioning to Buck that it was time to leave.

As the two agents left the cubicle, they stopped at the nurse's desk. The two exhausted men were greeted with a warm smile from the night nurse as she looked up from her computer.

"Good evening, ma'am. Could you tell us when our teammate, the young man in cubicle three, will be released? I want to make sure and be here to pick him up," Buck stated.

"Let me see. Ah, Agent Dunne, correct?" she inquired. Receiving a nod, she continued, "It looks like he'll be released sometime late tomorrow, if all goes well."

"If all goes well? Does the Doctor anticipate problems?" Chris asked, concerned to hear that there was still a chance that JD was hurt worse than they had previously thought.

"Well, the notes here indicate that in addition to the concussion, the young man is also suffering from slight hypothermia and some chest congestion as of his last check. I think Dr. Gibson just wants to be sure that Mr. Dunne doesn't develop any type of complications," the nurse said, trying to sooth the two agents' worry.

"Alright, I guess we'll be heading out now. Here's my cell phone number and my home number. If JD has any problems, don't hesitate to call me. The boy has no family here, so I am listed as his emergency contact," Chris informed the nurse, his expression serious, as he stated his information.

"Not to worry, Agent Larabee, I will make sure you are notified if his condition changes at all. Just give us a call later tomorrow about when the young man will be released."

"Ma'am, here's my numbers as well. JD is my partner, and I'd like to be here, if he gets to feeling any worse," Buck stated, glaring at Chris when the leader shook his head in disbelief.

"Partner? So now the kid's your partner. I never thought I'd see the day," Chris laughed as the two men exited the ER.

"Don't you start, Chris! The kid doesn't have a soul to look after him, being new to Denver and all. I'm just offering to make sure he's not all alone if something happens. He may be an irritating little shit, but he grows on you after a while," Buck reasoned. There was no way to hide the fact that he was beginning to really care about the dark-haired youth that refused to back down, even when faced with Buck's less than warm welcome.

"Hey, don't get so defensive, Bucklin! It's just been a long time since I've heard you call someone other than me your partner. Hell, it's good to see the two of you working together so well. The kid needs someone to make sure he learns the ropes. And you could stand to pick up a thing or two from him, too."

As Chris maneuvered his black Ram out of the parking lot, both men mentally prepared for the task of finishing up their reports, and for the chance to get some rest before the start of a new day.

ELEVEN

After hearing Buck and Chris exit his cubicle, JD carefully rolled over onto his back, careful not to move too quickly. He slowly opened his eyes; the harsh lighting causing him to squint as spikes of pain drove through his skull. It had taken his last reserve of self-control to not acknowledge the comforting comments of his two fellow agents as they spoke of him as if he were truly important to them.

'It's been so long since someone took the time to care about me. Not since Mom got sick. I forgot how good it feels,' the exhausted agent thought.

"Well, look who’s awake again. We'll be moving you upstairs to your room in just a few minutes, Agent Dunne," Dr. Gibson revealed as he efficiently//delete 'efficiently// checked JD's chart.

"Dr. Gibson, sir... I 'm sorry, but I won't be staying. I just need to get my clothes and then I'll be leaving," the pale youth informed the physician as he cautiously pulled himself upright and swung his legs over the side of the bed. If it hadn't been for the strong hand of the Doctor grasping his upper arm to steady him, JD most likely would have slipped right down to the floor.

"Son, you're not going anywhere! Other than to a bed on the third floor. Take a look at yourself! You have a concussion, the beginnings of a wonderful cold or flu, and up until just a few moments ago, you didn't even have the strength to keep your eyes open," the exasperated physician observed.

"I'm fine. My head hurts a little, but it's no big deal. I'm just gonna call a cab and go home to bed. Now, what do I need to do to get out of here, Doctor?" JD asked, trying to sound stern and mature as Doctor Gibson towered over him, his face lined with irritation.

"Well, Agent Dunne, if you insist on checking yourself out of this facility, against medical advice, I have no way to stop you. But be advised, concussions are nothing to take lightly. You could lapse into a coma, suffer convulsions, or a myriad of other things. And pneumonia's no walk in the park either. If you insist on this rash behavior, young man, will you at least allow me to call you boss, or Agent Wilmington, to come and assist you in getting home?'' The Doctor was now leaning against the facing cabinets, running his hand roughly through his thinning hair as he admonished the young agent.

"No! Don't bother Chris or Buck; they have a lot of work to do on the case we just finished. I'm a grown man. I can take care of myself," JD advised, desperate to avoid his teammates finding out that he left the hospital against orders. 'I just can't stay here! My insurance doesn't take effect for another three weeks, and I have almost no cash as it is,' JD worried as he tried to pull himself together, to convince this man before him that he really could look after himself.

"Well, Agent Dunne, I'll have the nurse bring you the appropriate paperwork for your release. But as to your clothes, I guess you'll have to make do with a pair of scrubs. Your things are still sopping wet. I'll have them bagged up for you. Please take care of yourself, son." And with that the Doctor left JD alone with his thoughts.

An hour later, JD wearily exited the cab that had shuttled him from the hospital to his current home. Carrying his wet clothes and his personal effects in a plastic bag, he slowly made his way to his room and fumbled with the key, before finally making his way inside. Dropping his belongings in the corner, the shivering youth laid down and drew the rough covers up to his chin as he struggled to bring some warmth to his abused body. Within minutes his eyelids slid shut, and he descended into the welcome darkness of sleep.

TWELVE

"What do you mean, he's no longer a patient there? How the hell do you lose an ATF agent, especially one like JD? The kid's like a damn puppy, you just can't miss him!" Buck roared into the standard issue desk phone that was in danger of being slammed to the floor at any second.

"Buck? Buck! Give me the damn phone!" Chris Larabee demanded as he watched his fellow agent begin to turn an interesting shade of crimson.

"Yes, ma'am. No, you will not have to speak with Agent Wilmington, again. I'm sorry... Ma'am just tell me, where is my agent? Yes, Agent JD Dunne. Kinda on the short side, black hair, concussion...What the hell! He did what? No, ma'am! Please, don't hang up! Ma'am... Shit!" Chris exploded as the other five members of Team Seven looked on in concern.

"Well, gentlemen, it seems our brilliant computer tech checked himself out last night against the Doctor's advice. Little shit insisted he was a big boy, and could take care of himself. Vin, look in my drawer for JD's file and bring it here. I need to get the kid's address so that I can go over there and ring his scrawny little neck!" The team's leader had to take a moment to calm down before proceeding to leaf through the file Vin handed to him.

"Plumosa Avenue? There aren't any apartments over that way. Where the hell is the kid staying? Ezra, dial this number. Find out just where it is that our young friend calls home," Chris instructed.

The others looked on as Ezra dialed the number Chris had indicated. The Southerner’s face took on a disapproving look as he inquired about the establishment. Politely thanking the individual on the other end of the connection, the Southerner hung up his phone and faced his fellow agents. "It seems, gentlemen, that Mr. Dunne has taken up residence at the Sunrise Motel. Room 314," the undercover revealed.

"God, that place's a dump," Vin stated with a look of distaste. "If you guys think my place's bad, that place is worse!"

"Damn fool kid! Doesn't have a clue as to how to look after himself! He's gonna end up getting himself shot over there!" Buck ranted, already putting on his jacket and grabbing his keys from his top drawer.

"Where do you think you're going, Buck? You stay here. I'll run over there and have a few choice words with the kid," Chris ordered.

"Now Chris, you know if someone don't go with you, you'll end up causing that boy more hurt than the darn concussion he already has. I'll just go with you, make sure you don't hurt him too bad," Buck reasoned, with a mischievous grin.

"Buck, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you've developed a soft spot for our young friend," Josiah teased from his seat across the room.

"Yeah, Buck, since when did you start worrying about Chris beating up on the kid?" Vin continued.

"I'm not going soft! And I'm not worried! I just think Chris might need a hand is all," Buck barked indignantly.

"Enough! All right, Buck you can come, too. Nathan, is there anything in particular we need to look for when we get there? I know the kid should have been under observation with that concussion, and the Doc mentioned he might be catching a cold or something."

"Well, you need to make sure he hasn’t lost consciousness at any time, not having double vision, or still vomiting. As to the cold, take a thermometer, and get his temperature. If he's got a fever, make sure he takes some Tylenol and has plenty of juice and soup," the ex-medic instructed. "You sure you don't want me to go with you, Chris? Just to check."

"No, Nate. Buck and I can handle a thermometer and some soup. After all, we are trained ATF agents," Chris assured, with a smile. "See ya in a bit," the leader called as he and Buck entered the elevator.

THIRTEEN

An insistent pounding dragged JD out of the black hole he had descended into the night before. He attempted to open his eyes, but soon realized that might not be such a good idea, as he became fully aware of the throbbing pain in his head. 'Oh, God! Would you please stop beating on my door? Just let me go back to sleep, please!' the ailing youth thought as he struggled to find a comfortable position.

"JD! Are you in there? Open up! It's Chris and Buck!" Chris bellowed from the other side of the door.

"Chris? Buck? What are they doing here?" JD muttered as he pulled himself up to sit on the side of the bed. As he attempted to rise, he was overcome by a wave of dizziness. He staggered over to the door, and released the chain. Swallowing hard, trying to quell the sickness in his stomach, the dark-haired youth opened his door to reveal his boss, and his partner.

"Good Lord, kid! You look like hell! Get back in that bed, before you fall down," Buck ordered as he gently grasped JD's elbow and led the pale agent back to the bed.

Once seated on the side of the bed, JD looked into the concerned eyes of Chris, as the blond crouched down in front of him. Larabee placed his hands on either side the boy's face, alarmed to feel the heat radiating from his pale skin.

"Son, why the hell did you check yourself out of that hospital last night? You have no business being laid up in here, all alone, with a concussion and God only knows what else!" Chris scolded. Alarmed, he saw the boy grow even paler, his cold hand flying up to cover his mouth. "Buck, quick! Trashcan!" the leader instructed, as JD bent over and started to vomit.

"Oh God..." the young man moaned as he once again heaved. Tears trickled from the corners of his eyes as the pounding of his head grew stronger, and his body was wracked with tremors. Once finished, he slumped over, leaning heavily on Buck, who had taken a seat beside him on the bed.

Removing the trashcan, Chris produced a bottle of water from the nightstand and encouraged JD to take a sip or two. "Son, we need to get you back over to the hospital. Doctor Gibson is gonna have your hide for leaving like that! What were you thinking?"

"Please don't take me back, Chris! I'm fine, really. Just picked up the flu or something. I'll be ok, just need to get some sleep," JD hurried to explain. "I'm sorry you had to come out here and deal with this. I forgot to get up and call in sick..." He didn't notice that Buck risen, and had started to throw some of JD's clothes into a battered backpack, the agent shaking his head in disapproval as he observed JD's current accommodations.

"Kid, you are not staying here, sick like you are. Hell, you're not staying if you were well. You're going back to the hospital. End of discussion," Buck growled as he gently pulled the boy to his feet.

"No! You don't understand! I can't go back! I don't have insurance yet, and I can't afford to stay there. Please, just leave me alone. I'll be fine," JD pleaded, hanging his head in shame as he revealed his pitiful circumstances to the two men he had tried hardest to conceal it from.

Chris and Buck exchanged anguished looks as they listened to the slight figure before them beg them to leave. It broke their hearts to see the boy so distraught and ill.

"Oh, kid. What am I gonna do with you," Chris said softly, as he again sat down beside JD and awkwardly placed his arm around the pale youth. "Why didn't you let me know things were so bad? I could've talked to someone up in payroll. Gotten you partial pay. Something. Please, don't tell me that you have been living like the whole time you've been with us. You don't even have a refrigerator! How have you been eating, JD?"

"It's ok. I have plenty to eat. And I've managed things just fine. I know how to look after myself, Chris," JD informed the leader, trying in vain to look a little stronger in the face of the two agents' inquiry.

"Plenty to eat? All I see in here is a couple of Poptarts, some stale bread, and peanut butter, kid. You're a growing boy! You can't be working all day, especially doing what we do, eating that stuff! Now, I don't care about how we pay the bill, but you need to go back and let Dr. Gibson see to you. Now," Buck admonished, heading for the door.

"Buck's right, JD. We'll take you back and see what the Doc has to say. If he says you don't need to be admitted, then you can come out to the ranch with me. You’re not coming back here. Do you know how dangerous this area is? Especially for someone in law enforcement. You're lucky you're still in one piece, JD," Chris stated, exasperated.

"Is that an order? Don't I have any say in all this?" JD protested, though not very convincingly, as he stood, growing paler by the second.

"Yeah, kid. I think it's an order. Now, let's get you out of here," Buck said gently, leading the kid out to the truck, a warm hand resting on the back of JD's neck in support as he guided him towards the center seat of the truck.

'What are we gonna do with you, JD? It's my job to look out for my agents. Especially stubborn ones like you who are too proud to admit when they need help,' Chris wondered, as he looked over to where JD sat, between he and Buck, his eyes shut as he rested his head on the seat.

'What am I gonna do? I can't afford to be in the hospital, and they won't let me come back here. God, all I do is make trouble, everywhere I go. I'll be lucky to have a job after this,' JD despaired as the three agents began the journey back to the hospital, each lost in his own thoughts.

FOURTEEN

Several hours later, after having been poked, prodded, and drained of what felt like most of his blood supply; it was decided that JD did not require a hospital stay, after all. However, Doctor Gibson strongly suggested that the agent stay in the company of a friend until the flu he had managed to acquire, began to improve.

As Chris and Buck led JD out into the parking lot, JD clutched a small paper sack with a pain killer for his headache and an antibiotic to clear the infection in his lungs, as the two older agents began debating JD's living situation.

"Buck, he can come to the ranch with me. I've got plenty of room," Chris reasoned.

"Now, Chris, you live way the heck out there. What if he gets to feeling worse? Or you have to ride out to tend to that mare you've got that's expecting? Who's gonna watch him, then?" Buck countered.

"Well...I'm sure things will work out," Chris reasoned.

"Why don't you just take me to my motel, and everyone will be happy?" JD said, sighing wearily as the three approached Chris's truck.

"No way, kid. Chris, just drop us off at my place. I don't have any plans, believe it or not. I don't mind keeping an eye on him. And I have a spare room, downstairs. It's even close to the bathroom, in case you're still feeling puny, kid," Buck stated, satisfied that his argument was sound. He just didn't understand why all the sudden it was so important for him to be sure the boy was taken care of.

"Buck, you don't have to do this! I can just go back to my room!" JD argued, but deep down he really didn't mind the idea of staying with Buck. Not too much, anyway. It seemed that the ladies man had kinda grown on him, and he had to admit that the two older agents making such a fuss over him felt sorta good.

"Ok, I give up! JD, you're staying at Buck's. End of story. And Buck, don't go calling me tonight, when the kid is miserable, and you're going nuts," Chris warned, resigned to having lost this particular battle.

'How in the world did we get here? Buck and me arguing over the kid. We both must be turning to mush. The boys will have a field day when they hear this,' Chris thought.

FIFTEEN

JD wearily followed Buck into his loft. Taking a minute to look around, the young computer tech noted that Buck’s home reflected its owner: comfortable, yet practical.

To the right, as he had entered, was the kitchen. It had a breakfast bar and a small dinette set. To the left was the living room. It contained an entertainment center, a basic computer set-up, a long, overstuffed sofa, and finally, a faded, plaid recliner situated by the far wall, facing the TV.

"Kid, why don’t you sit down over there on the couch, and rest for a few minutes? I just need to change the sheets in the guestroom, and tidy up a bit. The bathroom's to the left, right off the hall. Here’s a pillow and a throw. Settle down and try to take it easy, ok?" Buck then placed the pillow on the end of the couch, and stood with his hands on his hips, waiting for the boy to stretch out.

"Ok, you win. Just don’t feel like you have to make a fuss and clean for me. I’ll try to stay out of the way while I’m here," JD promised, as he lay down and accepted the blanket Buck handed him. As he wrapped the material tightly around him, he reveled in its softness. This blanket was obviously a favorite in the Wilmington household.

As if reading JD’s thoughts, Buck offered, "I’ve had that old thing since I was about twelve. My momma made it for me. Nothing feels better than having it wrapped around you when you’re feeling poorly." Buck smiled down at JD as he remembered how loved he felt each time he’d pull the blanket out and snuggle into it. Judging by the relaxed look on the kid’s face, it had the same affect on his young partner. ‘Poor kid. Just needs someone to look out for him for a while. I bet no one’s done a thing for him since he was just a little bitty thing. Damn, Wilmington, you sure have gone soft, just listen to yourself!’ Buck observed, as he proceeded to change JD’s bed and rearrange some things in order to make room for any belongings the kid might need in the next few days.

When he returned to the living room, JD was sound asleep. In repose, the agent looked so much younger than his twenty years. Sadly, Buck noted, his boyish features were marred by dark shadows under both eyes. Deciding that there was no reason to disturb his guest by trying to move him to his room, Buck settled down in the nearby recliner and switched on the TV. He soon found a Mel Gibson feature to pass the time as he waited for his young partner to awake.

JD slowly opened his eyes and glanced around in confusion. ‘This isn’t my room. Where am I?’ the youth wondered, taking a moment to remember that he was now staying at Buck’s place. As he sat up on the sofa, a glance to his right showed Buck, sprawled out in his recliner, gently snoring as an infomercial played on the TV. ‘God, how long have I been out!’ JD wondered as he rose, a little unsteady, and made his way down the hall to the bathroom.

Once inside, he quickly relieved himself. After washing his hands, he leaned against the sink and stared into the mirror. ‘What a mess! Can’t even get through you’re first big bust without screwing something up, can you, Dunne? Now you’ve got Buck and Chris, hell most likely all the guys, thinking you’re too dumb to even look after yourself,’ JD berated himself. He just didn’t know why Chris and Buck even cared whether or not he had stayed at the hospital, or where he would stay until he was cleared for work. Back home, no one gave a shit whether he was dead or alive, as long as the work got done, and he stayed out of the way. All the attention he was now receiving was just plain confusing.

"Hey, kid, you ok in there? You’re not sick again, are you?" Buck asked from the hall. He had woken up just as JD had made his way around his chair, and had been waiting a few minutes for the boy to return, so he could remind him to take his pain pill and antibiotic, lest Chris have his ass for neglecting their youngest.

Passing Buck as he returned to the sofa, JD replied, "I’m ok, Buck. Just looking for some Tylenol is all."

"Tylenol? Kid, you know that doctor sent you home with some pain pills. Just let me get you that, and your antibiotic, then you can head on to bed," Buck stated, as he made his way into the kitchen for a glass of water and the meds.

"I don’t need one of those pain pills, Buck. They make me feel too out of it, and besides…I um…think I might have a fever and…" JD trailed off, his voice small, as he tried to conceal the last portion of his statement from the ladies man.

"JD, did you say you think you have a fever? Come over here." Buck ordered, already preparing the digital thermometer Chris had purchased for him at the store when the three agents had stopped to stock the loft with soups, crackers, and other supplies to get the younger man on the road to recovery.

Knowing it was useless to argue, and too tired at this point to even think of taking Buck on, JD sat down at the kitchen table and accepted the thermometer. Propping his head up on his hand, he waited for the device to signal. When it beeped, Buck reached over and quickly removed it from the boy’s mouth.

"Shit kid, 101.8! No wonder you still look like death warmed over. No offense. I guess we’d better get that antibiotic into ya, and some of the Tylenol, too. Maybe I’d better call that doctor. He didn’t mention you coming down with a fever like this, before," Buck fretted as he produced the pills and the water.

Swallowing the pills with a grimace of pain as his throat protested, "Buck! It’s just a fever. I get them all the time. Really. I just need to sleep it off, and it’ll be gone in no time. For someone who couldn’t stand to look at me in the beginning, you sure have sprouted a fine set of wings as a mother hen," JD teased weakly. "Really, I’ll be fine," he soothed as he walked toward his temporary bedroom. "And Buck? Thanks. For doing all this. I know I’m a pain in the ass, but thanks." Moments later the bedroom door shut, and Buck was left alone in the kitchen.

"Not a problem, kid. Not a problem at all," Buck whispered. And much to his surprise, he truly meant it.

SIXTEEN

The next morning, JD’s fever was still there, refusing to give in to the antibiotics or the Tylenol he continued to take. He forced himself out of bed, and into the kitchen, before Buck had emerged from his room, upstairs. ‘If I’m gonna be barging into his life like this, the least I can do is make myself useful,’ the youth reasoned as he found the coffee and started a pot for his sleeping partner. He then proceeded to start breakfast by scrambling some eggs and setting some bread in the toaster. As he prepared the meal, he had to stop a couple of times to settle his queasy stomach when the aroma of the eggs became too much for him. Once the food was done, he made Buck a plate and then quietly ascended the stairs to the older man’s room.

JD knocked gently on Buck’s door to inform him that his breakfast was served. He had heard the agent moving around above him a few minutes earlier, so he knew he wasn’t in danger of interrupting his sleep. "Hey, Buck, I made some breakfast. It’s on the table for you," JD informed.

Emerging in a faded tee shirt and worn sweatpants, Buck did not resemble the object of so many women’s affections. His hair stuck up all over and he appeared to have problems keeping his eyes open. JD couldn’t help but laugh at the contradictory images.

"You made breakfast? I though you were supposed to be taking it easy, kid?" Buck reprimanded as he followed JD to the kitchen. "But boy, this sure smells good. Most of my ‘friends’ hightail it outta here without so much as making the coffee," Buck revealed, shoving a piece of toast in his mouth.

JD could hardly watch as Buck dug into his breakfast, full force. If the boy had been bothered by the smell earlier, watching Buck dine was even worse. He went to the sink and got some water, hoping that sipping some would alleviate his growing nausea and save him from further shaming himself in front of his partner.

"Here kid, have a plate. You could do with putting some meat on those bones, if I do say so," Buck offered, as he shoved a plate in front of JD, who had returned to the table in hopes of offering some semblance of company.

Quickly looking away from the food, JD could feel the bile rising as he tried to fight the urge to vomit. Within seconds, knowing the inevitable was coming, he bolted for the bathroom. Soon, the sounds of retching could be heard.

Shaking his head, Buck made his way to the bathroom door, not wanting to just barge in, but concerned that JD was feeling so sick. Hangovers he could handle, but he had a hard enough time dealing with himself on the rare occasions he had succumbed to illness, much less this kid, whom he knew so little about. ‘What do I do now? Call Nate? Chris? Lord, the kid made me breakfast, sick like he is. Why in the world would he do that, knowing it was going to make him sick?’ Buck questioned as he leaned on the wall beside the bathroom door.

Minutes later, the door opened and JD emerged. "Sorry," he mumbled as he started toward his room, shame coloring his already flushed features.

"What are you sorry for, kid? It ain’t your fault that you picked up some bug. Could’ve happened to any of us. And I have to ask, why cook breakfast if you were feeling so bad? You didn’t have to do that for me, you know," Buck reassured the younger man.

"I just wanted to make this up to you, Buck. For barging in here, making you wait on me. I’m just so sick of… well, being sick. I’m gonna get my clothes and head back to the motel. I know you’ve probably got plans, and you can’t have me hanging around, puking my guts out. I’ll clean up the mess in the kitchen, before I leave," JD offered, as he entered his room and began to shove his things back into his backpack.

Following right behind his partner, Buck gently grabbed JD’s arm and turned the youth around to face him. "Now listen here, kid. You don’t have a thing to ‘make up’ to me, you hear? Team Seven looks out for each other, so just quit thinking you’re putting any of us out. And another thing, you are not going back to that motel any time soon. You need to be someplace where it’s safe. Where you can have cold juice when you need it, and a soft bed to sleep in. I know you having money troubles right now, but let me help you, ok?" Buck said, his eyes never leaving JD’s face as he spoke. It nearly tore his heart in two to see JD struggle to comprehend the fact that he was really a part of the team; that someone other than himself was willing to share the burden of his troubles with him.

"I mean it, JD. I can’t stand the thought of you in that place. I have plenty of room here, and contrary to popular belief, I do stay home, alone, more than I go out. I wouldn’t mind the company. I know you don’t want to be here, but humor me some, ok?" Buck asked, noticing for the first time that he had unconsciously placed his hand on the boy’s neck, gently rubbing at the tense knot that had formed.

‘Don’t want to be here? Humor him? Compared to that room I was in, this is like heaven. I just don’t want to get use to it, and then have to go back there, again. But maybe, just for a few days…’ JD’s thought trailed off as he was led to the bed, and Buck urged him to lie down. Before he knew it, the warm blanket from the night before was being tucked under his chin, and the blinds were shut to filter out the sunlight streaming in.

"You just go back to sleep, kid," Buck urged, as he exited the room, leaving the door slightly ajar in case JD needed him.

‘Needs me. Boy, it’s been a long, long time since anyone needed me like this. Who would’ve guessed how much I’ve missed being able to take care of someone,’ Buck observed as he started cleaning up the breakfast dishes.

SEVENTEEN

After cleaning up the kitchen, and taking care of a few things from the office, Buck found himself watching yet another action film to pass the time as JD continued to sleep in the guestroom. Just as he was about to drift off to sleep himself, he heard the chime of the doorbell.

Surprised that someone would be at his door in the middle of the afternoon, Buck peered through the peephole and was amused to see a giant eye, which closely resembled that of Chris Larabee, staring right back at him from the other side. Grinning, Buck opened the door and ushered the blond inside.

"Where’s the kid? He didn’t escape from you, did he, Buck?" Chris asked, half joking, but also slightly concerned that the stubborn computer tech might have demanded to leave.

"Naw. He’s sleeping in his…I mean…the guestroom. You wouldn’t believe what he did this morning. I thought you said the boy scored really high on all his tests and things to join the team. Judging by the morning, I’d say someone slipped you a doctored up file!" Buck stated, returning to his recliner and waving Chris over to the sofa.

"Out with it, Buck. What did the kid do?" Chris sighed, a little afraid to hear the story Buck was so eager to share.

"Well, he somehow got the fool notion in his oversized brain that he ‘owed’ me something for letting him stay here. So at the crack of dawn, the kid gets up and proceeds to make me this great big mess of scrambled eggs and toast. Once he’s sure I’m up, he comes and gets me, so I can start my day right," Buck explains.

"It’s not everyday that someone makes me breakfast, so I start eating. Once I’m done, I see the rest of the eggs in the pan, so I make JD a plate and give it to him. Big mistake, because the poor kid’s so sick that before I can even sit back down, he’s running for the toilet. Come to find out he didn’t want to be some kind of a burden, so he decided to cook for me, sick as a dog, instead of staying in bed," Buck finished, irritation clearly written all over his face.

"Burden? He thinks he’s a burden? I guess he hasn’t heard some of the stories about your less than stellar female companions, has he?" Chris teased.

"Hey, wait just a minute…" Buck stuttered in indignation.

"Hey, Chris. What’s this about female companions? I wanna hear," JD urged, as he came into the living room and sat down on the floor in front of the sofa. His long black bangs hung defiantly over his eyes, reminding Chris of a small child afraid to make his first barbershop visit. It didn’t help matters that JD had arrived attired in a baggy pair of sweat pants and an oversized sweatshirt, and sporting bare feet.

"Well, if it isn’t Sleeping Beauty! Feeling better, kid?" Buck asked, hoping to divert attention away from the embarrassing tales of his more unflattering adventures.

"Don’t worry, son. I’m sure the boys will fill you in later. Now, how are you feeling? I hear you had a rough morning," Chris stated.

"Yeah, I guess I’ve still got a little ways to go before I start feeling like my old self. But I feel ok, now, at least for the moment. I was just wondering, when can I head back to my place? I’m sure Buck’s anxious to have his space back," JD surmised. He figured Chris had used some ‘gentle’ persuasion to get Buck to take him in, and he didn’t want to cause the ladies man any problems.

"Well, son, first off, I can’t say that I’m thrilled with the idea of you ever going back to that dump. It just isn’t right that one of my team would have to stay there when there’s room elsewhere. But as to Buck wanting his ‘space’ back, that’s up to him. I don’t think he would have told me to bring you back here, though, if he didn’t want ya here," Chris assured, noting the look of confusion playing across JD youthful face.

Daring a quick glance at Buck, JD tried to gage the man’s expression. Confused, the youth recognized immediately the look of hurt that appeared.

"Listen Buck, it’s not that staying here hasn’t been great. I mean, you have a nice place. And you’ve been really good to me, taking care of me and all. I just think it would be better if I let you get back to the way you do things, is all," JD reasoned, not wanting Buck to feel that his attentions hadn’t been appreciated. JD just wasn’t used to accepting support from someone. In fact, it was he who had been his mama’s sole support for so long, that the young man had all but forgotten what it felt like having someone else taking care of him for a change.

Not comfortable with the way the conversation was heading, Buck struggled to decide just what he was going to say to the younger agent seated on his floor, wearing one of his old shirts and looking so much in need of someone to care about him. It was in that moment, as he looked down upon those huge hazel eyes, that he came to a conclusion. For whatever reason, he felt drawn to JD. Buck wasn’t sure what exactly had done it, whether it had been the kid’s unwillingness to give in to Buck’s ribbing, or the way the he managed to be so damn likeable, even when he was annoying the hell outta ya, but at that point it really didn’t matter. Buck made up his mind.

"JD, I didn’t want to bring it up, with Chris here and all, but I’ve run into a little problem. Ya see, when I bought this place not too long ago, I was seeing a girl that I somehow managed to fool myself into thinking was the one. You know, THE ONE? I figured between what she and I made, the payments on this place wouldn’t be a problem. Well, come to find out, her husband wasn’t so keen on the idea of his wife splitting the bills with another man. So now, here I am, paying for it all by myself, and I have to admit, sometimes, things are a little tight," Buck said, amazing Chris with his ability to weave such a tall tale, one worthy of Ezra for sure.

Seeing that he had JD’s attention, Buck continued," I couldn’t ask any of the boys to help me out; they all have commitments of their own. But when you came along, and I found out about your situation, I thought maybe, just maybe…" Buck trailed off, waiting for JD to take the bait.

"Buck, are you saying you need a roommate? Someone to help with the bills?" JD asked, not believing what he was hearing.

"Yeah, kid. That’s what I’m saying. Now I realize that a young man like yourself, you don’t wanna be tied down to sharing a house with an old man like me, but…" Buck said, noting younger man’s look of indecision.

"Oh no, it’s not that, it’s just that you barely know me. How do you know that you want me living here with you? And besides, this is a great place, it must cost a fortune, and with the bills I’m still paying from when my mama… Well, I think you’d be better off looking for someone who has a little more to spend than me," JD finished, embarrassment and, what looked almost like disappointment, darkening his expression.

Feeling as if he had entered the Twilight Zone, Chris sat quietly on the sofa, taking in the strange conversation. He knew for a fact Buck was lying. Hell, his friend had had the condo for years, and made plenty enough not to be struggling with the mortgage. He looked on in confusion as the conversation continued.

"Listen, JD. If that’s the only reason you don’t want to stay, then quit your worrying. I don’t really need half the money, or anything. Just enough so that I’m able to indulge the ladies and maybe put a little back for a rainy day. I’d bet that if we looked over everything, that you’d have plenty to help me out. And admit it, staying here is a damn sight better than that motel from hell, now isn’t it, son," Buck implored, hoping the young man would ignore his fierce pride and just say ‘Yes’.

"Well, I guess you’re right. But are you sure..."

"Kid, I wouldn’t ask for your help, if I wasn’t. Now, do we have a deal?" Buck asked, not realizing how much JD’s answer meant to him.

As Chris and Buck looked on, JD took a moment to think about Buck’s offer. Deep down, he had a feeling there was more to Buck asking him to stay than needing help with the bills, but at this point, JD really didn’t care. He was just too tired, too ill, and too broke to turn it down. And having Buck around wasn’t all that bad, either. He had made up his mind.

"Ok. You have a deal, Buck. Chris, I guess I’ll be needing to make a few changes on my personnel forms when I get back," JD informed his boss, unable to conceal the smile that had lit up his face as he accepted Buck’s proposal.

"Well, alright!" Buck exclaimed. "Here’s to being roommates, kid. I bet I’m in for one hell of an adventure!"

END

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