Two Weeks in May


This story is the sequel to my story Two Weeks in April and you might want to read that beforehand to understand the background for this one. This story is for Sue M. who encouraged me to write the aftermath of 'April' and helped to smooth out the rough edges. I also want to thank Karen, who provided me with the variety of activities to keep our boy busy in the office.

Day One

JD was back to work after his harrowing recovery from being kidnapped and shot up with drugs. He still had to go to counseling with the therapist Travis recommended but it was better than the alternative, better than losing his job and being banished from the group of men he had come to think of as family. He was nervous, tugging at the sleeves of the Henley he'd pulled on that morning. Every one assured him that the marks would fade in time but it couldn't come soon enough. Each one of those little scars was a reminder of what they had done to him.

"Hey JD! Good to have you back!"

That was Melodie, from the secretarial pool. JD knew that his cover story was that he had come down with that nasty flu bug that was going around.

"Thanks, it's good to be back," he replied.

"My brother-in-law had that flu and it was really nasty. My sister said all he did was lay around in bed for days on end. See ya!" She called over her shoulder as she left the elevator and headed for the FBI office.

It was like that all day, people coming up to JD to tell him about their kid, spouse, other relative or friend who had gotten the flu. It was all he could do not to scream at them, 'I didn't have the flu! I was trapped in a room and shot up with heroin!' But he always managed to swallow the urge and smiled at his well-meaning coworkers. Buck tried running interference for him, as did Vin and Nathan. Josiah and Ezra were out of the office, working on a profile of the guy who was selling illegal alcoholic products to high school kids. In the past month, eight kids had been hospitalized after a couple of parties where the 'bathtub gin' was being served.

He made it through the morning and Chris stuck his head out long enough to ask JD if he would mind running down to Watson's and grabbing lunch for all of them. Ezra and Josiah were back and they were planning how to intercept the next delivery of the poisonous alcohol. JD nodded and got up to take the list the others had scribbled on a putrid-colored post-it note. He accepted the wad of crumpled bills and turned to leave the office. Even though he was back to work, he was still on light duty until the therapist cleared him so he couldn't be involved in the case. They had offered to let him sit in, to offer his opinion, but he'd begged off and told them he would just man the rest of the office for them. He had been running debugging programs and other maintenance programs on the computers and it would keep him busy. In truth, once he started the program to running there was nothing to do but wait, so he was glad to have an excuse to get out of the office.

It was quiet in the bar when he arrived and JD slid onto a barstool near the register. One of the waitresses took his order and asked him if he wanted anything to drink while he waited. JD ordered a soda and sat there, playing with the straw while watching the other patrons. Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted a large man in a dark coat that came in and went straight to a table in the far corner of the room. His heart began to race and it took him a minute to realize that the man was familiar. He hadn't gotten a good look at either of his kidnappers but his internal alarm was screaming that the man in the corner might have been one of them.

"JD?" Inez repeated. She had brought his order up and noticed that he seemed to be in a daze. "JD? Are you alright?"

Startled, JD's hand jerked and the glass of soda flew off of the bar and shattered on the floor. Inez leapt back, surprised at the sudden motion. She then grabbed a towel from under the bar and hurried around to clean up the mess. The man from the corner came over and JD didn't think; he reacted. He grabbed the man by the front of his shirt and slammed him up against the bar.

"JD! JD, let him go! JD! What's gotten into you?" Inez scolded as she forced the ATF agent to release the other man.

When JD glanced away from the man to Inez and back to the man, he recognized Jerve, the dishwasher who worked at Watson's. JD was mortified at his mistake.

"I'm sorry man, you startled me," JD said, backing away and holding his hands up in front of him. "I'm really sorry," he repeated.

Jerve eased away from the bar and considered the younger man. "S'alright man, just don't let it happen again," he said gruffly. Inez had picked up most of the bigger pieces of glass and was using the towel to pick up the ice and any small pieces. "I'll get that, Inez. Let me get the broom and dustpan," he said as he turned toward the kitchen.

Inez dropped the broken glass into the trashcan and turned her attention back to JD. "Here is the lunch order, JD," she said, pushing the bag to the edge of the bar.

"Thanks, Inez. I'm really sorry. I don't know what came over me."

"It's alright, accidents happen. Now, you best get this back to the office before they send out a search party," she said, smiling at him. JD saw Jerve coming back toward him and grabbed the bag and rushed out of the bar.

His heart rate had returned to normal by the time he got back to the office. JD knocked on the door and peeked in.

"Food!" Vin bellowed, pushing away from the table and rubbing his tummy. "I'm so hungry, my stomach thinks my throat's been cut!"

"Now there's a lovely image for our noon repast," Ezra replied sarcastically.

JD set the bag on the end of the table and rummaged inside until he found his order. He pulled the meatball sub out of the bag and turned toward the door.

"Hey, where you going? Sit down and eat with us," Buck said. He smiled to try to alleviate some of the tension in the room.

"No thanks, I've got stuff running on the computers that I need to watch," JD said without turning back to his friend.

"It can run by itself," Chris said. "Have a seat."

JD clutched his wrapped sandwich and slid into the chair at the end of the table. He caught the can of Dr. Pepper that Buck passed like a hockey puck and the bag of chips Vin tossed his way. While the others dug in, JD slowly unrolled the paper from around his sandwich and opened the can of soda. He had only taken a couple of bites when his stomach began to roll and he broke out in a cold sweat.

"You okay, Kid?" Buck asked.

Nathan quickly spotted the beads of sweat on JD's forehead and upper lip and got up from his chair. The motion startled JD and he vaulted out of his seat, running from the room and into the restroom.

"I got him," Nathan said.

"No, you stay, I'll take care of him," Buck said.

"Both of you sit down and give him a minute. I'm sure he can throw up on his own," Chris ordered. "He doesn't need either of you in there making it worse."

Buck was frozen in the act of standing and slowly eased back into his chair. Nathan hesitated a moment longer, until the glare from the team leader threatened to melt his shirt to his chest.

"He needs some space. You practically smothered him for the past few weeks. He'll never get his head together if you don't back off," Chris said, his tone gentle and commanding at the same time. He knew they were worried about the kid, hell, they were all worried about JD.

It was several minutes before Chris got up and went into the bullpen to find JD sitting at his desk with a bottle of eye drops, trying to get rid of the red, bloodshot look.

"It'll get better with time," he said.

"I must have that flu that's going around," JD suggested.

"Don't, JD. Don't lie to me and don't lie to yourself. It won't help."

JD looked up at Chris, the man he idolized, and quickly looked away.

"Look at me, JD. It's normal to be ... a little off ... after something like this. Take it slow and easy. We're here for you if you want to talk," Chris rose from where he had been sitting on the corner of Buck's desk, "Anytime."

When Chris reentered the conference room, Buck looked up at him, concern burning brightly in his eyes. Chris nodded, putting a hand on Wilmington's shoulder as he made his way back to his unfinished lunch.

JD slipped back in a few minutes later and nibbled at his sandwich. He noticed that his emotions were much closer to the surface than they had been before he was kidnapped and that they were all over the place. He just hoped that he didn't do anything to really embarrass himself, it was bad enough that he felt the urge to throw up every time he got upset.

Lunch was over and JD stayed to listen to the discussion of the case. He studied the pictures of the dead teens and thought about the terrible waste. Those kids had thrown their lives away buying illegal alcohol. He compared the autopsy photos to the ones captured from the high school yearbooks and shook his head. He was deeply lost in thought when he heard Ezra talking.

"It is unfortunate that we don't have anyone who looks young enough to infiltrate some of these parties. It would be much easier to get information from the inside."

"I could do it," JD said.

"You're on light duty," Chris said dismissively. "We have the names of the people who threw the party, we'll have to start there."

"Maybe you ought to conduct the interview. You go in all 'Bad-ass Larabee' and they'll sing like canaries," Buck teased.

JD listened to the joking and easy banter for a few minutes before he gathered his notes and got up to leave. He just didn't feel like part of the team. He felt like a cast-off, useless, a waste of space. Maybe he came back too soon.

"Where are you going?" Chris asked.

"Just to check on the computers. If they finished the defrag. I need to run a reg. clean and install the new firewall software," he replied. He waited to see if Larabee would accept his reason and was finally rewarded with a nod. He pulled the door closed behind him but not before he heard Nathan's next comment.

"I'm worried about him, Chris. Maybe it's too early for him to be back."

If he'd stood there a moment longer, he would have heard the team leader remind Jackson that it was his decision and he wanted JD there.

JD spent the rest of the afternoon going through the motions. He set all of the computers in the office up with the new software. He stuck his head back into the conference room to let them know that he was heading for his therapy session a little after three.

"I'll see you at home," Buck said, "I'll pick up something on the way."

"Okay, thanks. See ya," JD said as he slipped out.

He didn't tell the therapist about what happened at the saloon. The doctor went through the standard questions that he always asked. Was he sleeping alright? Did he have anymore nightmares? Was he eating? And then came the one that he dreaded to answer. Are you craving drugs? JD denied it, even as his gut tightened and a little voice inside of him cried out that it was a lie. There were times when he felt like his skin was crawling and he wanted something, anything to take it away, along with the anxiety he was feeling from being back in the office. He was still taking the medication the doctor prescribed, the one designed to help him deal with the withdrawal. They talked about work and JD admitted to feeling a little like a third wheel because he couldn't do anything but desk work. The doctor rushed to assure him that it was only temporary.

JD felt a little better when he left the doctor's office. He went home and puttered around, waiting for Buck to get home. A late spring storm was bringing a gentle rain and JD opened the window in his room so he could smell the freshness on the breeze. He logged on to his computer and started playing an RPG on one of the sites he frequented.

Buck left his keys hanging in the door while he juggled the bags to the kitchen counter. When he went back, he noticed the unusual silence that filled the apartment and made him uneasy.

"JD? Supper! I got extra Crab Rangoon for you! JD?" Buck called as he slowly swung the bedroom door open. A grin broke on his face as he found his roommate. JD was sitting in his computer chair with his chin resting on his left hand while his right hand rested on the mouse. The little character on the screen was running up against a wall and bouncing off, over and over. Buck reached out and laid a hand on JD's wrist. "I think that's enough of that," he said.

"What? Oh ... Buck. Hey. I musta fell asleep," JD said before a massive yawn erupted. He drew a deep breath and the familiar scent of his favorite Chinese food made his mouth water.

After they ate, Buck and JD watched a couple of shows on TV. The phone rang and Buck answered it. JD heard his roommate's voice drop into its 'seductive tone' and JD knew he was talking to one of his lady friends. JD tried to tune it out until he realized that Buck was begging off from something he had obviously agreed to some time before.

"I just had something come up, Janice. Can I take a rain check? I know. I know," Buck said. "I'm sorry."

"You don't have to sit home with me, Buck. I can manage on my own for a few hours," JD said, struggling to keep the anger out of his voice.

Buck covered the receiver and shook his head, "You don't understand. She's got a friend she wants me to fix up with a date for Friday night. Her sister is in town next weekend from UCLA."

"Shouldn't be a problem, ask Vin, he's probably not doing anything," JD said.

"But her sister's a ...," Buck lowered his voice to a whisper, "real geek."

JD realized that his friend had planned to set him up for this and he'd walked right into it. He also knew that it wouldn't kill him to go out with her. JD seemed to click with the 'geek squad,' as his college friends had called the really smart girls. He also knew that Vin wouldn't like a girl who talked about things he didn't understand. Vin liked hunting and fishing, not computers and programming.

"I'll do it," JD conceded.

"You will?" Buck asked.

"Yeah, but you'll owe me."

"Anything. Anything you want, it's yours," Buck promised before he uncovered the mouthpiece and spoke to Janice again. "It's a date, darlin,' we'll pick you both up at around eight. You too. Bye." Buck hung up the phone and smiled at JD.

That night, as JD lay in his bed, flashes of memory from his kidnapping played through his mind. He thrashed in his bed, trying to evade those reaching hands. He saw them coming at him with a huge syringe filled with something that roiled with swirling colors. He knew that it would send him up above his problems but he also knew that he couldn't have it. If he started using again, he would lose his job and his place among the others. The needle came closer and closer to his skin and he couldn't move to get away.

JD gasped as he bolted upright in his bed. He felt hot and cold and dizzy and nauseous all at the same time. His heart was thundering beneath his ribs and he could feel it in his fingers and toes. He took deep breaths, mentally reminding himself that it was just a dream. Turning on the bedside lamp, he studied the marks on his arm, counted them to make sure that there weren't any new ones. Leaving the lamp on, he laid back against the headboard and fell into an uneasy sleep. That was where Buck found him when he looked in early the next morning.

Day Two

JD was as tired when he got up as he had been when he went to sleep. Buck knocked on the door and hollered for him to get moving. He stumbled into the shower and the jolt of cool water woke him up. He pawed through the clean clothes in the basket and found something to wear. Buck handed him an egg and cheese biscuit from the microwave and hustled him out the door.

At the office, JD slumped into his chair and powered up his computer. He found it difficult to concentrate and ended up staring at the screen saver. Josiah and Ezra were out for the day, interviewing the survivors from the party where the poisoned alcohol was served.

Vin noticed that JD seemed distracted. He caught Buck's eye and silently questioned him about what was happening. Buck shrugged his shoulder. He had been casting worried looks toward his roommate all morning. Nathan had also been watching the young agent. Chris stuck his head out of the office and suggested that someone get lunch. He deliberately caught Vin's eye and glanced toward JD.

"Come on, Kid, chow time!" Vin said. JD's glazed eyes turned up toward him and he nodded.

When the jeep rolled to a stop in Watson's parking lot, JD tensed. He remained in the vehicle as Vin started across the lot. Tanner stopped with his hand on the door and looked back. JD was staring at the building with something like horror in his eyes. Vin jogged over to the jeep and opened the door.

"Hey, you alright? You look like you saw a ghost or something."

"I'm just not feeling too good. I'll just sit here for a few minutes, okay?" JD asked, willing his friend to let it be.

"You sure you're alright? We can ... go someplace else," Vin suggested. "How about that chicken place, what's it called?"

"Country Kitchen. Yeah, that sounds good," JD answered absently.

JD perked up by the time they got to the other restaurant. He and Vin studied the menu and ordered two buckets of chicken and several family-size side dishes. The young waitress flirted shamelessly with JD while waiting for their order to be prepared. Vin was sure that she tucked a napkin with her number into JD's hand along with the receipt.

The afternoon was better for JD. Vin let slip about the cute little waitress, noting the bright blush that colored the tops of JD's ears and his cheeks. Buck immediately began making suggestions as to how his roommate could return the woman's overture. Chris told him to leave JD alone, he could pick up girls without any help. Nathan surprised them all by recommending some of the things he had used to get Rain to go out with him. The camaraderie was good for JD and he was able to make productive use of his time afterwards.

At the therapist's office, JD admitted to having had a nightmare. The doctor told him that it was normal for it to come back to him. They talked about how the dream made him feel. Overall, it was a good session and JD left feeling better about himself.

Buck resumed teasing JD on the drive home. He offered to go back to the restaurant to see if the waitress was still there. JD responded by slugging him in the arm at a stop light.

Once they got home, JD busied himself with whipping up supper for them. He opened a box of Velveeta Shells and popped some fish fillets in the oven. It was a simple meal that both he and Buck enjoyed. After they had eaten and cleaned up the dishes, they retired to the living room to watch the evening news.

The phone rang and Buck answered it. JD could tell from the tone of voice that it was a girl he was talking to. He pushed himself up off the couch and headed for his room so that Buck could have some privacy. Logging on to his computer, JD found a chat group that was discussing the newest video game system. Within minutes, he was deeply engrossed in the topic.

Buck opened the bedroom door a half hour later, "That was Gina. She wants me to meet her for drinks. I should only be gone a couple of hours."

"S'alright, have a good time," JD said. "I'll be fine."

Buck studied his young friend before he smiled, "I won't be too late."

A few hours later, JD heard something that made his arms erupt in goose bumps. He got up and slowly made his way into the living room. The noise seemed to come from all around him. Because he hadn't been cleared to carry a weapon yet, he'd had to turn his gun over to Chris. He felt naked and defenseless without his gun. He rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a knife from the block on the counter

Buck turned the key in the lock and swung the door open quietly. He figured that JD would be asleep and he didn't want to wake him. Gina had kept him out far longer than he expected. He closed the door silently and turned around, coming face to face with something he never expected.

The light from the street lamp outside of the kitchen window glinted off of the stainless steel blade in JD's hand. He didn't move as the large, dark shape slipped into the apartment. Terror gripped him as he waited for the person to turn around.

Turning around to hang up his jacket, Buck froze. He took in the rapid breathing and the barely controlled tremors that shook JD's body before he dared to speak.

"JD ... it's alright ... it's just me, Buck," he said softly. He held his hands out from his sides, either to show them to be empty or to defend himself, he wasn't sure which. "JD?"

Recognition dawned and JD sank back against the wall. A cold sweat instantly bathed him and he drew a shuddering breath. He raised one shaky hand to rake his fingers through his hair. He spotted the knife in his other hand and dropped it on the counter. Hesitantly, he took a step toward his roommate.

Buck caught JD and wrapped both arms around him. After several minutes, JD pulled away.

"I'm sorry. I heard ... I thought I heard ... I don't know," JD stammered.

"It's alright, kid. I shouldn't have been sneaking in like this," Buck replied.

"I'm tired. I'm going back to bed," JD said.

Buck stood in the darkened apartment, debating whether or not to go and have a talk with the kid or wait until morning. He made his decision and strode over to JD's bedroom door. When he opened it, in the pale moonlight shining through the blinds, he saw that JD was already asleep. Sighing deeply, Buck gently tugged the comforter up higher over the kid's shoulder and left him sleep. In his own room, as he lay in bed, Buck struggled to fall asleep.

Day Three

When JD got up the next morning, he noticed that Buck was watching him. He hadn't slept well after what happened the night before and was tired and irritable. He poured a glass of milk and drank it while standing in front of the open refrigerator door.

Buck waited for the right time to bring up what had happened the night before. He had moved the knives from the counter to the pantry shelf before JD got up. It wasn't like he didn't trust the kid, he just didn't want to walk in to find him with a knife in his hand.

"JD, we need to talk."

"I don't want to talk right now, Buck, let it go."

"JD ... I'm worried about you."

The glass shattered against the wall right next to Buck's shoulder.

"I don't fucking want to talk about it right now! Leave me the hell alone!" JD shouted as he swept out of the apartment. Buck was still standing there, stunned, when he heard the Mustang roar off of the parking lot.

Buck raced through the apartment, grabbing his keys from the end table by the couch and slamming the door behind him. He skipped the elevator and took the stairs. By the time he reached his truck, the sound of the Mustang had faded until he couldn't tell which direction it had gone in.

"Damn!" Buck yelled, slapping his open hand against the fender well.

He drove around for an hour, looking for the Mustang, until his cell phone rang. Buck dragged it out of his pocket and flipped it open, still scouring the side streets and parking lots for the familiar black car.

"Buck, where are you?" Chris asked, his tone slightly angry.

"I'm ... uh, I'm looking for JD. He was a little angry when he left the apartment this morning."

"He's here. And I need you here, there was another party last night and it wasn't kids that died. Ezra and Josiah are at the hospital, interviewing the family," Chris said. "JD's going to spend the day in the filing room, updating case files. I need you here."

Sighing in relief, Buck turned on his blinker to get on the highway toward downtown, "I'm on my way."

Alone in the file room, JD mumbled to himself. He was pissed when he got to the office and Chris told him that there had been more deaths connected to the illegal alcohol and that the rest of the team was going out to head up the investigation. It was bad enough that he would be in the office all by himself but far worse to be in the basement of the Federal Building, filing.

"Don't know why I even bothered to come in today! This is such a waste! Why couldn't I go with the others? I could have taken pictures of the scene!"

JD slapped the file on the table and flung the cover open. When he reached for the paper he needed to put into the file, the folder slid to the floor and a half dozen black and white photos spilled onto the floor. He knelt down and picked them up, trying not to look at the dead body depicted there. He tapped the photos on the table to align them and slid them back into the folder.

Four hours later, when the last of the updates had been placed in the files, JD left the file room. He went back to the office, half hoping that Buck would be there. He wanted to apologize for what had happened at home that morning. Finding himself all alone, he sank into his chair and folded his arms on the desk. His mind churned with all of the conflicting emotions he was feeling. A few minutes later, he got up and left the building.

Buck, Nathan and Chris got back to the office after going over the evidence at the crime scene. They had collected photos of the various bottles of alcohol that had been served and sent the bottles themselves to be tested. This time, the people who died were attending a college graduation party. It was hard, seeing all of the banners proclaiming a parent's pride in their child against the stark reality of a coroner loading bodies into the black wagon.

"I'm going down to check on JD," Buck said as soon as he set down his camera bag. He wanted to apologize for pushing the kid. The elevator doors opened on the basement level and he stepped out. He was surprised to find the lights out in the filing room. Opening the door, Buck flipped on the lights and called out to JD. An eerie feeling crept up his spine and he drew his gun and began to walk slowly down the aisle that ran between the 'stacks' or shelves of filing boxes. A sound startled him, causing Buck to blush when he realized that it was the air handler coming on. When he'd checked the entire room, he turned the lights out and went back to the office.

+ + + + + + +

Standing in the aisle of the small liquor store, JD stared at the rows of bottles. He had picked up and put back the same bottle three times and the clerk was starting to look at him funny. The itch was back, the one that made him want to crawl out of his skin, and JD wanted something to make it go away.

"Hey Kid! Make up your mind, will ya?" the clerk called.

JD grabbed the bottle from the shelf and hurried to the front to plunk it on the counter. The cashier looked at him and JD made a point of flashing his badge as he dug out the money to pay for the bottle. The clerk glanced around nervously, wondering if it was some kind of set up, before sliding the bottle into a paper bag along with the receipt and handing off the change. JD snatched the bag from the counter and headed for the door.

Driving around, looking for a place to sit and think, JD's eye kept drifting back to the bottle on the passenger seat. The itch was getting worse and he didn't know how much longer he would be able to resist. He finally turned onto a fast food parking lot and went to the drive-up window. Armed with a burger, fries and extra large soda, he headed for an out-of-the-way park.

+ + + + + + +

Buck entered the office and looked for JD. He checked the conference room and the break room before asking if the others had seen his roommate.

"Isn't he in the filing room?" Chris asked.

"No, I checked the whole place, he's not there," Buck replied, worry creeping into his voice as he dragged his fingers through his hair.

"Have you tried his cell?" Vin asked. Buck moved as though startled into action, picking up the receiver, putting it on speaker and punching the number from memory. It rolled to voicemail and Buck's anxiety level rose.

"JD, it's Buck. Call me when you get this," Wilmington said before ending the call. The eerie feeling he'd had earlier was getting worse.

+ + + + + + +

Sitting on a wall near the baseball diamond, JD poured some of his soda out and topped it off with the whiskey he'd bought. He stirred it with the straw and took a drink, shuddering at the burning sensation in his throat. Groping in the bag, he pulled out the burger and took a bite. His phone vibrated in his pocket but he ignored it in favor of another long pull on the straw in his cup. Every time the level of the liquid dipped below the 'fill to here' mark on the cup, he topped it off again. By the time he finished the burger and started on the fries, he'd poured about half of the bottle into the cup. The itchy feeling was still there but it was retreating.

When he finished his food, he crumpled up all of the trash and tossed it into the waste can next to the dugout. He tucked the bottle into his back pocket and began to walk. When the last of the whiskey was in his cup, he tossed the bottle and continued to meander around the park. There were a few people walking and jogging, JD stayed out of their way. Gradually, the itch faded to a bearable point and JD found himself back at the lot where he'd parked his car. Some inner voice warned him against getting behind the wheel drunk and he sat down on the curb to wait. He wasn't entirely sure what he was waiting for but it felt good to sit in the sun.

+ + + + + + +

Chris was on the verge of losing his temper. Buck was ringing JD's phone every few minutes and ranting about his absence in between calls. He had already put in a call to have JD's phone traced but it would take an hour to triangulate his location due to a malfunction on a satellite. When his phone rang, Chris snatched it up angrily.

"Larabee," he growled.

"Agent Larabee, this is Officer Tompkins, DPD, I have Agent John Dunne passed out in City Park, near the golf course."

"Is he injured?" Chris asked, coming to his feet suddenly.

"No. He appears to be drunk. Witnesses report seeing him pouring something from a bottle into a cup and throwing the bottle in a trashcan. The cup he was drinking from smells strongly of alcohol. I think you'd better get down here and get him before I have to turn him in for drinking in public," Tompkins said.

"I'll be right there," Chris said, ending the call. "Buck, let's go!" he shouted into the bullpen.

There was a small crowd gathered when Chris pulled up behind the police cruiser. Buck was out before the truck stopped moving, politely elbowing his way to the side of the Mustang where JD was sitting. He flashed his badge at the cop, who nodded and began shooing the gawkers away. Buck sank to his knees and cupped his hand under JD's chin, raising his head from where it rested against his shoulder.

"JD? Come on, kid, wake up for me," Buck said as he lightly chaffed JD's cheeks. A shadow fell across them and he found himself looking up at a mightily pissed off Chris Larabee.

With his anger barely held in check, Chris bent down and grabbed JD by the arm. Buck knew enough not to ask questions and immediately grabbed the other arm. Between them, they hefted JD to his feet.

"Get his keys and take the car back to the office. Tell Nathan to meet me at the ranch," Chris said as he dragged JD's arm across his shoulder.

"But Chris!" Buck protested.

"Now!" Chris said. Buck sighed in resignation as he stuck his fingers into JD's pocket to fish out the car keys. "I don't want to see you until the end of the day," Chris added.

"Now just a damned minute-" Buck countered.

"Or I'll suspend you both," Chris finished menacingly. He waited until he saw Buck's jaw tighten as he nodded his understanding. Easily handling JD, Chris walked him over to the truck and shoved him up into the front seat. He climbed up on the running board and fastened the seatbelt before stepping down and shutting the door carefully. Casting one more glance at Buck, Chris got in behind the wheel and drove away.

Buck returned to the office like a scolded dog. The rest of the team gathered around him, anxiously waiting for an explanation.

"He was at the park, passed out drunk. Chris says for you to meet him at the ranch, Nathan," Buck said.

"Was he hurt?" Jackson asked.

"No, just passed out. You'd better get going, Chris was pissed."

Nathan nodded and grabbed his keys from his desk. He waited a moment to see if Buck would say anything else but Buck was staring at the wall behind JD's desk. Josiah moved closer, letting Nathan know that he would take care of their worried teammate.

+ + + + + + +

Chris fought the ruts in the driveway until he heard JD's head thump against the window. JD moaned softly and Chris warned him, "You throw up in my truck and you'll clean it up!"

Bleary eyes opened, then blinked rapidly a few times before they could focus properly. "You'd better stop, then," JD gasped as he fumbled for the release on the seatbelt. The truck slowed to a stop and he leapt out, falling to his hands and knees in the grass to throw up. He heard the truck engine rev up and the door close but was unable to see because of the violent contractions of his stomach. When the dry heaves finally eased, JD looked around to see that the truck was parked in front of the garage. Chris had left him alone. JD mopped his face against the sleeve of his shirt and slowly came to his feet. It was only a hundred yards to the house but it felt like a hundred miles.

Chris stood in the living room, watching out the window as his youngest agent slowly navigated the driveway. He'd had to get away from him before he said something that he couldn't take back. He knew that the kid was sensitive and he wouldn't make it if Chris unleashed his inner demons. He had little sympathy for people who drank to forget. He knew it was hypocritical of him but that was the way it was. It was only JD's third day back to work. Chris began to think that maybe Nathan was right, it was too soon. Travis had warned him that they could only keep the situation off of JD's record if he didn't do anything else to cause it to come to light. Some of the anger faded as he watched JD fumbling with the water hose, rinsing his mouth and his hands.

Standing at the door, JD was unsure of what to do. Should he walk in like he usually did or knock and wait for Chris to invite him inside? JD knew that he had screwed up royally and the knowledge lay heavily on his heart. He had failed, had let them all down. He was just about to turn around and sit on the steps when the door opened and he found himself face to face with his idol.

"Are you ready to talk or would you like more time to think about it?" Chris asked. It was hard not to be swayed by the slight tremor in JD's lower lip and the tears that welled up in his eyes but Chris was determined not to give in to his emotions.

"I guess I screwed up pretty good this time," JD admitted softly. "And you've got every right to bounce my sorry ass off the team."

Chris drew a deep breath and slowly blew it out. JD looked up expectantly but Larabee remained silent.

"I don't know why I did it," JD said. "I just wanted it to go away."

It was hard to watch JD as he struggled to express himself. Chris waited as more tears raced down JD's face with each blink of his eyes.

"I let you down. I let Buck down. I failed," JD said in between shuddering breaths. "I don't deserve to be on the team."

Chris waited to see if JD would speak again before he spoke, "Now, come inside and tell me why I'm going to give you another chance."

+ + + + + + +

Buck said nothing more after Nathan left. He turned to his computer and logged on, inviting the others to go about their business. Vin signaled to Josiah that he was going to get lunch for all of them and slipped out of the office. Ezra returned to his desk and sent an e-mail to Josiah, wanting to get his take on the events of the morning. Josiah was as much in the dark as Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan pulled in behind the truck and got out of his car. He had stopped to pick up some Gatorade, Jell-O, and soup for JD on the drive out. Chris opened the door before he knocked and gestured for him to go into the kitchen.

"He's asleep," Chris said in a whisper while Nathan unpacked the supplies onto the counter. "He threw up when we got here and I got him to drink some water before I let him sleep."

When JD woke up, he was confused. He recognized the room but didn't have a real clear memory of how or why he was there. An open bottle of Gatorade and a small paper cup of aspirin sat on the nightstand and he reached for it with trembling hands. The pills and tart liquid sat uneasily on his stomach for a few minutes, so he lay back down. Waking up again a short time later, he felt slightly better. That was when the memory of his actions returned. He noticed that there was now a container of Jell-O and a spoon on the nightstand and realized that someone was checking on him. His stomach growled hungrily and he reached for the Jell-O. He finished it slowly and eased back down against the pillow. He could hear the television but wasn't brave enough to get up and face the disappointment on Chris' face so he just laid there.

+ + + + + + +

Back at the office, Vin coaxed Buck into eating at least part of the sub sandwich he'd brought for him. The next couple of hours passed agonizingly slowly. Finally, Chris called to let them know that JD was alright and to tell them to pick up pizza on their way out that evening. He wouldn't answer any of their questions and reminded them that they had to stay until the end of the day. They spent the next few hours doing little more than moving papers from one pile to another on their desks. Josiah and Ezra were online looking up information on drug addiction. Vin actually managed to review a report and spent some time e-mailing a friend who worked in a rehab center. Buck spent the afternoon drinking coffee and staring at JD's empty chair.

When five o'clock finally rolled around, Josiah laid a hand on Buck's shoulder and suggested that they ride to the ranch together. Vin had already announced that he would pick up the pizza and called in the order. Ezra magnanimously agreed to hitch a ride with Vin, after making sure that his will was up to date, he teased.

JD heard the rattle and backfire of Josiah's suburban and knew that his time was almost up. He had finished the Gatorade and his head wasn't throbbing as viciously as it had been earlier. He slipped into the bathroom, avoiding his reflection in the mirror, to empty his bladder. He heard Buck's voice, anxious and concerned, and it made him feel worse. Sitting on the bed, he waited for the summons that he was certain would mean the end of his ATF career.

Vin and Ezra teased and joked about the way the waitress at the pizza place had flirted with them. It helped to take the edge off of a tense and miserable afternoon. Vin parked on the grass rather than block any of the others in and he grabbed the pizza boxes off of the back seat. Ezra had already grabbed the bag with the bucket of wings and other goodies they had gotten to go with the pies. They entered the house and carried their loot into the kitchen. The tension in the house was thick enough to stack like wood and they immediately fell under its spell.

Chris headed for the bedroom to waken JD as soon as he heard Vin pull up. He stood outside of the room, trying to assemble his thoughts. When he opened the door, JD looked up, like a deer in the headlights, too terrified to do anything more than stare.

"Supper's here, come on out and eat with us," Chris said before walking away.

Slowly, reluctantly, JD got up and made his way into the kitchen. He dared a peek at Buck's face and saw the love and concern that he knew would be there. Vin caught his eye and gave him a supportive smile. Ezra, too, was smiling warmly at him. Josiah nodded at him. Nathan's gaze was searching, evaluating his health rather than supporting him. JD didn't dare look at Chris, he couldn't bear to see the team leader's disappointed expression again.

They began to divide the food onto plates and carried them out to the deck to watch the sun set. JD realized that they were all drinking soda instead of their usual beer. When they chose seats, JD noticed that his seat was farthest from Chris and Nathan. The only discussion was about the horses and whether or not it would be nice enough to take them for a trail ride that weekend.

As he was eating, JD struggled with his memory of what happened after they arrived at the ranch. He distinctly remembered being warned not to throw up in the truck and he remembered digging his fingers into the grass when he had dry heaves. He vaguely remembered fumbling with the water hose and washing his hands. He remembered bawling like a baby ... and he remembered Chris asking him why he would give him another chance. He hadn't been able to come up with a single reason why the man would want a failure like him on the team.

"Think about the others, JD, and it'll come to you," Chris had said as he draped a blanket over JD's shoulder.

Chris watched JD carefully. He knew that the kid was thinking awfully hard. One by one, JD studied his teammates. Finally, Chris saw the beginnings of understanding dawning. When JD managed to meet his eyes, Chris nodded.

Day Four

JD's head still ached when he woke up the next morning and his stomach muscles felt like he'd gone three rounds with Spinks but he got out of bed and showered for work. He smiled when he thought back on what Chris had said to him when they finally broke into the subject of his actions that day.

"Everyone deserves a second chance, JD, and this is yours. For the next two weeks, you don't go anywhere alone. If you feel the urge to drink or something else to get rid of the craving, you tell one of us. Your therapist knows about what happened and you'll be talking to him tomorrow afternoon. Do you understand?"

JD remembered feeling just a little proud that they would give him another chance. He realized that the whole team was on their second, or third or fourth, chance. Chris himself had used up a lot of chances after his family was killed and Buck hadn't abandoned him. He had promised them that he wouldn't let them down again.

Bouncing out of the bedroom, JD smiled at Buck, who was wearing a hideous flowered apron while he browned some sausages in a skillet.

"How are you feeling?" Buck asked.

"Better," JD answered.

"Pancakes are in the microwave."

Once they reached the office, JD was a bundle of energy. Ezra set him to researching the purchases of alcohol at the store where the recent batch of poisoned liquor had been found. So far, they couldn't come up with anything that tied the places together. They used different suppliers, brought by different delivery companies, from warehouses that had never had a complaint filed against them before.

Over lunch, JD was still animated, discussing the complicated programs he was working on to try to track the shipments of poisoned liquor. The stores involved used a computerized system to track their inventory and it allowed him to access shipping dates and he was trying to assemble the routes for the deliveries, thinking that perhaps the bad product was coming from out of state.

That afternoon, JD reluctantly went to the therapist. After answering the routine questions, the doctor hammered him about the drinking.

"Exchanging one addiction for another will not solve your problem," he said.

"I know. I just wanted that itchy feeling to go away," JD replied petulantly.

"And you didn't feel you could talk to any of your friends?"

"They wouldn't understand."

"What makes you think they wouldn't understand, JD?" the doctor pried.

"Because they've never been addicted to heroin!" JD shouted.

"Would you be more comfortable if you had a friend who had been addicted?"

"It might," he answered, even though he knew that it wasn't true. "I just want this feeling to go away! How long before I stop feeling this way?" He leapt out of the chair and walked to the window where he could look down on the busy streets.

"Would it help if I gave you a date? If I said that on August 4th, you will no longer have this 'itchy feeling,' would that make you feel better?"

"August?!" JD asked, turning on the doctor angrily. "It's going to take months for me to stop feeling this way?!"

"I didn't say that, JD. I merely asked if it would help. No one can tell you exactly how long it's going to take. I will, however, promise you that it won't go on forever. You'll always have to be careful but you've already come through the worst of it. I'm going to change your prescription and I want you to see if this newer dosage helps. Give it a few days. Also, I'll talk to someone about sitting down with you to talk about what you're going through," the doctor said.

JD was still a little angry when he got home after his session. Buck had cooked Sloppy Joes and made them a salad but JD was too wound up to eat right away.

"The doc says it could be months before I get over this stuff, Buck!" JD ranted. "I don't know if I can take being on light duty that long!"

"Did he actually say it would be months?" Buck asked gently. He knew how easily JD could have taken something the doctor said and turned it all around.

"Not exactly, but he said he doesn't know how long I'm gonna be like this," JD admitted, sinking into a chair and scowling.

Buck moved around until he was behind JD and put his hands on his roommate's shoulders. He squeezed gently, trying to loosen the taut muscles. After a couple of minutes, JD sighed and rolled his neck. Buck transferred his hands to JD's neck and worked the pads of his thumbs along the base of JD's skull.

"You're gonna get me through this in spite of myself, aren't you?" JD asked as he leaned back against Buck's hands.

"That's what friends are for, Kid," Buck answered with a grin. "Now let's eat, I'm starving!"

After they polished off the Sloppy Joes and salad and loaded the dishes into the dishwasher, the roommates collapsed onto the couch to watch TV. There wasn't much on but it was a comfortable, easy evening for both of them.

In the wee hours of the morning, Buck woke up and stared into the darkness trying to figure out what had wakened him. He padded down the stairs, thinking that maybe someone had knocked on the door but the hall was deserted when he looked out. Buck began to think that it was just his imagination and headed for the bathroom to take a leak. As he was standing over the toilet, he heard it again, a muffled moan. He flushed the commode and hurried to JD's bedroom door.

Pale moonlight fell across the bed that was thoroughly disheveled. The comforter lay most of the way off in the floor and JD's pillow was pushed onto the nightstand. In the middle of the bed, JD lay in a fetal ball, moaning into the bunched-up sheet. Buck picked up the comforter and carefully dragged it over his friend, hoping that it wouldn't startle or frighten him. After a few minutes, the warmth began to penetrate and JD's body uncurled slightly. When JD began to grope along the mattress for the missing pillow, Buck picked it up and placed it within reach of the seeking hand. JD nuzzled into the pillow and sighed contentedly. Buck couldn't resist, he reached down and passed his hand lightly over JD's head.

"Thanks, Mom," JD mumbled softly.

"Night, Kid," Buck replied.

Day Five

Friday came, finally, and it brought discussion of how to spend the weekend. Vin suggested that it was going to be a pretty good day for a trail ride. Ezra suggested that a poker game was just the thing to take their minds off of their woes, especially since they had gotten paid. Chris reminded them of the repairs to the barn that they had been putting off. Nathan announced that Rain was working doubles at the hospital all weekend, so he was available as long as there was going to be time to watch the baseball game Saturday afternoon. A friend of his from college was starting with the Cardinals and he wanted to see him play. Buck and JD didn't care what they did.

They had narrowed the poisoned alcohol down to two brands and the stores had pulled all of the bottles from the shelves in the hope of preventing more deaths. JD's therapist called to cancel his appointment because of a scheduling conflict and Dunne was almost relieved not to have to go.

The end of the shift brought another minor conflict. Friday night was the night that the team stopped at Watson's for a few pitchers of beer and some fun but everyone was worried about JD. They didn't want to make him uncomfortable and they didn't want to lead him into temptation.

JD noticed the quiet conversations going on around him and it didn't take an MIT graduate to figure out what they were talking about. His guess was that they were worried about taking him to the saloon after work.

"JD, my office," Chris called out about ten minutes before five. Dunne leapt up and hurried into Larabee's office and closed the door behind him. "The guys want to know how you feel about going to the saloon after work," Chris said as soon as JD was seated. "If you're not comfortable, you don't have to go."

"But that would mean that one of you would have to babysit with me," JD said before he realized how it would sound. The frown Chris directed his way confirmed that it was the wrong thing to say. "I mean ... I don't want you guys to give up your evening just because of me. I can go. I can drink soda. It's not like I usually drink that much anyway," he hurriedly added.

"I'm glad you realized that," Chris said as a slow smile pulled at his cheeks.

"I'll tell the others," JD said, "Unless there was something else you wanted me for."

"Nope, go tell the others we're meeting at the saloon," Chris said as he shut his computer down.

They had a good time at Watson's. Inez kept them well supplied with finger foods and made sure that there was always a pitcher of soda on the table. A bunch of women from the secretarial pool at the federal building were celebrating one of them finalizing a divorce and the celebration was loud and rowdy. Buck, Josiah and, surprisingly, Ezra, were busy socializing with the women.

JD began to feel a little out of place after a while. When one of the waitresses innocently commented on the pitcher of soda, he had admitted that he was on medication. Nathan rescued him by announcing that he was taking antibiotics, for which JD threw him a grateful smile. It was bad enough when he had to go to the pharmacy to pick up the new prescription. The pharmacist had reminded him that he couldn't take the pills if he was going to be using because they would make him very sick. A teenaged girl who was there to pick up her birth control pills looked at him strangely when he turned away from the counter with the bag containing the prescription bottle. He saw it in her eyes, he was a 'drug user' and she looked nervous about standing too close to him.

"Hey, come on, let's shoot some pool," Vin said, leaning down and giving JD's neck a squeeze.

Two games later, JD was feeling much more relaxed. He and Vin were playing against a couple of guys from the FBI offices and they were running the table. The poor fibbies had yet to win a game and it didn't look like their luck was turning any time soon. Inez had brought JD a soda in the same kind of glass that she served the alcoholic drinks in, so no one realized that he was sipping a Coke all evening. JD smiled when he realized how fortunate he was to have such a caring group of friends.

"You two about ready to go?" Chris asked as he leaned against the wall nearest the pool table.

"Almost. Just let JD sink this next shot," Vin answered.

"Ten bucks says he misses it," the FBI agent announced.

"Forty says he makes it," Ezra countered as he joined the group at the table.

"Aw, come on, this is supposed to be a friendly game!" the agent protested.

"Put up or shut up," Ezra said, peeling two twenties off of the bills in his money clip and tossing them on the end of the table. The FBI agent grumbled as he tossed in his money.

JD tried to tune out the betting and concentrate on the shot. He was beginning to feel anxious and kept standing up to study the table. The FBI agents and their friends began to razz him, which didn't help. Vin walked around the table to stand beside JD.

"You can do it, just ignore them," Tanner said.

Leaning down with the pool cue, JD lined up the shot. As he stared down the stick, the balls seemed to blur slightly and he rubbed his forehead against his sleeve. Suddenly, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Glancing upward, he saw that it was Vin's hand. Vin gave his shoulder a pat. JD took a deep breath and blew it out slowly as the cue slid across his knuckles. The white ball just kissed the eight ball, which rolled along the bumper to the lip of the pocket. JD stood up, his jaw tightening as he stared at the ball. When it fell, the FBI agents' collective groan was drowned out by the excited exclamations of the ATF agents. Ezra picked up the money and split it, handing forty to JD and tucking the rest into his pocket.

Walking across the parking lot toward Buck's truck, JD was once again animated, gesturing expressively as he replayed the game for the others, who had only arrived at the end.

"Yeah, yeah, Kid, you're the greatest. Get in the truck and I'll tell you about a real high stakes pool game," Buck teased.

Day Six

Buck's fist pounded several times on JD's bedroom door, causing him to shoot off of the mattress and look around in alarm.

"Better get moving, kid! Chris wants us there at ten to help with the barn," Buck bellowed before heading for the kitchen. He was making breakfast burritos for them so they could eat on the road. The long evening at the saloon had caused them to oversleep. JD rushed into the kitchen and grabbed a bottle of juice out of the refrigerator.

"Do I have time to shower? I smell like an ashtray," JD announced, having caught the scent on his hair when he fell back into the pillow after his rude awakening.

"If you hurry," Buck answered.

The others were already there, except for Ezra, who was never there on time, ever. Chris had already fed the horses and turned them out into the field so that they wouldn't be bothered by the hammering on the roof. He and Vin had already mucked out the stalls and Josiah and Nathan were bringing in fresh loads of sawdust.

"Look who finally decided to show up!" Vin announced.

"He overslept," Buck immediately replied. JD turned to him, his mouth hanging open in surprise at the blatant lie. Buck gigged him in the ribs before taking off running. JD took up the challenge and tore out after him, threatening to make him tell the truth.

It was good to see JD acting more like himself. Chris leaned against the corral post and lit a cigarette while he watched the young man chasing Buck all over the yard. JD picked up a clump of grass and chucked it at his roommate, hitting him squarely in the back of his head. Buck retaliated by catching JD and stuffing a double handful of the grass clippings down his shirt and pants.

"If you children are through playing, we do have work to do," Chris said.

JD's hand closed on another clump of grass and he saw the stern expression on Chris' face turn to one of warning. Even as Larabee pointed his finger in preparation for ordering JD not to do it, JD hurled the clippings at him.

Chris stood there with wet grass clippings stuck to the front of his shirt. He glared at the stain left when he flicked the mess off of his clothes, then looked toward JD and Buck.

"Oh shit, run kid!" Buck yelled as he took off around the house.

JD had barely made it to his hands and knees before Chris was on him. JD 'oof'd' when the team leader's weight settled on his hips. Even as he was trying to scoot out from under him, Chris scooped up clippings with both hands and began to stuff them in the back of JD's pants and up the back of his shirt.

It looked like JD was trying to swim out from under Chris and Josiah burst out laughing. The kid was wailing as if Chris was killing him in between bouts of hysterical laughter and cries for Buck to help him. Buck grabbed the bag off of the lawnmower and raced back to help his friend.

"Buck? Don't you dare!" Chris yelled just before Buck upended the bag over his head.

When Ezra arrived around eleven, it was to find his six coworkers lying around on the deck, picking grass clippings from their hair and clothes. He looked out over the yard, where the rest of the clippings had been hurled during the all-out battle that had ensued. Chris threw some at Josiah for laughing at him. When Nathan lost the battle to hold back the laughter that was bubbling in his throat, Josiah chased him down and stuffed clipping down his shirt. Vin walked out, ostensibly to help Chris, and JD ran past him to toss a large handful into Tanner's hair. From then on, it was war.

"It appears that your lawnmower's bagger exploded," Ezra said, whereupon everyone burst out laughing again.

By the time they finished with the barn roof, it was time to watch the baseball game. After the usual scramble for the best seats, they settled down with their favorite snacks to cheer for Nathan's friend's team. The game went into extra innings before the Cardinals vanquished their arch enemies, the Chicago Cubs.

After the game, they decided to play a little touch football in the yard. Josiah volunteered to man the grill, reminding them all that he had 'an old football injury' that he didn't want to irritate.

The sun dipped below the mountains and Chris and Nathan were still trying to get the others to come in to eat. But the game was tied and none of them would concede defeat or accept a draw. Chris turned on the floodlights and sat on one of the Adirondack chairs with his plate. The steaks were perfect and the corn on the cob was tender and sweet.

"You don't know what you're missing!" Chris shouted.

"More for me!" Josiah added.

"You better not eat my food!" JD yelled.

When the others finally came in, it was fully dark in the yard. Vin and JD piled up their plates. Buck moved along behind them, nudging them and telling them to leave some for him. Ezra hung back, letting the others fill their plates before he took food for himself. There was plenty, they would be eating leftovers the next day. JD and Vin were still jostling each other when they got to the table on the deck where Nathan prompted JD to remember to take his pill. That reminder was like a pin prick in the soap bubble of happiness he had been feeling. JD trudged back into the house to his overnight bag where he had stuffed his bottle of pills.

Nathan sighed, immediately realizing that he had dampened the fun spirit of the evening. Josiah reached out to the young medic and gave him a supportive smile. JD came back out and quietly slid onto the bench opposite Vin. He picked up the corn on the cob and studied it for a moment. There was a blob of potato salad on the end. JD turned it as if to lick the creamy blob off before he flicked his wrist and sent the chunk into Ezra's lap.

Staring down at the mess on his thigh, Ezra slowly raised his eyes to JD's. He drew a slow, deep breath, "That was entirely uncalled for."

"If nobody calls for it in thirty days, it's yours," JD chirped before sinking his teeth into the sweet, tender niblets.

Day Seven

Sunday morning dawned sunny and warm. Vin and Chris were up early, getting the horses fed and turned out so they could stretch their legs before the trail ride. Nathan got up and started breakfast for them. Josiah was busy making sandwiches for their lunch on the trail. Buck and JD were the last ones up. JD carried his pill out to the kitchen to get a glass of milk to wash it down. Nathan avoided meeting his eyes until he realized JD was staring at him. With his shower-damp hair curling around his face and a milk mustache, he looked even more like a kid.

"Don't sweat it, man," JD said, holding his hand out for Nathan to shake. Nathan bypassed the shake to pull JD in for a hug.

The trail ride was like a favorite pair of jean, comfortable without being too confining. Vin and Chris led the way, their horses occasionally jostling each other when the path narrowed. Nathan rode behind them, rolling his shoulders and squirming around on his saddle.

"Something bothering you, Nathan?" Josiah called from his position behind and to the side of Jackson's mount.

"Just a little sore from playing so hard yesterday," Nathan admitted.

"Not getting out of shape are you?" Ezra asked, his voice carrying over the rustling of the breeze through the tree branches.

"Not so much that I can't handle your ass, Ezra," Nathan replied.

JD's comment drew chuckles from all of his friends when he asked, "Uh, Nathan, is there something you want to share with the group." His smile widened when Jackson turned around in the saddle to look at him questioningly. "About your fixation with Ezra's ass?" JD teased.

"Isn't it about time for your physical, JD? Maybe I should call Dr. Rothchild and set it up for you," Nathan countered. Dr. Julius Rothchild was about 90 and JD complained that he smelled funny. "Or Dr. Halvers?" Adrienne Halvers was the newest addition to the medical division, fresh out of med school and only months younger than JD.

"You play rough, Nathan!" JD shouted, slouching down in the saddle and dropping back behind Buck. The bright blush on his face deepened as he remembered the first time he'd had to go down there for a wound check. Dr. Halvers had noted that it was nearly time for his physical and instructed him to strip to his shorts. Even though she'd been totally professional about it and told him that it was a perfectly normal reaction, he still couldn't look the woman in the eye without his face burning with shame.

Up in the mountains, the air was slightly cooler. The sun warmed the dark-colored sweatshirt JD was wearing and he tipped his face up toward the sun. The new medication seemed to be helping keep the 'itchy feeling' at bay and he was glad of it.

"JD! Look!" Buck hissed, startling Dunne out of his pleasant daze. They had come up on a herd of deer browsing on the tender spring foliage. Several spotted fawns stood close to the does, not really interested in anything but mother's milk. Several minutes passed while the ATF agents watched the deer before something caused them to move on.

After lunch, the men spent a couple of hours just lounging around in the clearing around the lake that marked the corner of Larabee's property. Chris coaxed Buck away from where he had been hovering around JD. Vin was off showing Nathan some unusual plants he had found growing near the woods and Ezra was sprawled out in the sun, his head pillowed on the sweatshirt he'd been wearing, one sleeve thrown over his eyes to shield them.

JD sat on a stump, watching the reflection of the clouds in the water. It was something he had done with his mom when she was alive, staring down into the water and letting their troubles float away. Josiah came over and sat down, leaning back against the side of the stump.

"Pondering the beauty of the Lord's work, John Dunne?" Josiah asked.

"Naw, just wondering."

"Wondering what?" Josiah asked, turning his eyes toward the reflection of the white, puffy clouds.

"My therapist is going to find me a sponsor, someone who's ... you know ... been addicted before. He thinks it might ... make it easier. If I can talk to someone who knows what I've been through," JD stammered.

"You don't think it will help?"

"I don't know. I just feel so ... different now."

"This too shall pass, son," Josiah said as he relaxed against the stump.

That evening, when they got back to the barn, Nathan and Chris exchanged a glance. Nathan nudged Josiah, who immediately moved to take JD's saddle from his hands.

"Let me get that for you," Josiah said, smiling warmly.

"JD? Can I have a word with you ... alone?" Nathan said. JD looked at the medic, apprehension scrolling plainly across his face. He looked at Buck and received an encouraging nod.

Following Nathan up to the house, JD wondered what he had done wrong. Nathan had been watching him to make sure that he took his meds, that he ate regularly and that he was sleeping.

"Sit down, JD," Nathan said when they reached the deck. He paced back and forth a few times before he sat down opposite the younger man. His hands hung loosely from his wrists as Jackson tried to figure out how to begin.

"Is something wrong, Nathan?" JD asked.

"Josiah said that your therapist wanted you to talk to someone who had been through what you're going through."

JD nodded, letting his gaze fall to the boards beneath his feet.

"I've never discussed this with anyone except Chris and Josiah. You know that I served in Iraq as a medic. What you don't know is that I was injured toward the end of my tour. An IED exploded behind our humvee and it flipped over. I was pinned and my leg was broken. I got hooked on painkillers while I was recovering."

A soft gasp burst from JD and he locked eyes with Nathan.

"It started innocently enough. It hurt and the other medics gave me more meds to make me comfortable. By the time I was discharged, I was addicted. It wasn't until I got home that it became a problem. I was lucky, someone at the VA recognized the symptoms and got me help. It was hard ... but I got through it and you will too."

"I thought you were watching me because you were afraid I was gonna start drinking or taking drugs again," JD said softly.

By the time the others got back to the house, JD and Nathan were laughing and talking about some prank Jackson had pulled on his beloved Rain. They warmed the leftovers from the night before and had a quick meal before heading home for the night.

Day Eight

Monday morning found a very energized JD in the office. Ezra was mildly irritated when he arrived to discover that the young computer tech had removed all of the cables from his computer. JD was lying on his back beneath the desk with an assortment of colored cable ties.

"I'll just be a few minutes, Ezra," JD said around the roll of electrical tape between his teeth. "I've almost got it finished."

Ezra rolled his eyes and set his briefcase on JD's desk. He could see that JD had been busy, as every other desk in the room had colorful cable ties. Vin was trying to pull his mouse closer and the keyboard kept moving because the cords were connected.

When JD finished with the computers in the office, he moved on to the cables that connected the printers to the network hub. Everyone else went about their business, checking their interoffice mail and e-mail. It was a very typical morning until a bellow sounded from the team leader's office.

"What in the hell do you mean, 'unable to locate printer'?" Chris shouted. There was a pause, then another shout, "JD! Get in here!"

Buck suppressed the urge to laugh when JD's head connected with the underside of the printer table. JD scooted out backwards on his hands and knees and stood up. When he turned toward Chris' office, his feet got tangled in the power cords he had shoved out of the way. He tried to take a step and caught his foot. Immediately, his arms waved as he tried to maintain his balance.

"JD!?" Chris shouted, stepping into the doorway of his office to look for the man responsible for his difficulty. Just then, JD lost his balance and fell, right into Larabee's outstretched arms. Buck lost his battle to control his mirth and burst out laughing. Once the team leader had put the young agent on his feet again, he fired off a glare at Buck that stopped the loud guffaws. "Why can't I print my report, JD?" Chris asked.

"I'll have it fixed for you in a minute," JD admitted, feeling the warmth of a blush creeping up from his collar.

The rest of the morning was spent straightening the remaining printer cables and tying them into neat, orderly bundles. From the reorganizing of cables, JD moved on to color coding the files in the cabinets. His desk was laden with boxes of colored folders that he had brought from the supply closet. He had to keep busy. That strange, itchy feeling was creeping up on him again and he didn't want the others to know.

At lunch time, Buck leaned back in his chair and suggested that they all go out instead of eating in the office. Vin nodded in agreement, as did Josiah. Nathan commented that he could eat what he'd brought tomorrow. Ezra agreed, only as long as they weren't just going out for burgers. Buck looked toward his roommate, who had not expressed an opinion either way.

"What do you think, JD?" Buck asked. JD shrugged his shoulders and continued shifting papers into colored folders. Walking over to the younger man's desk, Buck sat on the only clear corner. "JD? Come on. Lunch?"

"Not hungry," JD mumbled.

"Not hungry?" Buck echoed. He reached out and caught hold of JD's chin, tipping his face up to look into his eyes. "Who are you and what have you done with my friend?" he asked.

JD shoved the hand away roughly and used his feet to roll out of arm's reach. He scowled at Buck as a stack of folders slid into the floor and their contents spilled across the carpet.

"Thanks a lot, Buck! Now I gotta straighten everything out before I put it in the new folders! I told you I'm not hungry, now leave me alone!" JD shouted. Before his stunned friend could formulate a response, JD leapt from the chair and headed for the refrigerator to get a soda.

Exchanging puzzled glances with the others, Buck slowly went to his knees and began to carefully gather the papers back into the appropriate folders. Nathan watched for a moment, then got up and went to talk to JD.

"I'm fine, Nathan!" JD announced as soon as Jackson stepped foot in the break room. He tipped the can to his lips and guzzled the remaining soda before crushing the can and dropping it into the trashcan. "Excuse me, I have work to do," JD said as he pushed past Nathan. Seeing Buck on the floor, he huffed in irritation. He went to his knees and gathered the rest of the papers and folders before standing and dropping them on the desk. "I've got it, Buck. Just leave it," he said.

Chris had come out of his office upon hearing JD yelling at Buck. Vin, Ezra and Josiah had been held at their desks by the glare he sent their way. Buck sat back on his heels, watching JD as he straightened the papers.

"What's going on out here?" Chris asked. JD flinched at the sound of his voice but held his ground. "I thought you were reorganizing the files," he said to JD.

"I knocked them off," Buck said. "It's my fault."

"Okay, you help him clean this up. Vin, you and Ezra go get lunch. Josiah, you're with me, there's been another death," Chris said.

This time, it was a homeless bum who died but it was still another body to add to the count. The body had been found by the garbage collector in an alley behind a liquor store. Chris and Josiah got there in time to see the body as it was loaded in the coroner's van. The bottle containing the poisoned whiskey was bagged for the lab.

It was quiet in the office that afternoon. Vin and Ezra doled out Styrofoam containers of food to their friends, who ate them in silence. JD continued to reorganize and straighten the files in between bites. Chris and Josiah got back from the scene, both men wearing expressions of sadness and frustration.

JD got ready to leave for his appointment with the therapist after he finished organizing the files into the color coded folders. Buck caught him before he left.

"I wanted to apologize, JD. I didn't mean to upset you," Buck said softly.

A flush of shame washed over JD as he realized that it wasn't Buck's fault that he had gotten angry earlier. He remembered that he had skipped his meds that morning and figured that was why he felt so antsy. The tension in his jaw eased and he tried to smile.

"It's okay, Buck. I'm sorry too. I don't know what came over me," JD replied.

After JD left, Buck got a call from Suzette, a flight attendant who had a layover and wanted to meet him for supper. Buck told her that he would see her there and hung up the phone. As soon as he lifted his hand from the receiver, he remembered that JD couldn't be left alone.

"Okay guys, I need a favor," Buck said.

JD admitted to missing his meds and told the therapist that he had been irritable all day. He also discussed Nathan's confession of prior addiction and told the doctor that he would prefer to have his teammate as his sponsor.

"Are you sure that's wise?" the doctor asked. "Your sponsor should be impartial and available to you day or night."

"I'll ask him," JD said. At the end of the appointment, JD was feeling somewhat better. When he pulled into his parking space, he noticed that Buck's vehicle was there, along with Vin's jeep. Puzzled, JD hurried up to the apartment. The scents of Buck's shower gel and cologne were thick in the air when he opened the door. "What's going on?" he asked, tossing his keys on the kitchen counter.

"Oh, Buck's got a date and I thought maybe you and I could have a pizza and watch some videos," Vin said.

Rage surged and JD dragged his fingers through his hair. He turned around and slammed his open palm against the door.

"I don't need a babysitter!" JD yelled.

Vin stood up and shifted uneasily in front of the couch. He glanced toward the stairs as Buck came rushing down.

"What's wrong? I heard yelling," Buck said.

"I don't need a babysitter, Buck," JD repeated. He cocked both fists on his hips and glared up at his roommate.

"You know what Chris said-" Buck began.

"I'm not on duty! He doesn't have the right to tell me what to do in my off-duty hours!" JD shouted.

"Are you trying to lose your job? Is that what you want?" Buck yelled back. "Because that's what's going to happen if you screw up again!"

"Fine! But don't expect me to sit out here with him!" JD screamed as he stormed across the room and slammed the door to his bedroom.

Vin followed JD's path across the living room, wincing at the slammed door. He then looked at Buck, who stood by the door with a guilty expression.

"I'm sorry, Vin. Look, I'll call Suzette and cancel my-"

"No, it's alright. You need to get out and have a good time. I'll be fine. I'll stay with him, you go on," Vin urged.

Alone in his room, JD paced angrily. He picked up the basket of clean clothes and hurled it against the wall. It wasn't fair! It wasn't as if he had voluntarily shot up the drugs! He was a victim! He flung himself across his bed and fought back bitter tears.

Some time later, JD heard the doorbell. He debated going out and apologizing to Vin but something held him back. A few minutes later, Vin knocked on his bedroom door. JD sighed and rolled off of the bed. When he opened the door, the smell of pizza and wings wafted in to greet him.

"Food's here, if you're hungry," Vin said.

"Thanks," JD replied. He wanted to say more but the words wouldn't come.

"S'alright, kid, I know it isn't your fault."

When Buck arrived home early from his date, he found Vin and JD asleep on opposite ends of the couch with an empty pizza box between them. Both of them had their feet up on the coffee table, which sported a bucket of chicken bones and half a dozen empty soda cans. Vin stirred and looked up at Buck as he gently laid a blanket over his sleeping roommate. Vin rose silently, yawning and stretching.

"Thanks, Vin," Buck whispered.

"No problem," Vin replied. "See you in the morning."