By Inches

by Phyllis

Note: This is a back story to Ruby's ficlet 'Why', and is written with her permission.

Expectations were running high. Three teams from the Denver ATF office were heading an operation aimed at apprehending the members of the biggest gunrunning cartel on the west coast and seizing hundreds of weapons at the same time. Ezra Standish, undercover agent for Chris Larabee's Team Seven, had worked his way into the confidences of the man running the cartel. Standish had convinced the man that he had a solid buyer for a large order of arms and munitions. The man, his eyes gleaming with greed, agreed to the deal with little or no background checks on the buyer. Ezra smiled at the memory of the intensive background JD had spent hours setting up for the team profiler. Now that the groundwork had been laid out, they would be able to utilize it on another occasion.

The three teams were gathered four blocks away with five hours left before Josiah Sanchez and Buck Wilmington were due to meet with the gunrunners. Months of undercover work by Standish as well as legwork by the rest of the team now hinged on the events of the next few hours.

Larabee climbed onto the running board of the SUV the team arrived in. "Listen up, people. We have five hours before the suspects are due to meet Sanchez. Standish is with Edmonds. The weapons are supposed to arrive after the money is shown."

Chris glanced around, assuring himself that everyone was listening. "After Edmonds vehicle passes this position, we move forward, but hold at two blocks. The weapons are coming in a Candler's plumbing truck. Once it passes, we move in. As soon as Standish gives the signal, we enter the factory."

He glanced at his watch and then back up. "Tanner and Stewart should be in place already. They'll be our eyes up high. Dunne set up surveillance in the factory yesterday and the sensors showed that some of Edmond's people have taken positions around the interior. Team eight? Those men are yours. Check the printout JD handed you. He has their locations marked. You handle them and the rest of us will cover my three men and the remainder of Edmond's crew."

Green eyes scanned the group. "Davis? You and Dunne go in the south door. Anders? You're with Jackson and the west office entry. Simmons? You and me are going in the front. The remainder of you will divide and go through the bay doors on the north."

A voice from the back called out, "Chris, what's Standish wearing? Wouldn't want to shoot the wrong guy." A smattering of laughter ran through the group.

The humorous sound died at the black glare from the Team Seven leader. A quiet voice contritely mumbled, "Sorry, Chris. I didn't mean anything. Just trying to lighten the mood."

"Lighten it at someone else's expensive." Larabee continued to glare for several silent moments. Finally, his eyes moved over the crowd. "If things go according to plan, Buck will show the money, the arms come in, Ezra 'presents' them to Josiah and Buck. When the three are standing together, Standish will give the signal phrase, 'Then we have a deal'. That's when we go in. Everyone clear on what's supposed to happen?"

Affirmative mutterings came from around the gathering. Nodding, Chris took the radio that JD was holding out to him. As he glanced down, he ended by explaining, "The local PD has the perimeter. As soon as the truck passes, they'll close down the streets and lock up the area. They get past us, DPD will pick them up."

Stepping down amid the nodding heads, he added, "Relax people. We have some time to kill. Coffee is in the back. When we get the heads up, we'll double check the equipment and then move in."

The agents broke into groups and scattered around the interior of the building. Larabee, Jackson and Dunne moved to a quiet area as Chris used the radio to contact Lt. Baxter of the DPD. After confirming that the police were in position and ready, Chris called Tanner.


Larabee shook his head at the short reply. "You set?"

"Yeah. Stewart is covering from the north. I have the south. We got it covered."

"Ez will call when they head this way."

"We'll be ready."

"It'll be a while. Don't go to sleep and fall down."

"Bite me, Larabee."

Larabee chuckled as he signed off.

"They okay?" JD asked.

Chris nodded. "Go rest. There'll be a lot to do afterwards." Seeing the hesitation, the blond reached out to grip the smaller agent's shoulder. "Don't worry. Those three will watch out for each other."

JD managed a slight nod and turned away.

Larabee and Jackson watched as he wandered over and joined two of the agents from Las Vegas. Nathan turned to Chris.

"It's going to a firefight."

His hands rose to scrub at his face before the team leader nodded. "Yeah, Edmonds won't go down without a fight." His green eyes wandered around the room, looking at each man, wondering if they would all survive the next few years. Turning his attention back to the team medic, he allowed optimism to tinge his voice. "Buck and Josiah are aware of Edmonds...nastier side. They'll take care of themselves...and Ezra."

Jackson nodded. "Coffee?"

"Sure," Chris said. As Nathan moved toward the table and coffee it offered, Larabee settled in for the wait.

"Well, then, I believe we have a deal, gentlemen."


The factory turned into a chaotic riot of motion as Federal agents swarmed in through doors around the perimeter. The felons scrambled to find cover, pulling their weapons and firing as they did.

Even as he was seeking his own cover, Chris' senses stretched out to seek out his team. He quickly located Tanner's position high in the rafters, protected by the thick, wooden beams, but with a clear sight of the floor. Jackson and Anders had entered and positioned themselves behind a stack of pallets. Dunne followed Davis as he dove behind a heavy piece of equipment apparently left over from the building's factory era. Finally, he located the remaining three men.

Whether it was incredible luck or planning on the part of the undercover agent, the truck that carried the munitions had parked next to trough that ran through the middle of the factory. Its original purpose was indeterminable, but now it served as a haven for the three men. Having Tanner and Stewart high in the rafters, they were protected from a sudden attack from above but had a clean field of vision to return fire from floor level to any exposed limbs.

Seeing his team positioned, he turned his attention to the gunrunners. Due to the size of the delivery, Edmonds had three times the normal crew with him. Add that number to the body guards he kept at his side and the ATF agents were out numbered even with three full teams.

A furious firefight reigned for several minutes. Luckily, with all the bullets flying around, none of them found a truck full of weapons and ammunition. Unluckily, they did find five of the agents around the expanse of the old factory. By the time the last shot had been fired, twelve of Edmond's crew were dead, including Edmond. Five others were injured while the rest had surrendered. Nathan was busy treating the wounded while Josiah radioed for assistance in the form of ambulances for the injured and police for the transporting of suspects. Chris, Buck and Ezra along with the leaders of the other two teams were gathered around the truck, examining the cache of weapons that had been seized.

Vin's soft voice stopped all conversation around the truck. "Chris, JD's got trouble in the back."

Even as Chris was asking the nature of the trouble, Wilmington was already moving to the back entrance.

Buck rounded the large machine at one end as Nathan rounded the other. Both men slid to a stop at the sight of the young agent huddled on the floor, cradling the head of Davis. The two men looked at each other, knowing the wounded man was dead. The mustached agent moved forward and squatted next to his roommate. Buck froze momentarily when JD turned to look at him. Blood ran down the right side of his pale face and it took Buck a moment to recognize that the young agent was not injured; at least not physically. Wilmington cringed at the depth of pain in the hazel eyes.

Nathan lowered himself down on JD's right as Buck placed a hand on the youth's shoulder. "I have him, JD. You can let go now."

JD ignored the medic as he stared into his roommate's blue eyes. "He...he was standing right next to me. He...he..."

Wilmington squeezed the slender shoulder with one hand as the other gently pulled the bloody hand loose from around the dead agent's chest. "Come on, kid, let Nathan have a look at him."

Taking the cue, Jackson pulled Davis' body from JD's grasp. Nathan checked the young man even though, logically, he knew he was dead. He looked up and shook he head as Buck assisted JD up, his arms wrapped around the slight youth as if to protect him from the world. Their eyes met and Buck sighed.

Releasing his hold on JD, Buck turned and gently guided Dunne away from the body. They walked over and joined the remainder of the team where Nathan joined them a few moments later. Questioning eyes greeted them and a quick shake of the head stayed the asking.

JD seemed to feel the others looking at him and he immediately wiped at his hands, conscious of the blood that stained them. His eyes darted from one set of eyes to the next, finally stopping on Larabee's. He swallowed hard before saying softly, "Davis...he was hit. He's...he's dead."

Jack Gordon, team leader of Davis' team, stepped back before he trotted toward the downed agent's location.

Dunne's hands came up to rub at his face, oblivious to the blood and gore that the action smeared even further. "He was standing right next to me," JD said, more to himself than anyone else. His hands dropped and he stared at the team leader. "There wasn't time to do anything. He just fell...fell over."

None of the men missed the sudden paling of the young man's features. Nathan grasped the trembling arm of the team communications expert and led him quietly outside, away from the view of other teams and the authorities that were assisting with the injured, suspects, and evidence.

Watching them move away, Chris turned to Buck. "Go with them. Go with Nathan and take JD back to the office. We'll handle it here."

Wilmington nodded and trotted off.

The others looked at the leader for guidance. Chris stood quietly, his hands planted on his hips, his coat jacket pushed back. His eyes picked up motion and he glanced over to see Gordon trailing behind a stretcher carrying a body bag. He shuddering slightly, thankful he wasn't the one trailing behind. Cocking his head to one side and getting a gratifying pop, he dropped his hands and pulled his jacket around, snapped it closed.

"Okay, people, we have a job to do. Josiah, you and Ezra secure that truck. I don't want anyone to touch it until we can catalogue the contents. Vin, we're going to interview these guys, see if we can get any information out of them."

+ + + + + + +

The next two days were full of interviewing, checking out leads, and seizing more weapons. The remaining members of Edmond's gang had led the ATF teams to four more stashes of weapons. The members of Team Seven didn't have time to stop during that period; there was no time for thinking, for remorse or guilt.

The hectic workload was forgotten on the third day. The men arrived at work in somber moods and dark suits. The memorial service for Alan Davis was at two and all of Team Seven would be there, as much in support of their youngest as for Davis.

JD had been very efficient the past two days. Each weapon was catalogued by dozens of agents and filed in the computer by Dunne. He worked long and exhausting hours, numbing both his body and his mind, not allowing himself to think. When he, along with Buck and Nathan, had arrived back at the ATF offices, Buck had hustled him down to the gym and the showers they offered. He had gotten cleaned up, climbed into sweats and gone back to work.

Now he stood watching as a young widow and three year old child grieved for a lost husband and father. The ceremony was a quiet affair with no family other than his wife and daughter. The burial would be out of town, in the small country city where Davis was raised and his family still lived. Now the young agent had time to think, to remember. He remembered talking to Davis, looking at pictures of his family, their new house, even his dog.

The easterner began to wonder why Davis and not him. They had been standing shoulder to shoulder when the bullet struck him. The firefight had been dying and they decided to make up as the action had confined itself to the front of the building. Suddenly, something hot had struck JD in the face. His hand came up to swipe at the substance when he saw Davis simply crumble. His hand detoured to grab the man's jacket as he went down. The shot was fatal and Dunne knew it, but his mind refused to give up hope, so he sat, pressing his hand against the wound, attempting to hold on blood that no longer flowed.

He was pulled from the memory when a large hand dropped on his shoulder. Glancing up, he looked into Buck's blue eyes.

"Come on, kid. Let's get out of here."

Only then did he realize that the service was over. People were filing out past the widow and child, offering their sympathies. Chris led the way to the front of the church with JD and Buck bringing up the rear. Jack Gordon sat next to the family, his arm around the child as the mother spoke to each person that passed.

JD began to tremble as they drew closer. Buck's hand was resting on his shoulder and he knew that the big hearted man could feel the quivers that ran through his frame. Shame heated his face. This young father should not have been the one to die. He had a wife...a daughter. 'Why hadn't it been me?' JD thought. No one was waiting at home for me to come home. No one was waiting for me to tuck them in and read a bedtime story. "Why couldn't it have been me?'

Josiah's deep voice rumbled softly as he spoke to the woman. Ezra spoke to Gordon. As the undercover agent stepped down the line, Buck gently propelled Dunne forward. Nathan was speaking to Jack Gordon now. JD's trembling increased. A strong squeeze had him stepping forward.

Gordon looked up...and JD knew. He knew that Gordon was having the same thoughts. Why hadn't it been Dunne that died? Why had it been Davis? Gordon nodded as JD stepped in front of him. The youth's mouth opened but no words came out. He settled for just nodding in return. Buck dropped his hand and stuck it out as he spoke to Gordon and JD moved forward.

Now JD stood in front of the widow. He felt as if he were coming apart. Surely she could see him trembling, see the sweat on his palms, along his hairline. He swallowed in attempt to get moisture in his mouth only to have his tongue stick to the dry roof.

"I ...I'"

She blinked slowly, staring up at him.

JD felt relief at the hand that suddenly fell on his shoulder, drawing his attention away from the woman and propelling him forward. He swallowed the nausea that rose in his throat and moved quickly away to join the rest of his team. After Buck joined them, the seven men got into their vehicle for the somber ride back to the office.

+ + + + + + +

The seven men trudged into the main office, each one absorbed in his own thoughts. Buck and Vin had shed their dark coats before they entered the elevator; their ties hung from the side pockets.

All seven stood around the room, some going to their desks while others wandered around the room. They simply milled around as if lost. Finally, Chris slapped his hands together.

"Well, it's almost time to leave. Anyone want to go the Saloon and have some dinner?"



"Sounds good"

Ezra and Buck nodded. Only JD's head began to shake. Wilmington immediately started in, "Come on, kid. You've hardly eat anything in two days."

"Nuh, I was thinking about going over to Casey's."

"You sure?" Buck asked.

JD nodded hesitantly.

Reaching into his pocket, the big man dug his keys out. "Here, take the truck and I'll get a ride."

"Thanks, Buck."

The men headed down to the garage and separated, going to their individual vehicles. Buck followed the young Easterner to the pickup they had used that morning. "JD?"

"Yeah?" the young agent said, turning to the approaching man.

"You sure?" Wilmington bent down, looking the boy in the eyes. "You can still come. We'd really love to have you."

"Nuh, you guys go, have a good time. I'm going to go change, kick back. Maybe call Casey." JD stated as he reached back and opened the door. "You want me to take that home?"

Buck looked at the suit coat he was holding in his hand. "Sure. Thanks, kid."

Taking the coat, JD climbed into the truck and tossed it onto the seat next to him. Rolling the glass down, he smiled at his roommate. "I'll see you later, Buck."

"Yeah, see ya later." The big man stood looking closely at Dunne. "You sure you're okay?"

JD chuckled. "Yes, I'm sure. But you're not going to be if you don't get in Chris' truck He's starting to glare."

Glancing over his shoulder, Buck laughed. "I'm used to it. Don't you worry about me." Reaching through the window, he patted the youth's arm and looked hard into the hazel eyes. "You know if you need an ear, I'm there for you."

JD's voice was soft as he answered. "I know. Thanks, Buck."

With a final squeeze of the slender arm, Buck turned and headed to Larabee's black Dodge Ram. JD followed them out of the parking garage, turning right after they headed left. He sighed as he merged into traffic and headed home.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah had volunteered to take Wilmington home and the two men rode in comfortable silence, arriving at the building a few minutes before eleven. Both men immediately noticed that Buck's truck was parked in it's usual spot, but JD's motorcycle was gone.

As the old Suburban rolled to a stop, Buck opened the door and stepped out. Turning to the older man, he smiled. "Thanks, Josiah. I appreciate the ride."

"You want me to hang around?" The man's concern for the youngest member of the team was obvious.

"Nuh, he'll be home soon. Work tomorrow, you know."

Josiah nodded and Buck slammed the door closed. Tossing a hand up, Buck watched as the Suburban rumbled down the street. Retrieving his keys, he headed up to the apartment, mumbling to himself. "He better be home soon. I'll have his little ass in a sling..." The door closed, muting the man's rant.

+ + + + + + +

The door opened and closed with a soft click. He was halfway across the room when the lights snapped on. He slowly turned to see his roommate glaring at him from the recliner.

"Hey, Buck. What are you still doing up?"

"Oh, I don't know. I couldn't sleep for some reason."

JD blushed at the words and stammered an apology. "I'm sorry. I was just riding...clearing my head."

"Until three in the morning?" The tone was sharp and the youth bristled.

"Yeah, until three in the morning. I was just riding."

"We got to go to work tomorrow." Buck's voice was low and his words growled as he rose from the chair.

"I know we have to work. I didn't ask you to stay up." JD moved forward to stand toe to toe with the taller man. "I don't have to report to you."

"You said you were going to see Casey. She said she hadn't heard from you."

The younger man's face turned red in anger. "You called Casey?"

Planting his hands on his hips, the taller man leaned in, toward Dunne. "I called because you told me you were going over there."

"NO. I told you I was 'thinking' about going over there. You probably got her all upset now. Why didn't you call my cell?"

"I didn't upset her. I just asked if she had seen you. And I DID call your cell. There was no answer. It was turned off."

The easterner turned away and began to pace. "I just wanted to be alone for a while. I'm off duty. Don't I get down time?"

"No. You're always on call, JD. And you know that. You don't turn your cell off."

JD shook his head and diverted the conversation, knowing the older man was right.. "I'll bet Casey is sitting up right now, all worried about nothing. What time did you call her? Did you wake her up?"

Getting no response from the older man, the young man looked at Wilmington and saw the guilty look on his face. JD threw his arms up and turned away. "GREAT!! Now I have to call and tell her that everything is all right."

Regaining his composure, Buck followed as Dunne moved away. "You should have called. You should have known I'd be worried...especially after what happened this week."


"And you've been haven't been won't talk to any one."

"About what? Shit happens, right. Better him than me." JD's face paled as he looked at Buck. "You thought I was running away...or something worse?"

Buck's hands came up to run through his hair. "No, I didn't think..."

"So what did you think?"

"I don't know. I was just worried."

With a huff, the younger man threw up his hands. "I don't need a mother, Buck. I had one. She's gone."

Wilmington's hand shot out and grabbed JD's arm. "Now, you listen to me you little shit. I care about you. I won't apologize for that." Relaxing his hold slightly, Buck lowered his voice. "I know you are feeling guilty about Davis."

JD exploded. Throwing up his hands, he broke Buck's light grip. "DON'T..." His voice dropped to a whisper. "Don't tell me what I feel...what I should or shouldn't feel. You...none of you...understand. He shouldn't have died. He...he shouldn't..."

Tears pooled in the hazel eyes and Buck reached out to grip the slender shoulders, but JD jumped back.

"NO." He stepped back again. "I have to get to bed. We have to go to work tomorrow."

With that, he turned and went to his bedroom, slamming the door behind him.

Buck thought of going to the door and ...'and what?' he thought. No, it was better to allow the kid time to calm down. Turning out the light, he headed upstairs, berating himself, "Great work, Bucklin, you handled that just great."

+ + + + + + +

The next morning Buck rose to find JD and his bike gone. The big man sighed as he went about setting up the coffeemaker before heading off to get ready for work. He hoped that his friend had gotten over the argument from the night before but he wasn't clinging to that hope. In his mind, Wilmington knew that he had been right to be upset with the young man for making himself unavailable, but he also understood what the youth was going through. Whether the boy believed it or not, each of the men had gone through similar situations with the same guilt weighing on their shoulders. JD was simply not ready to listen to any of the men yet.

Trotting back down the stairs, he poured the coffee, flipped the switch off and headed out. In the back of his mind, he was confident that Dunne had gone to work, leaving early either because he was still angry, or hopefully because he was embarrassed by his actions and just needed time to figure out how to apologize. Grabbing his jacket, he threw the latch and slammed the door. It was still early and if he was lucky, the traffic gods would smile on him and the drive in would go smoothly.

+ + + + + + +

When he arrived at the Federal building, he breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of JD's bike parked at next to Tanner's old Harley. Buck chuckled at the difference in the machines. The motorcycles seemed to reflect the vastly different personalities of their owners. The Harley was as scruffy as the clothes of the man that rode it, but it was just as reliable as that man.

JD's Ninja was bright and colorful, a real eye-catcher. It went from zero to sixty in a millisecond, screaming all the way. Dunne was just as colorful and noisy, and worked fast and furious, stopping only when he could go no more.

The big man shook his head at the realization. Glancing at the vehicles of each member of Team Seven, each one reflected at least one characteristic of the man that drove it. A frown drew his brows together as he stared at his own vintage truck and wondered what it reflected of his own personality. Shrugging, he headed to the elevator and the office.

+ + + + + + +

Chris saw Buck enter and immediately began looking around.

"He's in the break room with Josiah," the blond called from his office.

Trying to appear nonchalant and uninterested, Wilmington tossed his jacket over his chair and headed into the office, dropping into a chair sitting in front of Larabee's desk.


The blond snorted in response as he dropped the pen from his hand onto the desk. Leaning back in his chair, he stretched out his back muscles by bringing his arms over his head. Dropping his arms to rest on the chair, he pinned the other man with his gaze.

Buck returned the gaze for several moments but soon grew uncomfortable at the scrutiny. He was well aware that in a contest of wills, Larabee would be the victor so he gave up any pretense of trying.

"I was worried," he proclaimed in defense of his actions.

Larabee remained silent.

Wilmington huffed in frustration. "Okay, so logically I knew that he was probably just out for a ride...that nothing had happened. Yes, I shouldn't have called Casey at one-thirty in the morning." At this point, Buck sat forward, one hand waving around to empathize his point. "But he should have left a note...called..." He banged his finger on the edge of Chris' desk as he proclaimed, "And he shouldn't have turned off his cell. He didn't know if you would have had to call. No way to get a hold of him."

"And I've spoken to him about that," Chris said calmly, leaning forward to lean his arms on the desk. He watched as the mustached man seemed to deflate and fall back against the chair. Standing, Chris moved around the desk and leaned a slim hip on the edge of the desk. "Cut the kid some slack. He'll get it worked out."

+ + + + + + +

"Before he starves himself? Or the guilt eats him up?"

Larabee stood and placed a hand on the broad shoulder of his old friend. "Yes, because we'll be here to stop him."

+ + + + + + +

Buck was sitting at his desk a few minutes later and looked up as Josiah walked, alone. He watched as the profiler passed and went to his desk. The mustached man sat patiently for five minutes or so until finally he could not stand it. Glancing once again at the door, he rose and approached Sanchez.

"Hey, Josiah."

"Well, good morning, Buck. How are you this fine morning?" There was a glint in the man's eyes and Buck sighed.

"I plan to call Casey after she gets home this evening and apologize. As for JD, I haven't seen him wouldn't know where he is, would you?"

Josiah reached back, linking his hands together behind his head. "Actually, yes...Brother Dunne and I had a nice conversation this morning. After we talked, Vin came in and asked if JD would care to accompany him to the range. They left a few minutes ago."

Buck's eyes cut to the door as his thoughts cut to his roommate. With a nod, he thanked the gray haired man for the information and turned to leave. He paused and turned back to Sanchez. "How was he?"

Blue eyes crinkled as he stated, "He's doing better. Boy has a good head on his shoulders. He just needs some time to think. Don't push him, okay, Buck?"

Wilmington's eyebrows rose and fell as he grinned. "Now, Josiah, you know me...the soul of discretion."

Sanchez stared at the dark haired agent before barking out a laugh. "Brother, lying is a sin."

Placing his crossed hands over his heart, Buck leaned back slightly. "Josiah, you wound me." Both men chuckled. Sobering, Wilmington's grin dropped. "I'll try, Josiah. It just kills me to see him hurting."

"As it does us all, but the only thing we can do is to be there to support him."

Buck nodded. "Yeah, I know, preacher. Thanks for listening to him this morning. And thanks for watching my back." He crossed to his desk and began reviewing his testimony for a case that was finally going to trial after six months posturing by both sides.

Just before noon, the two youngest agents walked in, drawing the attention of everyone in the room. Five men smiled at the antics of the two as they burst into the room in a display of rowdiness, pushing and shoving each other.

"Hey, Buck." JD slipped past the big man and dropped into his chair but his eyes were on his roommate. The two men looked at each other for a moment and then both nodded, acknowledging that they were okay.

The morning passed quietly with each man working on reports or going for depositions. Soon plans were being made for lunch. Josiah and Nathan volunteered to make a food run. Ezra had an appointment with his tailor and told them that he would obtain his own meal. Chris was in his office while Tanner had asked if either JD or Buck wanted some coffee. Both declined and the Texan moved out of the office.

Buck glanced over at his roommate and watched as he tapped away on the computer. Finally, the easterner looked over.



They smiled at each as their voices overrode each other.

"Damn, kid."


They looked at each other and both opened their mouths and again spoke at the same time. "Sorry."

Chuckling, Buck stood and moved to JD's desk, propping a hip on the edge of the adjoining desk. Before he could say anything, JD leaned forward, steepling his fingers, and saying, "I was wrong, Buck. Not leaving a message, turning off my cell, it was wrong."

He glanced up to see the man's reaction. Seeing only concern in the dark blue eyes, JD continued, bringing his hands up to push his hair back. "I...I've just been so freaked out. Thinking about what could have happened, or should have happened..."

"Don't do that, JD."

"What? I was just thinking."

"Yeah, thinking about how Davis' life is more important than yours."

JD's head began to shake. "No. No. That's not what I...I mean...not really. It's just..."

"Just nothing." Buck leaned forward, toward the youth. " of you are important. Davis to his wife and kid, you to us. Neither one more important than the other."

JD sighed and moved uneasily in his chair. His eyes sought the floor and he could not seem to bring them up as much as he wanted to look at this man that had become like a brother to him.

Seeing the younger man's embarrassment, Wilmington patted his shoulder and stood. "You did everything right. Davis did everything right. Just remember that, okay?"

Finally, JD looked up, tears glistening in his eyes. Wiping them away harshly, he asked, "We okay?"

"As long as you don't do that again."


Buck moved back to sit at his desk. They were silent for a few moments then JD spoke.

"Hey, Buck?"

"Yeah?" he answered, not even looking away from the screen he was staring at.

"Casey likes tropical arrangements."

Clicking the mouse, Buck sat back with a smug look on his face. Crossing his arms over his chest, he sat back in his chair. "I know."

JD smiled and shook his head.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan and Josiah returned twenty minutes later and the five men ended up in the conference room, eating and relaxing. JD seemed very much like himself during the meal. He laughed and joked with the others as they ate. A couple of times his mood darkened but the others were able to talk him out of his melancholy attitude.

Ezra returned and found the six men still sitting around the big table, eating.

"You get your wardrobe handled, Ezra?"

"Yes, Mr. Jackson. I was able to obtain a nice selection of clothing to replace the rather worn attire that now populates my closet."

"Heck, Ez, you have more suit jackets than Buck has girlie magazines under his bed."

"What're you doing under my bed?" Buck retorted.

JD just rolled his eyes at his roommate's response.

Chris stood and gathered the trash from his meal. "Okay, people, time to go back to work."

Ezra stepped aside as the team leader moved past. He sighed as Larabee slowed and softly said, "I better not see any of that 'nice selection' on your expense report, agent."

Tanner chuckled as he followed Larabee out. Nathan, Josiah, and Buck carefully avoided the Southerner's gaze and crept out quietly while JD offered a sympathetic smile and a 'Sorry, Ezra,' as he stood.

The undercover agent smiled widely and shook his head. "Fear not, my dear friend. There's more than one way to 'skin a cat'."

Grinning, JD threw up his hands, waving them frantically. "I don't want to know a thing...nothing... nada...." His hands moved to cover his ears as he whirled past and out of the room. "La la la la," he chanted as he trotted out of the room.

Standish smiled, happy to see the change in the team's youngest member.

+ + + + + + +

The afternoon progressed s any other day with some work completed amid some horsing around and joking. By the time came to leave for the evening, the seven men had agreed to gather at the saloon for a meal.

Heading down, they split, and got in their vehicles to meet up minutes later at their favorite after hours haunt. Inez, the owner of the establishment, had a table ready for them as they entered, having been alerted by a call from Standish, a courtesy the man often extended to the proprietress knowing she would find them a large table in a quiet corner if possible. They often returned that favor with assistance with unruly or drunken patrons. Several of the ATF teams had taken to meeting at the saloon to unwind, many nice and helpful men among them, but Team Seven was the only one made her heart beat a little easier just by walking in the door.

Inez greeted the men and pointed out a table toward the back. Each man greeted the dark haired woman as they passed. She followed and took drink orders as they found seats. Five minutes later, the drinks had been served and food orders taken and the conversation had turned to the NCAA championship with each man picking a different team to cheer on. The men argued, good-naturedly expounding on their team's assets and discounting the opinion of the others.

JD excused his self and, pushing his chair back, rose and headed to the men's room. Buck took the time to again thank Sanchez for the improved mood of the youngest member of the team.

"I only repeated the same thing that each of us has expressed this week.

Apparently he was prepared to hear those words today."

The table quieted as each man's mind revisited their own ghosts, their first moment of self doubt and recriminations. Vin's eyes cut over to the door as Jack Gordon's team, minus Gordon, entered and took a table on the far side of the room. The Texan leaned to the left and pointed them out to his team leader, who nodded in acknowledgement.

Chris noticed the other team members looking at him, questioningly. Larabee shook his head, stating with assurance, "Jack assured me that there's no problem about Davis. Every man knows that it was just bad luck. It could just have easily been JD."

The men all reacted differently to the man's words. Knowing that it was lady luck that kept their youngest out of harm's way that day didn't make it any easier to hear. Sometimes, all the training they did, the precautions they took, meant nothing. Sometimes, living and dying fell on lady luck's shoulders. Chris' words drew that fact to the forefront of each man's thoughts, no matter how much they wanted to control each aspect of danger in their profession.

+ + + + + + +

Though feeling better about the events of the past week, JD found the doubts still whispered at the back of his mind. He figured that stress was the source of his gastric problem now. Hearing the door open, he figured it was one of the team, coming to check up on him. Not that they would admit that. He was surprised and a bit apprehensive when he recognized the two voices as two of Jack Gordon's team, friends of Alan Davis. Dunne had not spoken to any of the men since Alan's death. Now, he screwed together his courage and prepared to confront the two men.

Before he could act on that impulse though, their conversation froze him in place.

"I hear Tessa got Jack a pretty hard time at the funeral."

"Yeah, that's what I heard. She couldn't understand why Alan wasn't with one of the team. Went on about how one of us should have been with him."

"I wondered about that myself. But Larabee was in charge and he called the shots."

The sound of running water drained out their next words and the door closed behind them before anything else was said. JD slumped against the stall wall, his stomach muscles clenched tight. His mind reeled at the accusation from Davis' wife. Maybe one of the other team would have seen the shooter. Maybe someone more experienced would have told Davis to stay down, to stay behind cover, to wait for the all clear.

'Damn, what did I miss? What could I have done? Would I have done anything different if it had been one of my own team standing beside me?'

JD exited the stall and stood, staring at his reflection, seeing the same thing everyone else

Saw-a kid, young, inexperienced, incapable of making a decision much less performing as an ATF agent. He leaned his weight on his hands as they gripped porcelain sink. With a sigh and a shake of his head, he washed his hands and went out to join his companions before one of them came to check on him.

The food had arrived and the others were busy eating and talking, but Wilmington glanced up, frowning at what he saw. JD pasted a smile on his face and dropped into his, grabbing a fork as he did and Buck turned his focus back to the conversation.

"Something wrong with the food, JD?"

Dunne's head jerked up to find that the six men were watching him as he pushed his food around on his plate. "Ah... no, no...I just...well, I'm not hungry." Catching Inez's eye, he signaled for another beer, drawing a questioning look from Larabee. "What? I'm not driving."

"That's not the point, son."

The easterner rolled his eyes at the 'son' that Chris used so often...because JD was young. He didn't call Vin 'son' and Tanner wasn't much older. The word seemed to reinforce the youth's own assessment of his worth on the team. And JD snapped.

Leaning forward, he thrust the fork in his hand at the man punctuating his words. "It is the point. I'm old enough to make my own decisions. I'm old enough to be a agent. And I'm old enough to order another beer if I want."

A hand on his shoulder drew JD's attention to his roommate.

"JD, that's not what Chris is talking about and you know it. What's got into you?"

Shrugging out from under the hand, JD glared at the older man. "What's got into me? I'm tired of being treated like a kid. I'm twenty-three years old and people still question my competence as a Federal agent. They question my capacity to order a beer."

"Is this about Alan?"

JD paled at the words. " I didn't do anything wrong."

Chris leaned forward. "We know that. Why don't you believe it?"

"Because...people...people are saying that one of his own team should have been with."


JD's hand came up. "I know. There's nothing I could have done, but maybe someone else...someone more experienced."

"Bullshit." Larabee's hand slammed down startling the youth. "If I doubted your abilities, you wouldn't be on my team."

Unaware of the tension and the discussion going on at the table as she approached, placed a beer in front of JD and then walked off.

JD hesitated and then reached for bottle. Chris' hand shot out to grab the youth's wrist.

"Getting drunk won't help."

Dunne jumped up, his chair scrapping backward. "You son of a bitch!! Where do you get off?"

Before anyone could react, he turned and ran out the back door of the saloon.

Buck jumped up but Nathan's hand on his shoulder stopped him from chasing after the young man.

"Let me," the deep rich voice said.

Buck saw something in the man's eyes and nodded, retaking his seat.

With a nod, Jackson followed the easterner out.

Several minutes later, the two returned. Buck was on his feet in a second, seeing blood on the youth's hand. Before he could ask, Jackson waved him off.

JD approached Larabee and stood stiffly in front of the man. His eyes met those of each man before once again settling on the team leader. Clearing his throat, the young communication's expert began.

"Chris, I was out of line. I want to apologize...for the words and accusation. I am just..."

He looked away, fighting the emotions that had ruled him for the past week. The young agent stepped back as Larabee rose.

Placing a hand on each of JD's shoulders, the man looked into the hazel eyes. "I meant what I said. You would not be on this team if I had any doubts about you." Then tightening his grip slightly, he continued, "And drinking doesn't help. Believe me, I know."

JD nodded, swallowing hard. "Thanks, Chris."

Releasing the younger man, Larabee turned away, retaking his seat.

JD felt another hand grip his shoulder and he found himself pulled toward his chair by Wilmington. Nathan was getting a first aid kit from Inez as the others watched the two roommates. As Jackson pulled up a chair to tend to Dunne's hand, a card slid across the table toward the young man.

"There's the number."

"Number?" JD asked.

"My mother. You have one more apology."

Six men laughed as JD paled and his head dropped to the table with a thud.

If you want to know what happened out back, you'll have to read Ruby's Why.