No One to Blame

by Robijean

Universe: ATF (Thanks to MOG for creating this AU)

Character Focus: JD and Vin (all seven featured)

Language Warning: some minor swearing

Summary: JD's first undercover assignment almost ends in tragedy for two team members.

Disclaimer: I know they're not mine, if they were the series would still be on the air.

Additional Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction with no connection to any real life events.

Notes: Thanks to KC for her time, input, and advice on this project prior to the DunnesDarlins FicFest in April 2007. Thanks to LaraMee for the wonderful collage she made for this story. Special thanks to Sue M. for her inspiration, unflagging patience and support for my writing and her beta work on this my first hurt/comfort story.

Wednesday, 22nd November, Denver General Hospital (DGH)
Chris Larabee burst into the surgical waiting room, determined to find out what had happened to the newest and youngest member of his team. He searched the room and quickly spotted Vin in the farthest corner of the room holding his knees to his chest on the floor. He was covered in blood, his face buried in his knees. Chris' heart sank. Fearing the worst he stopped and stared.


Three men strode into the room behind him, causing Larabee to turn. Recognizing his men, he continued on over to Vin. Reaching him he crouched down and tried to get his attention. Observing Larabee and Tanner, the new arrivals came over to them, each firing questions.

"How's JD doing?," Buck Wilmington anxiously asked as he lowered himself down next to Tanner.

"Is Nathan here yet? Is he with JD?" Josiah Sanchez, the team's oldest member questioned as he leaned against a nearby wall.

"Have the doctors reported anything on Mr. Dunne's status?" This came from Ezra Standish taking a seat nearby. Next to his obviously worried compatriots, Standish appeared relaxed. The tell to that not being the case was given when he began drumming his fingers on the arm of the chair, something he only did when concerned.

Larabee finally succeeded in getting Vin's attention as he raised his head to look at them.

"Vin?" Chris spoke softly, "What happened? How'd JD get shot? We need to know everything."

"JD's alive, they're operating on him now." Tanner wiped the tears away from his eyes, streaking blood across his face as he did.

The men watched him straighten and pull himself together to brief them on what happened earlier.

"It shouldn't have happened, Chris. JD getting shot had nothin' to do with the case, least not so's I could tell. A kid came to school with some guns. At lunch, he started shootin' up the place, killed and injured some students.

"JD tried to talk him down; he got between the shooter and the other students, finally the kid just stopped listenin' and shot JD. I took him out, but JD was bleedin' heavy, his chest was covered in blood.

"Nathan must have heard the shots and came runnin'. He took over with JD, had me keep an eye out for the paramedics. When they arrived, he sent me with them while he stayed at the school." Tanner's voice cracked as his eyes filled again. "JD's heart stopped in the ambulance, and they rushed him to surgery soon as he stabilized."

The others were stunned, Vin barely breathed as he chronicled the shooting and its aftermath. None of them had ever heard him this rattled, and their fears for JD grew.

"They said the bullet nicked an artery near the heart—I signed the consent, since you weren't here. He must've hit his head hard goin' down; it was bleedin'. He was unconscious right after the shooting. The nurse said she'd let us know something when she could."

Larabee and Tanner both stood and the team turned their heads as one when the waiting room door opened to admit Nathan, not the nurse they had hoped to see.

"Have you heard anything about JD's condition yet?" asked Nathan as he came toward them.

"No." Chris said, shaking his head. "Did you find out what set off the shooter?"

"No, Detectives from the local P.D. are working the scene, got uniforms doing interviews with teachers and students, but nothing was known before I left," Nathan replied.

Turning to Vin, Nathan handed him a set of sweats and gently suggested he go wash the blood off himself. Vin nodded as he took the sweats. He shuffled off to the washroom like an old man carrying a heavy load.

The five men took up positions around the waiting room, each wondering just how this situation had come to pass. Why and how had it happened? Why hadn't they foreseen it?

Would they end up burying their youngest teammate and friend before this was over?

Wednesday, 1st November, Chris's Office

JD was worried and confused. He had come to work early, had an important report to complete and wanted it done before the normal workday started. Vin came in next and the others wandered in one at a time. Even Ezra was only a half hour late. They sat around either working or, in Buck's case, talking about how he'd spent the previous night. As usual Vin was working his way through a pot of coffee and his junk food drawer while Nathan hovered and lectured.

Everyday activities, everything normal until Chris arrived from his morning briefing with AD Travis. He went straight into his office and shut the door, which meant no interruptions for less than a national emergency.

As the morning wore on, JD began to feel uneasy, as if being watched. He looked up to see Chris in his office, staring at him. He wondered if Chris had a problem with him but couldn't think of anything he'd done wrong.

He tried to figure what was wrong, finally deciding in his anxiety that either Travis or Chris had decided he didn't belong on Team Seven. He certainly hoped it wasn't that since it hadn't been easy to convince them to hire him.

JD kept glancing over at his leader's office. Finally, the last time he looked, Larabee stood at his office door and asked him to come in for a minute.

Here it comes, JD thought, his pulse spiking as his fear rose, he's going to tell me I'm fired.

JD nervously took a seat, his heart in his mouth. At first, it almost didn't register what Chris was saying to him. When it did, he was surprised to find he had a major career decision to make.

"It's your decision, JD. A.D. Travis and I have discussed this, and we both think you're ready, but I don't want you to say yes unless you feel comfortable with the assignment." Larabee paused, gauging the effect his words were having on his newest agent.

"You've only been with the team for a short while," said Larabee after a moment. "Going undercover is serious business; trusting the team you're on is a big part of that. So this is your call. I want you take some time to think it over—just give me your answer before you leave today. I have two ways to go with this; I'll finalize the chosen plan tonight after I hear from you, and brief the team tomorrow. If you don't feel comfortable with it, I'll understand. Any questions?"

Questions? Only a hundred or so, JD thought, but there's one I got to know before I give him my answer.

JD nodded. "When I came on board, you said you didn't want me out in the field until I turn twenty-one next year. I mean if it was computer stuff, you know I could teach Ezra to do whatever he needs to know, or at least how to fake it. What changed your mind?"

"It's true that I didn't want you to go undercover until you were on the team for at least a year. I still don't," said Chris. His eyes met JD's. "If I had my way, you'd be a little older, a little more experienced in the field and with the team; it would've helped any trust issues.

"This particular case could be handled a variety of ways, but the best way is to have someone undercover in the high school, and infiltrate the gang working with the gunrunners. No one else on our team, or any of the Denver teams, could possibly pass as a high school student, except you. We can try and do it with someone posing as an outside buyer and another going under as a teacher, but it will take a lot longer to get the information we need to take them down. And I'm sure you know, the longer someone is under, the greater the risk. Now go and think it over, and let me know your decision in a few hours."

JD got up to leave, but he stopped at Larabee's door with his hand on the knob. His leader had been up front with him; JD needed to be the same. He turned back to Larabee.

"Chris, it's true that I've never done anything like this, and I am a bit nervous, but I know I can do it. I do trust you and the guys, so you can have my answer right now, thinking about it for a couple more hours won't change my mind. If no one else can do it, and I can, then I want it."

"All right, then." Larabee extended his hand for Dunne to shake. "Briefing will be at eight a.m."


Standish was bemused, why had JD just requested a private talk with him away from the rest of the team? JD normally confided in Buck or Vin, sometimes Josiah. The young man had never chosen him as a confidant previously. He was intrigued as he waited for the boy to join him in the break room.

JD had respected Ezra's boundaries from the beginning, the only member of the team that ever did. He called Ezra, Mr. Standish until the day Ezra finally broke down and called him JD. His mother had done an excellent job of raising a proper young gentleman.

"When you went undercover the first time, what was it like?" JD hesitantly asked when he joined him.

"Why do you ask?" Standish immediately queried back.

"Chris wants me undercover on this new case," was the surprising response he received.

Standish maintained a poker face even as he wondered if Larabee had finally taken leave of his senses. This work was too dangerous for someone so young. Not only was it dangerous; in undercover work you often found yourself doing shameful things. JD was too decent to be involved in such activities; they could destroy an operative, especially one so young and inexperienced.

JD watched Standish's reaction. Although he saw nothing overt, he quickly realized Ezra didn't think he could do the job. He tried to explain why he felt he could.

"The assignment requires an agent to be a high school student. There's no one else that can do it. I was a teenager just a year ago and it's an easy role for me.

"Since I've never been out in the field or undercover before, I wondered if you could give me some pointers. I couldn't do a good job without knowing what and what not to expect.

"I know you probably don't approve of me doing this, but I'd really appreciate it, Ezra, if you could help me do it right."

Ezra was impressed, the lad was willing to ask for help and admit his inexperience. He'd give him all the assistance he could. And after their conversation he would decide whether or not to take Larabee to task. He was not willing to sacrifice their youngest for this or any other case.

After discussing the matter for over an hour, Standish was convinced that JD could do the job. He still wasn't comfortable with the situation but felt that he had done everything he could to prepare JD for the assignment. The problem was there was no way he could prepare him for everything. Undercover work required the ability to go with an ever-changing situation even when you were uncomfortable with what you were doing. And that was something no one could prepare another person to handle.

Standish's other concern was the issue of trust. And he had addressed that issue a number of times throughout their discussion. The last time he drew a sharp rebuke from JD.

"Ezra, I'm not you. I trust someone until they do something to make me not trust them. You don't trust people until you really know them and still you're hesitant. I trust you and every other member of this team to do your best to protect me and keep me safe. So don't ask again, OK?"

After that, he gave up trying to convince JD he needed more time with the team. Yes, he was young but he was intelligent and he was not going to take any chances. Hopefully, he would be able to get through this assignment with his innocence still intact. Standish's principle fear now was that this assignment could steal that away.

He had determined in his own mind that JD could handle the assignment and would say nothing to Chris. Later he would deeply regret this decision as he waited to find out if the boy would live or die. Right now, however, he was anticipating tomorrow's briefing and Buck Wilmington's reaction to his young friend going undercover.

The Next Morning, Team Offices, Conference Room

During the briefing, Chris announced to the rest of the team that Vin and JD were both going undercover at the high school, JD as a student and Vin as a PE teacher and coach. JD was so excited when Chris made the announcement. He didn't know then how hard it would be to pretend to be someone else, or that the result of his and others actions on this case would be a young man's death.

Buck Wilmington was not pleased with the announcement. He immediately straightened in his chair and glared daggers at Larabee. Standish took the news without question as he had been forewarned in his conversation with JD.

Josiah was the first to ask what most were thinking.

"Chris, you said no field work until he had been with the team six months, and no undercover assignments until he was twenty- one. Why the change of heart?"

Chris knew he would have to nip this in the bud, explain his reasoning again before any objections destroyed JD's confidence.

"Our best chance to get the gunrunners is to infiltrate the teenage gang working with them. JD is the only agent who can pass as a high school student. I discussed it with Travis and JD. I'm putting Vin in as a teacher as an extra precaution, since this is JD's first field assignment."

"Chris, you need to remember Vin has only been back on full duty for the last week after a month of desk duty only," Nathan put in his objection to this part of the plan. "This job, especially acting as a coach and PE teacher, may be too physically challenging for him right now."

"Are you trying to tell me he shouldn't have been approved for field duty?" Chris asked as he looked at Nathan with disbelief. "What's wrong? When he was released the doctor said two to four weeks at the desk. We opted for the longer period, so why isn't he ready?"

Vin spoke up then before Nathan could respond.

"I'm fine Nathan. Chris there's nothing wrong. I saw the doc last week before coming back full time. He cleared me for active duty. Nathan, a PE teacher and coach isn't too physically difficult. Hell, I've been running a couple of miles each morning for the last week or two."

Josiah had another objection he felt he had to voice. He was hesitant to do so because he knew the importance of having JD go into an assignment of this sort with his confidence level high. However he also felt this was something Chris, JD and the rest of the team needed to take into consideration.

"Chris, JD is emotionally young for this assignment. The psychological stress can be extreme while undercover and a certain level of emotional maturity is needed. How closely will the situation be monitored? His cover story needs to be set-up in such a way that JD can maintain contact with a team member at all times. Then at the first sign of a problem he can be pulled out."

As Chris addressed Josiah's concern, he wondered how long before Buck lost it and said something rash. He should have pulled Wilmington aside before the briefing so he wouldn't do anything to destroy JD's confidence. JD always listened to Buck when he spoke.

"Here's the situation," Chris explained to Josiah, "JD has a contact number he can call at anytime. He can go to Vin while at school. I'm thinking of having you work there as a school counselor. If he can't go to Vin for any reason, he can speak to you. If you are troubled and think he needs to be pulled out for emotional or psychological reasons; he's out, it's your call."

Everyone was waiting to see what Wilmington had to say. No one was surprised when he finally spoke.

"JD, son, you don't want to do this. You're rushing into this part of the job. I'm not saying you won't be able to do this someday—just that right now you need more experience. This kind of work isn't going to be as easy as you think. You don't have to do this now, not one of us will think less of you if you tell Chris no. Chris can figure something else out, that's what he's good at, I expect he already has a backup plan. I really want you to reconsider this and refuse the assignment."

Chris had seen how proud and full of confidence JD looked when he made his announcement and now he could see how Buck's words were impacting his self-esteem. JD was beginning to doubt himself, when Vin clapped him on the back and told him he knew JD would do a great job.

"I know this won't be easy," JD responded as he turned to face Buck. "I know it would be better if I had more experience, but I can do it, I'm the only one who can, and I will do this. I'm hoping you can help me prepare, I know you've done assignments like this in the past. Are you willing to help me, Buck? Even though you don't approve."

Buck couldn't resist a plea from his little brother.

"Sure, son, all my expertise is yours for the asking." After Buck had assured him of his help, everyone on the team offered his aid in preparing JD for the case.

Chris eventually got the team to turn their attention back to the briefing. As he briefed them, he felt sure that everything would turn out fine. Larabee was confident his decision to give JD the assignment was right even if it did violate his own hiring criteria. Conditions he had felt compelled to make when JD convinced him to let him on the team.


Now sitting in the hospital waiting room, Larabee couldn't help thinking. Had he condemned JD that morning? Had he prevented him from reaching his 21st birthday, ending a young life before it ever really began. He had put him at that school, in that danger and if JD died, his death would be on his hands.

Sunday Afternoon, 5th November, The Ranch

A dangerous assignment was scheduled to start tomorrow, today, Nathan looked on in awe as JD and Vin began yet another game of one on one basketball. The two were constantly moving and seemed incapable of being still for more than a few minutes.

Vin was again kidding JD about being his PE teacher. "JD, you need to get in shape if you want an A in my class. No lazin' about, you'll need to give full measure and follow the rules, or I'll give you laps or 100 push-ups."

JD just laughed and made the next shot. He did his little victory dance as this game ended in his favor. As far as Nathan could tell they were both in excellent shape or there was no way they could keep up this non-stop activity that was making everyone else tired just watching.

He had no idea how they managed to stay in shape considering all the junk food they managed to consume. Jackson found it very hard to believe how much they ate and never gain weight. At least, he had found it hard prior to this weekend. Now he knew why, they never stopped moving.

They had both managed to stay seated during the final case briefing on Friday evening, but that was the last time anyone saw them still. Right after the meeting JD challenged Vin to a game of one on one and they played until well past midnight.

When everyone else got up the next morning they found signs in the kitchen of their passing. As the two came back from their early morning run they proceeded to eat a second, extremely unhealthy breakfast and then took off again on their dirt bikes.

It had been like that the entire weekend. They were starting another game and would probably keep playing until they headed home to get ready for tomorrow. Watching the two of them like this, Nathan realized his thoughts were becoming fanciful. He felt like he was watching two young gods, immortals. He no longer felt the need to act on his reservations about JD and this assignment and Vin looked as healthy as he was before the recent revenge shooting by an old bounty.

As they played their game, both looked invincible. Nathan never imagined as they played that day that just over two weeks later he'd have his hand in one's chest trying to stop him from bleeding to death while the other looked on with haunted empty eyes. That he'd find himself in this waiting room wondering if JD would live and if Vin would ever forgive himself if he didn't.

Sunday Evening, 5th November, Buck and JD's Apartment

JD was sitting on his bed going through his clothes like a mad man. He threw things every which way while muttering under his breath. He was trying to decide which ones made him look like a teenager and not an ATF agent. Of course since he was only 20 most everything he wore off-duty would work as far as Buck could see, but not JD, he was rejecting clothes like crazy.

Buck finally had to make a comment, "JD, what's wrong with that pair of jeans and right with the other pair. They look exactly the same to me."

JD just threw his hand up in exasperation. "Like you'd know what teenagers are wearing, one's a boot leg and the other not."

Buck had wanted to have a heart to heart with the boy but he sure couldn't do that in this whirlwind of activity. So he went into the kitchen and put a pizza in the microwave. No way would his boy turn his back on food.

As he went back into JD's room he said, "JD, I'd like to talk to you. How about we share a pizza in the living room and have a talk?"

JD waved him off with a promise, "Just give me 10 minutes and I'll join you. I've about got this sorted out. Then I'll be right out, promise."

Finally after a twenty minute wait he went back in and convinced JD to take a break. After they finished the pizza, JD got another soda and sat back on the sofa. As soon as he relaxed, Buck began to talk.

"JD, this is your first field assignment, and an undercover one to boot. I know you feel confident, feel like you can handle anything. And you need that confidence if you're going to do a good job but you can't be overconfident. If you are, you could make mistakes. Mistakes out in the field can be costly, to yourself or your team.

"Now, Vin's going under with you and I want your promise that if you have any doubts about anything, you'll go to him for guidance. Don't try to handle everything yourself.

"I know you've been on your own since your Mom died, and you cared for her a long time before that, but you're not alone now, you have teammates."

JD interrupted then, "I know, Buck, not just teammates, you are all my friends. I won't get overconfident and I'll do everything I can to not make a mistake. I'll go to Vin for guidance if I have any questions. Please, don't worry, I'll take care of myself and I'll come home safe, I promise."

Buck was glad to get JD's promise but felt he needed to remind him just once more.

"I don't want you to forget that we're there to help, Vin's right there with you. Josiah and Nathan will be at the school part of the time. Ezra will be there for the buy. Don't worry about having to face anything alone."


As Buck sat next to his oldest friend waiting for the doctor to arrive, the only thoughts in his head were, Did he face this alone? Did he think he was alone when he was shot? Would he be alone when he died? If, in fact he did die. No, they'd make sure of that, at least, if he died, it would be in the company of his friends, his family. It was the least they could do since they hadn't been there to save him. And just why hadn't Vin been there in time?

After School, 20th November, Vin's SCHOOL Office

Vin sat in his office waiting for JD to show. JD was only to meet with him in his official capacity at the school. If he needed to see Vin, he'd act up in class and he'd get demerits toward Saturday detention. Since the gang was active on Saturdays, this gave him an excuse to come to Vin's office after school to try and get them removed. Vin had made it a practice to remove demerits if the student apologized in person on the same day. No one would think it strange for JD to do so.

Vin was worried, this was the first time JD felt the need for a meeting and he knew of nothing wrong. JD had made his scheduled reports by phone to either Buck or Chris, his two 'uncles'. When Vin spoke with Chris at noon, he didn't mention any worries with JD or the case.

JD finally arrived pale and upset. He made a few attempts to speak before he actually said anything.

"Vin, something horrible happened on Saturday afternoon. I don't know if I can keep on doing this. I don't want to let the team down, but I really feel bad about what I did. I'm ashamed." He pushed shaky fingers through his hair, as he shifted in his chair. "My Mom would be so ashamed. I don't want to be Jeff Dwyer any longer. I want to be me, JD Dunne."

Vin sat there wondering just what had worked JD into this state. He'd let him explain and then see what he could do to help.

"I hate Jeff and what he does." JD continued with his story. "I don't know how Ezra does this, how can he live with himself when he has to do something bad to stay in character?

"You know that kid, Brian Logan, real nerdy guy." Vin nodded his head. "The gang is always giving him a hard time in class. He's not popular with anyone but my gang always treats him worse that any one else.

"That's been bad enough. This weekend though, we crossed paths with him at the playground in the park. The gang attacked him, we beat on him, kicked him as he was curled up on the ground. Probably broke a few ribs. That's why he was absent today.

"We walked off and left him lying on the ground all bloody and broken. He was begging us to stop while we beat him and was crying when we left.

"Just how am I supposed to live with doing something like that? That could have been me. I'm more Brian Logan than I'm Jeff Dwyer or any of these gang members."

Vin wasn't surprised that JD identified with Brian, he knew what a good student JD had been, he also knew that JD had never had the anger in him that Vin had seen in Brian. He wanted to speak up but knew from experience that stopping JD before he completed the story was the wrong thing to do.

"What am I supposed to do, Vin? How do I tell Chris to pull me out? I'm not sure I'm able to think straight and not mess up."

Vin was pretty shaken by what he heard. This was the last thing he had expected. If JD could just give it two more days, then the Thanksgiving weekend would give him the break he needed. His cover story was that his uncles were making him go to his grandmother's for the holidays, a planned break from the gang. Chris had felt this would be beneficial for JD, hell for all of them.

Buck was planning to take JD skiing over the holidays. Hopefully, he'd get enough of a break that the assignment could be completed. If JD quit, he'd never forgive himself and it would most likely destroy him and his career. Ezra had reported it would probably go down mid- December. That meant at the most three weeks after the holidays.

Vin needed to lay things out for JD and then let him decide. He chose his words carefully, what he said and how he said it could be crucial to the decision JD would make.

"JD, would the gang have beaten Brian if you weren't there? If you answer yes to that, you aren't to blame. And I know you didn't do much during the beating. Hell, if you had tried to stop it you would have got beaten yourself, probably worse than Brian for betraying your gang.

"I want you to think on this. Is pulling out now going to change anything that happened on Saturday? Can you go back and change what happened?

"I know what happened has forever changed you, there is no going back from something like that. It happens, in our line of work, out in the field. If you decide you can't carry on with this assignment, it doesn't mean you can't continue with the team. It just means we rushed you into an activity you weren't quite ready to handle.

"You need to decide what's the best thing for you to do at this time. What I suggest you do is try and make it through tomorrow and Wednesday. This weekend you sit down with Chris and Josiah and the three of you decide the best course of action. And if you are pulled off the case, don't let yourself get discouraged. Larabee and Travis decided to try this against their own best judgment. When you're older and more mature, you'll do fine."

JD sat there not talking for almost ten minutes. And Vin waited for him to think things through and make his decision. Finally JD spoke.

"OK, I'll stay on the case through the week and talk with Chris after Thanksgiving. Don't say anything, I don't want to ruin the holiday for everyone. I'm just ... there was no one ... all day Sunday I just kept thinking about what happened. I felt so alone. Thanks for talking to me, for trying to make me feel better. Buck said I should come to you if I had any doubts. He was right. I needed a friend right now.

"When I was in school, I was this geeky little kid and I was as unpopular as Brian. I can so relate to how he's feeling, no friends, nobody to tell his troubles. I just wanted all day today to find him and say I understand, I was you a few years ago. I guess it was a good thing he wasn't here. I know I can't do that now, talk to him. But do you think maybe when this is all over I could do that? I want him to know it gets better."


Great job, Vin, Tanner thought as he washed off the blood. I convinced him to stay on the case, then I hesitated to take the shot at Brian, and now it looks like I'll have to live with JD's death on my conscience. He was only at the school in harm's way because of me. This shouldn't have happened. He shouldn't have been there. He had wanted out of the assignment and I convinced him to stay. He had wanted to talk to Brian, maybe he could have reached him, maybe it won't just be JD's death on my conscience, but Brian's and all the kids he gunned down.

21st November, Lake Ridge High School, Counseling Office

JD swaggered into Josiah's office with both hands jammed in his pockets, every inch the defiant teenager he was portraying. Sanchez was a little surprised at how convincing he was, this was nothing like the sweet innocent young man he worked with everyday. This was a real troublemaker.

JD took a seat. He didn't speak just stared at the floor. He had called the meeting but it looked like it was up to Josiah to start, "You wanted to see me JD. Is there a problem with the case, do you need to be pulled out?"

No answer came from the boy and Josiah was shocked to see tears run down his cheeks when he looked up.

"Son, what's wrong? You need to talk to me, I can't help you if you don't tell me what happened," Josiah pleaded with him to speak.

"Josiah, I'm not who I always thought I was. I hate who I've become. I thought I could do this like Ezra said, realizing it was just an act. But I'm not Ezra and I can't just detach myself from what I'm doing to get the information," JD stated tearfully.

Josiah had no idea what JD was talking about, as far as he knew nothing much had happened on the case yet. The gang hadn't been involved in any illegal activities. It had been set up so the team would receive word from Denver PD if they engaged in anything criminal while JD was a member.

He decided to try again and patiently asked, "JD, what happened, why are you so upset?" He sat back and waited for the boy to respond.

Looking straight at him, JD finally began to speak, "My gang was the ones that beat up Brian Logan over the weekend. You saw him today, how he looks. He's a real mess and everyone at the school was making fun. It's my fault. I didn't even try to stop them 'cause it wouldn't look right for Jeff Dwyer to care about a geek like Brian. We hurt him bad and he kept pleading with us to stop. Then someone must have called 911 because the paramedics came and we ran off.

"What kind of monster does something like that just to stay in character? I shouldn't have taken part. I should have called 911 myself. I did nothing and if the paramedics hadn't showed up, we might have crippled or killed him. How am I supposed to live with that, you tell me Josiah, just how am I supposed to live with that?"

Josiah didn't know if there were any words of comfort he could offer. He would have to try but JD had made a mistake. Yes, it is important to stay in character but not to the point where an innocent's life is put in danger. JD knew that and Josiah couldn't understand how this had happened. There was more to this, he just didn't know what it was or even if JD would ever be willing to tell him.

First things first, he thought, time to ask some key questions.

"JD, do you need to see a counselor. I can arrange with Travis for you to see the agency psychiatrist tonight. Also, I need to know, do you want me to have you pulled out. You say the word and I'll call Chris and you can go home," Josiah explained. "The rest of us will carry on with the case and you can get the counseling and help you need."

JD reacted immediately to his suggestion with a vehement protest.

"No, I don't want to be pulled out. I don't want to quit. I want to stay and find a way to make this right. If I quit, I'll never get the chance to make it right. I need to talk to Brian and tell him life does get better, that he just has to hang in there and not give up. I can show him. I was him a few years ago and look at how good my life is now." Even as JD spoke he was shaking his head no.

Looking over at Josiah he said, "I know I can't do anything until the case is over, but then I want to be here to do something. Don't call Chris, I know I made a mistake but give me a chance to make this right. I need to be able to make this right."

Josiah pondered what JD had said. He had a decision to make. His first instinct was to pull the boy out. That would only compound the problem. He made his decision.

"Here's what were going to do, son. I won't call Chris but this weekend the three of us are going to sit down and decide whether or not you continue with the case." JD had been staring at his lap, now he looked up as if about to speak. "No, wait before you respond. I promise you, you will get your chance to talk to Brian once the case is concluded. I will make sure of that. So that is not going to be a deciding factor in this matter.

"You made a mistake, JD. You aren't the only one. I felt you needed to be more emotionally mature but I did nothing and even concurred with you're taking this assignment. Chris and Travis had reservations about your youth that's why they set the rules they did when you joined the team. They went against their own rules. We all made mistakes and I, for one, do not intend to see you paying for our mistakes.

"I'm worried about your emotional state. I know part of the problem was facing the results of your action when you saw Brian today. You will need to convince me this weekend that you are still able to complete this assignment without doing damage to your psyche.

"If I'm convinced, you can continue. If I'm not convinced, you will be pulled out and get some counseling. Do you understand me, JD? This is my, and my decision only. The only decision you have to make is whether you want to be pulled out today."

"I already told you, I didn't want out." JD replied through clenched teeth. "That hasn't changed. I can do this. You don't need to worry about me."

As JD walked out, Josiah realized just how much he wanted to pull him out this minute. The young man had wanted to stay and he had listened but he was worried about JD's emotional state. He couldn't be sure that this wouldn't harm him more.


Now Josiah sat praying in a hospital. Brian Logan was dead. JD hadn't been given the chance to save him. Even if JD survived, Josiah was very afraid that the guilt over Brian's death would destroy the boy.

22nd November, Lake Ridge High School

JD sat in class thinking how glad he would be when this assignment was over. Granted when he received his first real field assignment he had been excited, thinking going undercover would be a lot different than it actually turned out to be. What he hadn't counted on was how incredibly strange it would feel to be in high school again at his age. Pretending to be a sophomore was bad enough but pretending to be a troublemaker and a gang member was worse.

And the things he had done to be convincing, he wouldn't be able to forget them for a long time. He really needed to talk to someone again. The guilt he was feeling about what happened to Brian wasn't going to go away without some help from his friends. Maybe he could talk to Vin again when the assignment was over. Vin had done this kind of thing before and was nearer his age than either Josiah or Ezra. He couldn't talk to Buck about it, he was too ashamed. He didn't want Buck to be disappointed with him.

When he had talked with Chris this morning, he had said it looked like the case would be ending sooner than expected. He could hardly wait to get back to the office and his normal life. The days at school seemed so long, at least when the bell rang in a few minutes there would be only lunch and two classes left for today. Of course, school wasn't the hardest part it was the activities he engaged in with the gang after school that made this so difficult.

As JD sat mulling over his assignment the bell rang and he left class for the lunchroom. Suddenly he heard the sound of shots being fired. Rushing into the hall, he headed toward the sound of gunfire as the other students were running in the opposite direction. He spotted Brian Logan as he strode down the hall, throwing one gun down, and drawing another from his waistband. JD hurried to get between Brian and the group of terrified students he was chasing down the hall.

When JD reached the others, he motioned them to continue moving and attempted to capture the shooter's attention to him.

"Come on, Brian, you don't want to do this. Shooting them won't make things better, let me have the gun, I can help you, get you to someone who can make things better. Just give me the gun, I'm your friend, I know what you're going through, I've been there. Let me help, please Brian, just give me the gun and let me help you."

JD didn't know if he was getting through to Brian or not. He definitely had his entire attention...unfortunately he was pointing the gun right at him from a distance of only four feet. One good thing, he didn't appear to hear Vin's approach from the rear with his own gun. Vin got in position to take out the shooter without putting anyone else in danger.

JD had forgotten for the moment that Brian had good reason to consider him the enemy. JD continued to try and reason with him. He knew that at the first sign of danger Vin would take the shot, so he only had limited time to convince Brian to give up the gun. Even as he continued asking him for the gun, he saw Brian's eyes change. JD's eyes flashed to Vin conveying the message he was going to shoot, he watched as Brian's finger tightened on the trigger, then it was all noise and pain. As he fell he heard Vin's gun go off and knew that Brian was dead and wondered if he would soon join him.

+ + + + + + +

Vin couldn't help wishing the team had never taken this particular assignment. The team wasn't ready for such a complicated effort. JD had come on board just over three months ago. They needed more time working together before attempting an undercover assignment involving three team members, five if you counted Nathan and Josiah's part time efforts. Not only that, but they had to work closely with another team for the final take down since most of their own team was undercover. It didn't sit well with Vin but Larabee had accepted it and that was that, no arguing.

So here he was supposedly teaching physical education and health at an inner city high school while JD infiltrated the gang as a student. Ezra of course was undercover on the outside attempting to buy a large consignment of guns from the arms dealer that was using the youth gang as a front. And since Chris didn't want new hires at the high school he had Nathan filling a temporary position and Josiah a part time position that had come open just before the assignment started.

That meant that Nathan had to come in one day a week to man the school nurse's office while she attended a new training class. And Josiah was needed since the school decided they didn't have enough counselors and needed an additional one three days a week. So here it was Wednesday and there had been an unbelievable four members of Team 7 at the high school. Josiah had left just an hour earlier for the day.

There wasn't much he could do except sit and think about the problems this assignment might cause the team. It was his free period but the school rules stated he had to stay in his classroom, his office off the locker room, or the teacher's lounge. No wandering about the school and that made it extremely difficult to do anything productive during school hours.

Of course, his assignment this time was really as backup to JD. The gang members weren't going to confide in a teacher no matter how he acted. So he sat in his classroom hoping the assignment would end soon and worrying about JD.

The sounds of gunshots broke him out of his reverie. He reached down, unlocked his lower right hand desk drawer and removed his service weapon. As he hurried out of the classroom, he turned in the direction of the shots. A number of students ran past as he moved quickly down the hall. As he ran he saw three students lying dead in the hallway. When he turned the next corner, he saw a sight that filled him with dread.

A young man from one of his classes, Brian Logan, was holding a gun on JD. JD saw him approaching even as he continued to try and talk Brian into giving up his gun. Vin knew the chances of that happening were slim so he moved to get into a position where he could take a shot, one that wouldn't put JD or any other students in the line of fire. Once he was in position he waited. He knew for JD's sake he had to give him every opportunity to succeed with Brian. Suddenly JD looked at him, Brian was going to take the shot. He needed to shoot but couldn't help the thought JD will never forgive me if I kill Brian.

Vin heard the click of the chamber and fired knowing he was too late. Brian got his shot off before Vin even fired. JD was down, his chest covered in blood. As he moved to JD and tried to stop the bleeding all he could think was I hesitated when it mattered most, I hesitated and JD's going to die.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan had just finished with a student and was getting ready to head out to lunch when he heard shots coming from the back of the school. He rushed out of the office running toward the shots. One of the security guards halted him in the main hall waiting for the shooting to stop. He took the opportunity to call 911. He had just convinced the guard to let him pass so he could tend to any injuries when there were two more shots.

He reached the end of the main hall, turned the corner, and was stunned by the sight that met his eyes. A student lay dead and just a few feet further down the hall was Vin Tanner. He was pushing on JD's chest trying to stem the steady flow of blood. Vin's hands were covered in blood and he appeared to be in shock.

JD's chest was drenched with blood and he had a bloody gash on his head, it appeared he cut it on something when he collapsed. As he rushed to JD's side to take over from Vin, he wondered what would happen to Tanner if JD didn't make it. Vin's eyes were empty, dead and that frightened him almost as much as the blood flowing from young JD's body.

22nd November, Team Offices

Chris was sitting in his office deciding he had done the wrong thing accepting Mary's invitation to Thanksgiving Dinner tomorrow. Just because he didn't want to disappoint Billy, wasn't a good reason to lead Mary on by accepting her invitation. Well it was too late to change things now. So, he'd go tomorrow but find the opportunity to explain to her that he wasn't interested in a relationship. And then after dinner, he'd head out to the ski resort to join up with Buck, Vin, and JD.

After he made his mind up about Mary he was able to finally relax. His cell began to ring. Why did they always sound so urgent, he thought as he picked up. He barely got a chance to answer before Vin began to yell at him over the phone. It sounded like Vin was sobbing as he spoke and he could barely make out what he was trying to say.

Suddenly Vin's voice cleared and he heard "... and I don't think he's gonna make it. I think JD's goin' t' die ... all m' fault ... paramedics workin' on 'im now and ... they're leavin' ... gotta go with 'em." The phone went dead and he sat there trying to comprehend what just happened. JD dying, Vin in some insane messed up state. He sat there for just a moment stunned, wondering if this case and his decision had cost a young man his life and another a lifetime of guilt.

+ + + + + + +

Buck kept glancing at the clock, wanting the day to end and the holiday weekend to start. He couldn't believe how much he was missing JD since he went on assignment. He wasn't all that noisy and he certainly didn't take up a lot of space, but his condo seemed so empty with him gone. And with both him and Vin out of the office, it felt strange.

He would be glad for a few days with JD up in the mountains at the ski resort he, Chris, Vin and JD were spending the weekend. Not that he'd be doing much skiing, leave that to Chris and leave the new fangled snowboarding to the two youngsters. He'd be spending his time at the lodge with the ladies.

They'd head out tonight and Chris would join them after he had Thanksgiving Dinner at Mary's. That was a mistake, of that, Buck was sure, but you don't tell Larabee that or he'd just get more stubborn. Let him figure it out himself.

He roused himself when his ATF cell began to ring, wondering which one of the guys was calling. As he answered he heard Nathan yelling to Vin, 'I need to stay here you go with him.'

The next thing he heard was Nathan saying, "Buck, you and Chris need to head over to Denver General, JD's been shot and either you or Chris have to authorize the surgery. It's real bad, a chest shot. You need to hurry, time is of the essence. I'll head over as soon as I can. The first paramedics left with Vin and JD and there are wounded kids here."

Although, he just wanted to hang up and leave, he had to ask, "What about Vin, is he OK or is he shot, too? What happened? Was JD's cover blown? Do we need to pull Ezra out?"

He was astounded at Nathan's answer. "It was just another school shooting; I'll explain when I get there. No time to talk, just get to the hospital now."

As he stood to go for Chris and Josiah, he couldn't help remembering his talk with JD about taking no chances. He never thought to warn him about the one thing that had gone wrong. Who thinks that just being in high school could be so dangerous? They all thought the danger was when he was out of class and with the gang.

They were wrong.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah was in the break room eating his lunch when he heard Chris shouting for him and Buck. He came out and saw Buck grabbing his coat and rushing for the door.

Chris yelled over his shoulder as he ran for the elevator.

"JD's been shot, we're heading to the hospital. It's bad, you'd better come. Vin said he might be dying."

As he caught up with them at the elevator, Buck was speaking to Chris.

"Nathan says they need us to sign papers before they'll operate. We need to hurry, we'd better take the Ram, use the lights and siren. Time could make all the difference."

They burst out of the elevator and headed for Chris' Ram. As the truck sped out of the garage, Chris flipped on the siren and lights. Josiah had trouble believing what was happening. JD couldn't be dying. He'd seen him just yesterday at the school. JD left a note in his box, and he called him to his office for a counseling appointment as they'd arranged in advance. JD needed to talk and he'd tried to reassure him, now he thought Did I do the right thing? If he'd listened, really listened to JD, things might be different now. JD wouldn't be dying or at least he wouldn't be dying hating himself. He should have pulled him out, when he saw his emotional state. If he had, JD would be safe. He had made a mistake and JD was paying the price for that mistake. He began to pray for his young friend.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra had left for a meeting with the arms dealer 15 minutes earlier and was now heading through the city center on his way to the site of the meet. Unlike the rest of the team, he would be working this weekend. After the meet, he needed to go home, type up his report, and get it emailed to Chris before he left for the holiday. Driving along, he thought about the good news he hoped to report. It looked like they would be able to wrap this case up sometime in the next two weeks. The gunrunners were confirming a date for the buy at today's meeting.

As always he was looking forward to his return to normal life. Although he was good at his job and had always enjoyed his time undercover, since he joined Team 7 he found himself taking more pleasure in the times when he wasn't undercover than he ever had in the past. His cell was ringing, he hated talking on the phone while driving but not answering wasn't an option while on a case. He saw by the ID that it was Buck.

Wondering why he'd be calling now, he answered, "Standish here."

"Ezra, you need to pull out, cancel your meet, JD was shot at the school and your cover could be blown," Buck quickly told him. "Chris, Josiah and I are heading to the hospital. It doesn't look good from what Vin and Nathan said. One of us will call you as soon as we know anything more. You just get to somewhere safe until we know how things stand. Whatever you do, don't meet with them or go anywhere they'd know to look for you."

Ezra was stunned but managed to respond.

"I'll cancel the meet and head back to my place. Keep me informed how he's doing. He'll make it Buck, he can't not make it." As he drove aimlessly through the streets, all his thoughts were on his conversation with JD the day Chris offered him the assignment. He remembered his doubts about JD taking the assignment and knew he'd regret to his dying day the decision he made if the young man succumbed to his wounds.

+ + + + + + +

As the ambulance sped through the streets towards Denver General, the paramedics never stopped working on JD. At one point shortly after they left the school the patient had coded but they managed to get his heart started again without having to defibrillate him, a good code. They should be at the hospital in 10 minutes, hopefully in time to make a difference. As his partner radioed ahead requesting a cardiac vascular surgeon is on hand, the second paramedic couldn't help remembering a call he had answered just four days earlier. Then another young boy had lain on the ground beaten and bloody. The young patient he had today was one of several other boys standing around the scene with blood on their clothing and hands.

He knew the beaten boy had been the shooter at the school today. He'd seen his dead body. A lot of innocents had been hurt or killed today; it seemed only right to him that one of the instigators of the violence on Saturday should meet his fate at the hands of the one he tormented - a matter of justice being served. He knew it was wrong to feel that way and he would do everything possible to keep his patient alive, but why he should live when so many had died he didn't understand.

Vin had been guided into the ambulance and watched as the paramedics worked on stabilizing JD. He heard them talking amongst themselves and on the radio. He tried to understand what was being said but the only thing that registered was when they said, "he's coding." They performed CPR and got his heart beating and his breathing going again but JD didn't look any better. Vin was just waiting for the machine to start its high-pitched whine again and this time never stop. When that happened he'd know he was finally in hell.

He couldn't help thinking on the conversation when he told JD that he had nothing to worry about. He'd told JD he was covered on this one, plenty of backup. He'd promised him they'd keep him safe, and they'd failed, even though the shooting had nothing to do with the case.

There was nothing the others could have done. But he could have, he hesitated; he didn't take the shot when he saw that Brian was going to pull the trigger. He had only seconds to act, and if he had acted JD would be alive and well. Now he was fighting for his life and it looked like he was going to lose. He'd lose because Vin had hesitated for that one fatal second.

The ambulance was finally pulling up to the emergency room entrance. They wanted him to go to a room of his own but he managed to stay with JD. Now a nurse was shoving paperwork at him, saying he needed to sign it so they could operate. He tried to explain he didn't have the authority. A doctor came out and told him they needed to operate now. So he signed. The doctor had used words like a nicked artery, close to the heart, chest cavity filling with blood. He'd tried to wrap his mind around everything the doctor was saying but only those few phrases stayed with him.

Now they were rushing the gurney with JD on it out of the cubicle, headed for the elevators. Vin stood in the hallway not sure where to go. A nurse informed him the surgical waiting room was on the 6th floor so he went there to wait for the rest of the team. He arrived upstairs, staggered into the waiting room, went to the furthest corner and collapsed into a hunched over sitting position on the floor.

+ + + + + + +

As they drove up to the hospital and parked, Josiah ended his phone conversation with Denver PD Detective Rodriquez. He then called Ezra and let him know the shooting didn't seem to be related to the case. He told Ezra it was safe for him to come to the hospital. He needed to be there, from what the police said JD was seriously hurt. Even as he spoke to Ezra, his mind was on his conversation with Chris about keeping JD safe on this assignment.

Chris had been concerned about sending JD undercover at such a young age. So he was taking exceptional precautions.

"I don't want any new hires at the school, we won't know enough about any newcomers and they could be working with the gunrunners," he'd said.

Josiah knew that was just an excuse, it gave Chris the opportunity to put additional safeguards at the school. So he went along with it.

As Chris had explained, "Nathan will be there each Thursday except the week of Thanksgiving and you will be there Monday and Tuesday and mornings on Wednesday and Friday. That way if JD can't get to Vin and it's urgent he has some fallback options."

Chris's decision had made them all feel better about this arrangement especially Buck who really didn't want JD doing it. They'd be able to keep the boy safe with so many agents on site. Only thing was they hadn't kept him safe, because the case didn't take him down. Random school violence, something they had made no provisions for, was the culprit. Other young people, not just JD, had fallen victim to it today.

Chris and Buck were already out of the car. As they strode toward the Emergency Room entrance, Josiah took a moment to collect himself, he needed to stop dwelling in the past and get in there. It was the least he could do for JD's sake. He would keep JD's hero and big brother under his watchful eye.

As he watched, Chris stormed into the hospital entrance with the longer legged Buck a few feet behind. Just as Josiah caught up to Buck, he heard the familiar sound of Ezra's Jag being parked behind him. He wondered how Ezra managed to get here so fast after his call.

Ezra was wondering much the same thing. He'd hung up from talking to Josiah, looked up to decide how best to get to the hospital and realized his aimless driving had taken him to within just a few blocks. As he drove those last few blocks, he remembered his meeting with JD on Sunday. He had almost called Chris and told him to pull JD out. Why hadn't he done that, or at least warned the others, JD had doubts about what he was doing, what he thought he was becoming.

But they were so close to completing the assignment and JD said he could manage. Why had he listened to a 20 year old? He was an old hand at this, the more experienced agent, and he should have acted on his first instinct when JD mentioned his doubts, he should have pulled him off the case. The boy would be alive and well if he had. After parking, he headed to the Emergency Entrance not too far behind Buck and Josiah. As they entered the hospital, he saw Chris entering the elevator.

When the second group of paramedics arrived at Lake Ridge High, Nathan felt he could leave for the hospital. Thinking ahead and not wanting Vin to be sitting around covered in JD's blood Nathan took time to go to the locker room and get a pair of sweats for him. After he changed out of his own bloody clothes, he began to make his way to the hospital.

He called ahead to inform them of the exchange of blood between the shooter, JD, and Vin. The shooter's blood had entered JD's wound, Vin had cuts on his hands from the glass case that had shattered all around JD, and Vin hadn't been gloved when he was caring for JD. The morgue would collect blood from the shooter for the necessary testing. The hospital needed to make sure JD and Vin's blood was also tested.

As he drove to the hospital, he tried to prepare himself for the questions the others would ask. He was so thankful he had been at the school today. If he hadn't, JD would already be dead. The need to protect JD, that had driven Chris to have both him and Josiah covering his back, had paid off. The boy was still alive, whether he would stay that way was another matter. JD had had the advantage of a trained EMT 8 to 10 minutes earlier than was normal in a case like this and it could make all the difference in whether he lived or died.

He didn't know how he could possibly tell Buck just how bad JD was shot. It was a severe chest trauma and no matter how he tried to stem the flow of blood, the boy had still lost an excessive amount of blood. He also had that horrible gash on his head.

When he parked, he spotted both Chris's Ram and Ezra's Jag. Entering the Emergency Room he saw Ezra enter the elevators. The boy must already be in surgery, he thought as he headed toward the elevator bank.

Buck entered the waiting room with Ezra and Josiah and discovered Chris stopped in his tracks as he stared at the far corner. Buck followed his gaze and spotted Vin sitting on the floor covered in blood, pale and shaky, head bowed.

After bombarding Chris with questions, Chris was able to finally get Vin to speak. As Tanner looked up Buck could see where the tears had run down Vin's face. Buck listened as Vin told his story, told Chris about the shooting, about signing the papers, about just how bad JD was doing.

Although Buck was very afraid for his boy, another young man was hurting now. One he might be able to help. Vin needed some comfort but Buck wasn't sure he was the right one to offer it. After all he had only added to Vin's burden when he pulled him aside before this case started and asked him to take care of JD, to keep him safe. He knew Vin and he would have taken that to heart. Hell, he hadn't needed to say anything. Vin was going to do his best for JD no matter what. Now, Vin would feel like he had not only failed JD but had also let Buck down. Well no time like the present to set the matter straight.

As he headed in Vin's direction to try and offer what comfort he could, Nathan entered the room. After asking Chris how JD was doing, he announced that he had spoke with a surgical nurse and the surgery would be long and complicated so everyone needed to settle in for a long wait. He then handed a pair of sweats to Vin and told him to get the blood washed off. Then come out and join the rest of them for the wait.

After Nathan sent Vin on his way, he explained to them what he knew about JD's gunshot wound. After he finished, Buck was unable to think straight, he had known it was bad when they said gunshot to the chest. All he really got out of everything Nathan had said was that it was close to his heart. He couldn't help wondering if they could repair the damage, if JD's heart could take it. JD was young and strong but still this sounded like it might be too much for even a young, strong heart to survive. He sure knew his own heart wasn't doing too great after hearing what Nathan had just said.

Nathan sat down and stared out of the waiting room window as he remembered a similar albeit less serious situation several weeks earlier.

24th September, DGH, Surgical Waiting Room

JD was fidgeting in his seat in this same waiting room. Finally he stood up and came over to him. That day he had wanted reassurance that Vin would be okay, that he wasn't going to die.

Nathan had explained things earlier but JD said as he stood next to him.

"I'm sorry, Nathan, I was listening, really I was, but I just didn't register what you said. I mean I heard it but I just don't know what you said. Could you tell me again? I never saw so much blood, Vin was so pale, is he going to die?"

He had done his best to reassure JD.

"Vin was shot in the thigh, it was a through and through. But there are some major blood vessels in the leg. That's why the bleeding was so heavy. Josiah managed to apply pressure within a minute or two of his being wounded. That made all the difference. Unless something unforeseen happens, Vin will live. In a month's time you won't even know he was shot."

They had talked for a while longer. JD had only been with the team a short time but just like he had with Buck, JD had become fast friends with Vin.


Now Nathan was wondering what he would say to Vin and Buck if they came over for reassurance about JD. He didn't know if there was any reassurance he could honestly offer. He wasn't sure himself that the wounds wouldn't eventually prove fatal and from what the nurse didn't say when they spoke earlier neither was the doctor doing the surgery.

After hearing Vin and Nathan's explanation of JD's wounds, Ezra retreated to a seat off to the side where he could watch the door and wait for the doctor to make an appearance. As he tried to digest everything Nathan had told him, his mind flashed to a scene two months earlier in this same room.

24th September, DGH, Surgical Waiting Room

JD was pacing about the room, driving everyone crazy with his questions and concerns. Nathan had tried to reassure him and it seemed to work...then JD was up and pacing again. Ezra decided it was his turn.

So he waylaid the young man on his next pass by and asked him to play some cards with him to help pass the time. The boy had certainly been brought up right, even though playing cards was probably the last thing he wanted to do, he hadn't wanted to disappoint Ezra.

So they sat and played cards and he let JD tell him all his concerns about Vin and what happened. JD seemed very concerned about the circumstances surrounding Vin's shooting. He had told Ezra.

"I don't understand, Vin was a bounty hunter. He brought this man in for jumping his bail. He didn't even go to jail. I mean he was found not guilty. So why come back and shoot Vin. I just don't understand."

Ezra tried to explain but was never sure if the boy accepted his reasoning.

"JD, the man could have gone to prison for life. He was wanted for kidnapping and murder. He had planned to kill the witness. Vin bringing him in prevented that. If he hadn't had the luck of the devil, he would have been convicted. The only witness had a heart attack two weeks before the trial. That's the only reason he was found innocent. He felt he owed Vin and could get away with shooting him. He didn't know he was now an agent surrounded by friends with guns."

JD eyes shone with hero worship as he commented on Buck and Chris both taking the shooter out. It had been an interesting experience listening to him. Seeing the joy in his young eyes when the doctor came in and said the surgery was a success, was a sight he would never forget.


He could only hope that when the doctor reported this time the news would be equally good. The news had to be good because anything less would be totally unacceptable. Ezra had to believe that JD would survive because he had to survive for the team to survive.

If JD succumbed to his wounds, they would lose Buck for sure, and most probably Vin as well. Chris would take all the guilt on himself and would retreat back into the black shell of anger he wore for so long after the death of his family. The team could not survive the loss of their youngest.

Buck was pacing the room like a madman ever since Nathan told him about JD's condition. He still was unable to wrap his mind around what Nathan had told him. He just knew that he had to be there for Vin and Chris when the doctor came. Neither one of them was handling this well, so Buck needed to be able to help. And how could he help unless he got his thoughts together. He remembered so well when Vin was the one in surgery.

24th September, DGH, Surgical Waiting Room

JD had been pacing like he was today. First, Nathan and then Ezra took him under their care. He had been busy that day dealing with Chris and he was sure thankful that they were there for JD when he needed them.

Ezra and JD were talking and playing cards when the doctor entered, JD jumping up right quick and when he was told Vin was going to be fine, he high fived everybody in the room, even Chris. A real sight to see, the happiness he was feeling spilling out like that. The doctor had said they could see Vin in about 30 minutes so he was as surprised as the rest when JD left the room so abruptly after the doctor did.

He came back though, just 10 minutes later with a gift bag in one hand and a balloon bouquet in his other. He'd run down to the gift shop to get presents for Vin. Everyone gave him a hard time about the stuffed bear with the cowboy hat and vest, but Vin sure treasured that bear.

And that had been a real surprise seeing how that tough Texan just melted at the sight of that little ol' stuffed animal. Guess JD was smarter than the rest of them, knew what Vin had been missing his entire life, those little examples of affection and caring.


Well as soon as the doctor came in and told them JD was going to be okay, he'd go down and buy out that gift shop. He needed to show JD just how much he cared, how much he loved his surrogate little brother. Just as soon as the doctor came and told them he was good. He couldn't tell them any different, that boy was too good to leave the world so young.

Of course Chris would tell you that didn't mean anything; Adam and Sarah should never have left the world so early. Chris was going to need Buck if the news was bad about JD, so was Vin, and he didn't know if he could be there for them, didn't know if he could handle bad news any better than them.

This isn't good, Chris not waiting to speak to Vin anymore and headed this way. Come on, I can do this, he thought. I just need to convince him everything will be fine. Ol' Chris, for some strange reason, will accept that coming from me even if he won't from anyone else, even Nathan.

Chris had been standing against the wall glaring at the washroom, waiting for Vin to reappear. Just as Vin exited the room, Josiah headed toward him and motioned Chris away. He didn't like it, but Josiah was probably the best one to handle Vin at the moment. Chris decided he'd better go over and see what he could do for Buck.

Knowing Buck, Buck was probably figuring out how to take care of him, Vin and the rest of the team. Buck never put himself first, always others. Just the kind of person Buck was, never asking always giving. Buck was going through hell right now, worrying about JD. Buck had taken that young man under his care and he hadn't been happy about JD going under for this case.

Maybe the best thing he could do was give Buck the chance to lay him out over this. He'd just remind Buck how JD is, never giving up on anything, living life to the fullest at all times. Hell, thinking back two months, Chris remembered Buck and JD's impromptu celebration in Vin's hospital room after his surgery. The two of them got everyone involved and it was sure something else. Vin had smiled and laughed until it hurt. The nurses kept finding excuses to come into the room.

He'd needed Buck that day and Buck didn't hesitate to offer his comfort. Now Buck needed him and he'd been standing around waiting to talk to Vin. Well no time like the present to go on over and talk to him. Reassure him about JD's youth and strength.

As he sat down next to Buck to offer his comfort, his old friend pulled him into a big hug. Then Buck started speaking to reassure him that JD would be okay. And as Buck spoke the words of reassurance to him, he could see the impact those same words were having on his friend. Buck was comforting himself as he comforted Chris. So he'd listen and he'd respond and if the news was bad, well he'd be there for Buck just as Buck had been there for him when his world fell apart.

Vin had tried to wash off all the blood, but he still felt it on his skin. He threw his bloodstained clothing in the hazardous waste bin in the room, changed into his sweats, and tried to prepare himself to face the music.

He needed to leave the safety of this room and go out there and tell his best friend and JD's best friend just how he'd failed the boy. How he was the one responsible for his injuries. He needed to do that now because he knew Chris was blaming himself and he knew Buck needed an outlet for his anger if the worst case happened and JD died.

And if Buck blamed Chris when Chris was blaming himself, it would destroy their friendship and the team. He needed to own up to his responsibility, now, before they heard one way or another how JD fared in surgery.

In his mind he kept replaying the events in the hallway. First, there was the hesitation on his part to take the shot, then JD was shot and collapsed on the floor. Then he was in the ambulance and the machines started screaming and the paramedics worked on JD until it was beeping again. Then back to the school hallway and the shooting again. Over and over it went in an endless loop until he just wanted to start screaming and never stop.

He stepped out of the washroom, spotted Chris standing against a nearby wall and headed toward him. Chris pushed off the wall and went to join Buck. Vin wondered why until he heard Josiah coming up behind him. Josiah must have signaled Chris. Okay, he'd talk to Josiah first and then make his confession to Chris and the others.

From the moment he entered the waiting room until Vin entered the washroom, Josiah hadn't been able to take his eyes off the young man. He could tell just by looking at him he was suffering from severe psychological shock and needed to be handled with care, and soon. Events like the one today could have effects that lasted a lifetime.

As he saw the washroom door open, he spotted Chris pushing off the wall. Josiah knew Chris needed to talk to Vin, but he felt it was important that Vin talk to him before being debriefed by their team leader. Especially since it was Josiah, Vin had confided in shortly after joining the team. It was late May, not quite two months after Vin joined the team.

24th May, Josiah's Home

He recalled the stoic young Texan telling him his greatest fear when he'd had too much to drink at the team celebration. They were celebrating the successful conclusion of Vin's first case with the team. Vin had saved Buck's life that day and they all drank more than usual even Nathan.

Buck and Chris caught a ride to Buck's place with an old friend from their days with the police. When Rain came to collect Nathan, she dropped him and Vin off at Josiah's place. Vin's place in Purgatory was just too far out of the way for her to drive. So maybe it was just the luck of the draw that Vin confided in him, but he preferred to think that even drunk he wouldn't have said anything to any of the others.

It was a strange thing, young Tanner's 24th birthday was that same day and not one member of the team knew it and Vin never said anything. Vin wasn't one to call attention on himself. Still it would have been nice to celebrate his birthday. Next year there would definitely be a celebration maybe at the ranch.

Everyone looked at Tanner and saw a cool collected young man. Confident, independent, quiet, a good man...were all words used to describe him. Conflicted, tortured, full of doubt were not words that Vin called to mind. Sanchez learned that night that those words were apt. Vin was only a few years older than JD and sometimes he appeared obliged to shoulder all the responsibilities in the world.

That night all his doubts were laid out for Josiah to see. Vin had drank more then usual, not really drunk, but not as careful with his talk as normal. So Vin confided his secrets to Josiah.

"I saved Buck today, I'm so thankful I was there and was able to save him. What happens, Josiah, when I don't make the shot, when I can't save a friend? Nobody's perfect, some day I'll miss and when I make a mistake or miss...somebody I care about will die. I feel I'm responsible for the life of everyone on the team during a bust. I'm the one up high. I'm the only one that can see a lot of what goes on. What do I do the day I mess up and someone dies?"

Josiah watched Vin as he spoke, the way he looked at his hands as if they would one day betray him. He didn't know what to say but he could listen.

"It was like this in the army, my squad depending on me to keep them safe. I always did but finally I couldn't take it anymore. That's the reason I never re-upped when the time came. I knew one day I would fail. I didn't want to be responsible for a squad member's death.

"After I got out, I decided to work on my own. Finally became a bounty hunter, there were never any lives on the line except my own. Today I just realized, I've put myself back in the position of being responsible for the safety of others. Josiah I don't think I could handle it if I got one of you killed."

Josiah knew he had to be careful how he responded. If he said the wrong thing, Vin would close up and never speak of the matter again.

"Vin, first you are one of the best with a rifle that I've ever seen. If, not when, but if, you ever miss a shot the team will understand. We know you're not perfect, we don't expect you to be. We just expect what we receive from you, your best effort. As long as you do the best you can, you haven't failed this team or any member on it.

"Chris is a great leader but he isn't perfect, neither is Buck or any of the rest of us. We all have our responsibilities and if any of us make a mistake it could result in harm to our teammates. You're not the only one who has these worries, these responsibilities, these doubts; we all have them. Just do your best, that's all anyone is asking."

Vin said he understood, "I know Josiah, it'll just take some getting used to again, being responsible for the safety of others and not just me."

They went on to discuss his bounty hunting days and some of the different aspects of the hunt. Josiah was confident that Vin would eventually accept the situation with the calm confidence he had always attributed to him prior to that night.


Now, just six months later, Vin's greatest fear had been realized. JD had been shot in front of his eyes. It didn't help any that both Chris and Buck had been telling JD and themselves that nothing would happen with Vin there to back him up.

He needed to reach Vin and make him understand that it was just a case of random violence, there was nothing he could have done differently. Neither JD nor Vin should have been there, it had nothing to do with the case. It was a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

He led Vin to a quiet corner of the room and sat down to talk. "Vin, I don't want you thinking this was your fault. It was a random school shooting and there was nothing you or anyone else could do that would have stopped it from happening. At least you were able to get the shooter, you made sure nobody else was shot."

Vin just looked at him with those dead eyes and quietly spoke.

"I need to speak to the team, Josiah. I have to let them know what happened. This was my fault and there's nothing you could say to change that. JD spoke to me on Monday. I knew then JD ought to be pulled out. I didn't say or do anything, didn't want to lose our friendship. JD felt he needed to finish the job and make right a wrong he had done. You can see I'm to blame here, I was the older agent, I knew the right thing to do."

Josiah could understand Vin feeling responsible. He did too.

"JD spoke to me yesterday about what happened last Saturday. I knew he was troubled but I listened to him and decided he could handle anything the case threw at him before the holidays. What I didn't know was that random violence would strike the school and claim him. That is not my fault nor is it yours."

Vin felt sorry for Josiah, it was obvious he didn't know who the shooter had been. There was no way he could do this twice so Josiah would just have to be told the truth with the rest of the team. He had to convince him to let him tell the others.

"You don't understand exactly what happened, what went wrong, what I did. I can't tell it more than one time. I need to tell everyone at once."

Josiah knew the cleansing of spirit a confession can bring, so it was with a heavy heart he convinced Vin to wait until the doctor had reported on JD's condition.

He told Vin, "You don't want to be interrupted during your explanation. It would be best, if you wait until the doctor lets us know how JD is doing. Then make your explanations. "

The young Texan went back to the same corner he'd been in when they arrived. Again he sat on the floor, head resting on his knees as he began the long wait for information about JD's condition. Josiah motioned to the others that Vin should be left alone as he too sat and waited for the doctor.

22ND NOVEMBER, DGH, Operating Room 4

The nurse stepped back as they finally finished closing after four long hours working on the boy. He had arrested twice early in the surgery but his vital signs were now stable. His heart rate and blood pressure were both strong and continually improving.

The doctor was no longer listing him as critical. /Oh/ he'd be going to a room in the ICU, but probably just for 24 hours. The young man had done remarkably well and the doctor was very optimistic for a full and complete recovery. He had just instructed her to go to the waiting room and let them know they were finishing up and he'd be issuing a report on their teammate in a few minutes.

Although she had done this many times before, this time it was a real pleasure. She remembered the young man from a couple of months back when his friend had been in surgery. She hadn't been in the operating room that day. He kept coming out of the waiting room looking around for someone to ask why the surgery was taking so long or if they knew anything. It had been so cute, the way he'd always preface his question with "I really don't want to bother you or I know you probably can't tell me anything" and then go ahead and ask his question.

She had been glad that the news was good that time and was equally glad it was good this time as well. As much as you try to look neutral when you enter the waiting room, those waiting on word of their loved ones somehow could always tell by your demeanor whether or not the patient was doing well.

They all looked up as she entered the room. And she could see them all start to relax. They knew the news was good. So she gave her message, 'the doctor will be out in a few minutes and report on your friend's condition then'. She smiled and left the room as conversation started up behind her.


Now that they knew JD would survive, it was time to get some things done. Okay the doctor still had to confirm it, but they knew. Chris called his men together and started making arrangements to get everything handled.

He told Vin, "I know you want to give us a complete briefing, but I spoke with Travis on the phone while we were waiting and I need you to go to the precinct house handling the shooting and give a statement. They agreed to wait until we knew how JD was doing.

"Ezra, I need to give Vin a lift to the interview. This is a high profile case so I don't want you hanging around. Vin, the public is demanding an explanation on why no one prevented this from happening. Give your statement and wait for Josiah.

"After you drop Vin off, I want you to get on the horn with those gunrunners and re-schedule your meet for as soon as possible. I want to close this case, so push for an early buy date. Then go to the office, brief Travis on what's going on, make sure he gets the press to cooperate and not mention that JD's an agent.

"You also need to tell him to move Team 3 into lead position on the case. We have too many agents out of commission what with JD shot and Vin out until the review board clears him for duty. Since this was an officer involved shooting resulting in a fatality it will be at least a week or longer. We'll fall into backup position for the buy.

"Nathan, I want you to write up your report on the shooting at the team offices. Eventually you'll need to give a statement to the police but after you finish your report I want you to go home. Come back here in the morning to take over for me and Buck. We'll be staying the night.

"Josiah, tomorrow morning you need to go to the school. Handle everything you can there. Call and notify the principal that Vin won't be returning. Come up with a reason he can use for the staff and student body, maybe the shock of shooting the boy, whatever you think is best. We don't want any gang members suspecting Vin is anything other than a teacher who carried a gun.

"Tonight I want you to pick Vin up at the station house and take him to your house for the night. I don't want him going home to his place. You get him from your place when you're done at the school and you two take over for the afternoon.

"If you feel it's safe then you can visit tomorrow evening, but only if it's safe, Ezra. I don't want you taking any chances. We'll all be here tomorrow evening and Vin can tell us his story then. As soon as the doctor briefs us on JD's condition, I want you all to leave. JD will be in recovery for at least a couple of hours, so there's no point in hanging around waiting to see him."

"Typical Larabee, bossy," Buck complained.

"You have any complaints, Buck, I can easily send you off and have one of the others stay," Larabee responded.

"Now, now boys, no fighting in the hospital. Last time you two got into it you almost got us all thrown out," Josiah said with a soft laugh.

They had just quieted when they heard the doctor approaching the room. As one, they turned to the door to find out how their youngest was faring. As the door opened for the doctor to enter, they saw the gurney carrying JD leave the operating room and head for the elevator accompanied by another young nurse they remembered from Vin's stay a couple months back.


As the nurse accompanied the gurney carrying her young patient from the operating room to the recovery room, she couldn't help but remember him from two months back. She wasn't working this floor then, and she saw quite a bit of him during the few days his friend was in the hospital. She remembered one time when she caught him sneaking in junk food to his friend. He tried to explain to her that Vin just wasn't a vegetables kind of person and he needed his own kind of food if he was going to get better.

Although she knew it would be some time before he was completely well, she was looking forward to the antics he and his friends would get up to while he recovered. She knew he was going to make it, no doubt in her mind, and he would get well quickly with all the support he had going for him. These men weren't going to let him do anything else. Friendships like they shared were rare and powerful.


The doctor had given them the good news, not only would JD survive, but he would make a full recovery. He'd need to stay in the hospital for at least a week, then another couple of weeks before he could return to the office. Desk work until the end of the year at least and then he could return to active duty sometime mid-January. Six to eight weeks and things would be back to normal.

As Nathan headed downstairs to follow through on his orders from Chris he stopped to talk with Rain. He wanted to give her the news about JD in person and reassure her again that he had been in no danger.

Ezra and Vin were headed for the police station although Vin was trying to talk Ezra into driving by the school and letting him get his jeep. Ezra was only able to talk him out of that idea by pointing out some gang members might see them together and it would blow Ezra's cover. He knew Vin didn't want to end up at Josiah's tonight.

Josiah waited until everyone else had left before he spoke to Chris and Buck. He needed to speak with them before tomorrow. Chris grew impatient and before he had a chance to speak was asking him why he was still there hanging around.

He told them both, "Vin is in an extremely fragile emotional state. I want you both to understand he feels responsible for what happened to JD. He's blaming himself for everything going wrong. He feels a need to confess and when he speaks tomorrow I don't want either one of you lighting into that boy. He needs all our understanding if he is going to get past this affair intact."

Buck immediately responded, "Hell, that boy is just like Chris, always the one responsible no matter what happens. I've handled Larabee all these years, Tanner should be no problem."

"Just what the hell to you mean, you've handled me. Anyway Vin isn't me," Chris spoke up then. "You have to have a gentler touch with him or you'll spook him and he'll just draw in on himself."

Satisfied that he'd made his point and that they knew to handle Vin with kid gloves, Josiah took his leave. He didn't want to keep Vin waiting at the station or he might just take it in his head to go off on his own.

Chris and Buck headed down to get a bite in the cafeteria before beginning their all night vigil in ICU. They planned to have someone watching over their youngest until he was back with them again.


JD had been making abortive attempts to regain consciousness for the last hour. Buck was watching like a hawk, waiting to offer any assistance the boy might need. Chris was half asleep in the chair he'd been sitting in all night. They were expecting Nathan to arrive at any minute. Chris would leave then, he was needed in the office. Team 3 was taking over the assignment and he had to go in and brief them. Buck knew Chris expected him to go home then but that was out of the question. As long as the boy was in ICU, Buck was staying at his side.

He'd leave once they moved him to a regular room and not one minute sooner. Chris would put up an argument but he'd end up agreeing.

There---it happened again, JD's eyelids were fluttering, he'd be awake in a few minutes. He'd need Buck to get him through the confusion a return to consciousness always brought with it.

Now he was making little mumbling noises, even Chris sat up at that.

"Come on JD, that's it open your eyes," Buck whispered as he watched JD respond. "Good boy, that's it, open those eyes, come on look at old Buck."

"B-buck, thaaaat yoou," the boy finally spoke. "Whas, what's goin' on? Where am I?"

"You're in a hospital bed, you were shot. Do you remember?" Buck asked.

JD frowned for a moment, gathering his thoughts. "Yeah, I was talking to Brian, then Vin came, Brian pulled the trigger, then I hurt so bad," JD answered. "But what happened to Brian, to Vin?"

"Brian the shooter? If so, I'm afraid he's dead. Vin shot him but not before the kid shot you." Buck explained as gently as he could.

JD closed his eyes as the tears ran down his face. Buck and Chris both felt for him but were shocked when he stated.

"I killed him, not Vin. When the gang and I beat him on Saturday, that's when he decided to shoot up the school. All those kids that he shot or killed, it's my fault it happened. I messed up and all those people died. Why did I get to live and they have to die?"

Josiah was standing in the doorway as JD spoke. He knew the boy was facing a real crisis of faith and although he knew it wasn't much, he could at least shed some light on events and possibly make JD realize he wasn't to blame. He'd seen the reports on what they'd found at Brian's house. He'd been planning this for some time, Saturday's events had moved his timetable up but it would have still happened.

Josiah motioned Chris over and quietly told him.

"I made arrangements to change times with Nathan. He'll be here this afternoon. I need to speak to JD privately. I want you to take Buck for breakfast and give me at least 45 minutes before you return. I can help, Brian was planning this for some time."

Chris went over to the bed and told JD that he was taking Buck to get some food now that Josiah was here. They hadn't eaten anything since the shooting. The night before they had only drank coffee neither one able to eat. Buck started to object but JD told him to go, he needed time by himself to think on what happened.

After they left, Josiah pulled up a chair and began explaining things to JD.

"Brian had detailed plans on his computer at home, JD. He'd been planning this shooting for a long time. All Saturday did, was make him act sooner. If he'd waited to act until you and Vin were no longer at the school, there would have been no one to stop him from using every gun he had on him. He would have killed or injured a lot more students.

"I know that doesn't make it any easier to accept. Brian was troubled long before last Saturday. Maybe if someone had noticed, if he hadn't had access to guns, this wouldn't have happened. But nothing you could have done would have changed his situation. This had been building for quite some time."

JD broke down a couple of times as Josiah continued speaking but eventually acknowledged that Josiah was right.

"I realize I couldn't have done anything to stop Brian. I wish I could have had a chance to try and tell him life does get better but I didn't. I wouldn't even have considered talking to him except for the beating. Maybe that's where the blame really lies. In the fact, we don't act unless we're personally involved. I should have seen his pain and acted for that reason alone, but I didn't and I wouldn't have.

"And maybe my actions are what caused him to act earlier, but that also put Vin in a position to stop him before he killed anyone else. So some good did come from Vin and me being there. I just wish things had been different."

Josiah sat there with him until JD dropped off to sleep. When Buck and Chris returned he told them what had happened and that they should leave and get some rest. Chris said he had to get to the office but Buck would get some rest and return as soon as they moved JD to a regular room.

Although Buck tried to argue with Chris he finally agreed since the nurse told him as soon as JD woke up he'd be moved down to a regular room. He told Josiah he'd return in four hours.

Josiah was glad that he had reached JD with his argument, but he worried he wouldn't be as successful with Vin when the time came. Vin had refused to talk to him when he picked him up at the station last night. He also refused to go to his place, they went by the school and picked up his jeep and Vin went to his own place for the night. He was going into the office to write up his report early this morning and told Josiah he wouldn't be by the hospital at noon with Nathan but rather in the evening when the rest of the team was there. He needed to talk to everyone at once. Josiah was afraid he was going to leave the team and had cautioned him against acting rashly while emotions were still high. As he sat watching JD sleep, he prepared his arguments for this evening's discussion.

Late THANKSGIVING Afternoon, DGH, Room 437

JD had been moved out of ICU a few hours earlier and was finally settled in his new room. The move had been pretty uncomfortable for him and he had been resting since the change. Nathan and Buck were both there with him and they quietly discussed how to handle his recuperation as he slept. Buck was planning to take some vacation time to be with JD until he returned to light duty at the office. Nathan felt he should only spend one week at home, not two but Buck felt it would be bad for JD to be by himself dwelling on what happened.

Ezra walked in, followed by Josiah just a few minutes later. Josiah told everyone that Chris was right behind him. He'd had meetings with Travis and the Team 3 leader and then went to dinner at Mary's.

As JD started to rouse, Ezra told everyone the buy was set up for Saturday next. Everyone cheered up at the news that the case was moving forward and would be finished soon. Chris walked in as they were discussing the good news.

He asked if anyone knew where Vin was, no one had seen or heard from him all day. It looked like he had come into the office in the middle of the night to do his report. Josiah informed him Vin said he would be in at the hospital at six. Vin had called him on his way here to let him know.

"Josiah, do you know what's going on with Vin," Nathan asked as he helped JD sit up a little higher in the bed.

"Vin did seem a bit preoccupied on our car trip last night," Ezra hinted.

Buck came right out and asked, "What is bothering that boy? You know, Josiah, so how about letting us in on what's going on inside that head of his?"

Chris cautioned them all, "Vin is troubled by this shooting. I think we need to let him tell us what he's thinking instead of trying to pick Josiah's brain."

Then JD spoke up, "Vin's blaming himself because I was shot, I know it and it's my fault not his."

As the others rushed to assure him that neither of them had been at fault, it was Brian who was at fault, Vin walked into the room. Buck immediately was in his face. "You need to talk to JD, make him see he wasn't to blame for what happened, that the shooter was to blame."

Vin sat down next to JD and immediately began to apologize. His apology made no real sense to his other listeners.

"JD, I'm sorry I got you shot, sorry I shot Brian, I should have only wounded him. Can you forgive me for killing him? When I saw you fall, I took a kill shot, I shouldn't have, I know you wanted him to live. Please say you can forgive me for not shooting when I should have, and for killing him when I did finally shoot."

JD began to tear up. He couldn't believe Vin was worried about him being angry that he'd killed Brian. Yes, he had wanted Brian to survive but once it was obvious he wouldn't give up then Vin had no choice but to shoot and in a hostage type situation you shoot to kill.

JD knew that and so did Vin so he could only be feeling guilty because of what JD had said on Monday. Now how could he explain to Vin he understood without letting everyone know what a miserable time he'd had in high school?

Vin watched as JD began to tear up and felt worse than ever. JD began to speak.

"Vin I told you I was a lot like Brian when I was in high school. But I never wanted to take a gun to school and kill my fellow students. You did the only thing you could, I was his hostage and you had to take a kill shot, I understand that and you know it too.

"You don't need to feel guilty anymore than I do. I had the best chance of stopping him, I was talking to him, I couldn't convince him to lay down his guns. You didn't have any choice but to act when he decided to shoot me."

Vin released a shuddering breath. "That's just it JD, I didn't take the shot then," Vin interrupted, "I hesitated. I didn't shoot until he pulled the trigger and you were falling. When I shot him then, there was no one else in real danger; I didn't have to shoot to kill."

JD was having none of that as he argued.

"You're wrong, there was someone still in danger. He had a loaded gun and he saw me looking at you when he shot. The next thing he would have done is turn and shoot you. You were the one in danger, you had no choice but to do what you did. And after he shot you he would have continued on with his shooting spree and more students would have been killed.

"I heard your shot as I fell, you had to have pulled the trigger almost at the same moment he did. You didn't hesitate, but you aren't a miracle worker either. I saw his finger tightening on the trigger, looked at you to let you know, there is no way you could have got a shot off before he did. You have to believe me, no one on earth could have got a shot off before he shot me."

Vin just stared at him, then looked at Chris and Buck.

"I thought I hesitated," he told them. "I guess, I couldn't see that he was already pulling the trigger. I couldn't imagine why he was able to get his shot off before I did unless I had hesitated. I've always known I would someday be responsible for a friend getting shot, I felt that day had finally come."

Vin looked over at JD and as the two young men smiled at each other, went into the bag he had sat down next to the bed. He pulled out a bear wearing a Boston Bruins jersey and handed it to JD. JD was full of questions about where he found it and how did he know that was his favorite team. And did Vin like hockey and did he want to go to a game when JD got out of the hospital. JD was back with a vengeance.

The next thing he knew JD was talking about the two of them joining a hockey league and playing next season. He was never given a chance to answer as the rest of the team chimed in.

Buck was saying, "No way are you two getting out on the ice with the way you attract trouble."

"Do you know how many people get seriously injured playing hockey?" was Nathan's contribution.

Josiah began to laugh as everyone was trying to talk over everyone else. Vin just smiled and nodded at JD. They were good and next year the two of them would be playing hockey cheered on by their friends.

Buck was busy wishing everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and then trying to talk Ezra into going with him to buy a holiday meal and bring it back to the room.

All Chris could think was This team is celebrating its first real holiday together, in the hospital at the bedside of an injured team member. It better not be a portend for holidays to come.

He hoped it wasn't, he was getting way too old to spend his nights in a hospital chair at a friend's bedside.