Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep `em damnit!
Thanks to Mog for ATF
Main Characters: JD, Buck
Ratings/Warnings: Some violence, and bad language. An incident in this story is for fictional purposes only and not intended to offend or distress.
Huge thanks to Katy for the plot bunny that became this story. Thank you for trusting me with it; and to Lisa O, my Boston oracle. You've made this story special, and helped me learn about, and appreciate that whole area so much more. Thank you for your kindness and patience.
It was familiar territory for ATF Special Agent JD Dunne. Ensconced in a surveillance van while hooked up to mics and transmitters, and monitoring activity on a sixteen-inch flat screen, he adjusted frequencies and picture quality. Audio equipment was recording every sound within a half-mile radius and just then, was causing the handsome young man's youthful face to crease with uncertainty.
Despite only being together for four months, he knew his team, and right now something was wrong. Team Leader Chris Larabee was concerned about something something he couldn't articulate. Nevertheless, the other five members of Team Seven were also picking up on his concerns. Before JD could ask a question, the police band radio crackled.
>>"Denver six to dispatch, advise OIC at Bravo location, backup is fifteen out and gridlocked by a jack-knifed semi."<<
JD's mouth gaped. 'Shit, that was his team's support.' He activated the mic to advise the Officer in Charge, his own team leader Chris Larabee. "Surveillance one Guys, we have a problem " The lack of response was unnerving. He panned the tiny camera fixed to the outside of the van, but revealed no sign of either his team, or the perps they were here to apprehend. Clipping on a throat mic, and pushing an earpiece in, Dunne ensured all the equipment was running, re-checked both his Colt Defenders and replaced them in the holsters at his back and ankle, and then took a tentative peek out of the sliding door.
Larabee glared at the men holding him and his team at gunpoint. Judging by the ease of their capture, these goons had been in the target warehouse long before they arrived. Glancing around, he noted his men were disheveled and bleeding, but despite their injuries from tackling their adversaries, were clearly more than ready to go at it again on command. Just when that would be, Chris had yet to decide. It would likely be at a moment's notice a breath of air, or a creaking board. The slightest distraction and they would be ready.
What he did not want it to be, was their very young, over-eager rookie, who he expected to be sitting tight in the surveillance van, waiting for their backup. JD was a good kid, and destined to be a great agent hell, he already was. However, he didn't need to get involved in this screw-up. Chris hoped, whatever the outcome, JD would look back on this day as a lesson on how easily even the best laid plans could go down the toilet.
"Staring at your guns won't magically transport them to you, Larabee."
Averting his gaze from the mound of confiscated weapons on the ground just ahead of the team, Chris's glare returned. "You want to pray that's so," he sneered at the man taunting him. "We're not done here."
Stepping forward, small time arms dealer Thomas Kade smiled. "Expecting backup are you? Didn't your little snitch in the van tell you they've been delayed?" He held up the earpiece and mic he had earlier extracted from Larabee. "Oh wait he couldn't could he?"
Trying not to react to the fact these thugs knew about JD, and despite Buck's eyes boring a hole in the side of his head, Chris shrugged, his steely gaze unwavering. "You have no idea who you're dealing with. Haven't you heard? We work alone." He enjoyed seeing Kade flinch.
The man turned his head slightly to address one of his men. "You found the little shit, yet?"
"No," came a reply. "Van's locked looks like he cut and run."
Kade watched with interest at the reactions to the allegation. The five men looked to their leader, clearly pissed at the accusation. Larabee's slow blink back at them returned their faces to impassive masks. 'This could get interesting,' Kade mused. He turned to speak to the man that had called out.
"He's here find him." The tells were subtle, but six spines stiffening was enough to satisfy the arms dealer. 'Very interesting'.
From his obscured location, JD watched in horror. Chris's orders had been stern 'do NOT move from your position!' he had commanded, and under normal circumstances, JD would never disobey a direct order. But this was hardly normal, was it? His teeth worried his lower lip as he scanned the area. The weapons were within reasonable reaching distance for the guys all he needed was a distraction. His attention rested on an overhead pulley.
JD recalled a tale from Ezra, of when the man had ingeniously released such a device to drop a heavy object onto his opponents, causing a nice diversion. However, this rig was simply a hook to carry an object down a wire to ground level.
This was it. It would leave him exposed for a moment or two, but if he fired while traveling, he might just make it. JD shrugged. Ah well, it surely couldn't hurt any more than if he succeeded unscathed, to then feel the wrath of Larabee could it? Decision made, JD cautiously made his way to the platform where the hook was secured.
Gun or no gun, Chris was ready to ram his fist right down the throat of the goon close to him any second now, but events unfolding froze him to the spot. Four men dragged Josiah from the group, before pistol-whipping him and pushing the battered man to his knees.
Kade called out, his voice echoing around the vast building. "Mister Dunne it would seem the suggestion of you being anything other than honorable has incensed your colleagues, so I must assume you're here watching. Come forward within one minute, or my next actions will ensure the man kneeling before me will have no career options available to him, other than retirement."
"We're not gonna kill him, boss?" one gunman asked.
Before answering, Thomas smirked as he glanced around the angry team. "No, we don't kill Feds, Crowe we do the next best thing; we take away their ability to work in the field." He glanced at his watch. "Forty seconds, Mister Dunne!"
Chris glanced at Josiah. The big man nodded and yelled out, earning him another blow. "Stay put, John!"
JD knew his time was up. Releasing the rope securing the hook, then testing the strength of it, JD wrapped his fingers around the cold metal, and tightened his hold on the Colt in his other hand. Taking a deep breath, he pushed off the wall with his feet, and while praying the pulley wouldn't give out, began his descent down the wire. It took several long seconds before the gunmen realized what was happening; at which point, while dangling precariously from the traveling winch, JD began firing at them. In the chaotic seconds that ensued, Team Seven rallied and easily fought their way to their guns.
A noise from overhead and way at the back of the warehouse, caused all at ground level to look up. Buck gaped at the sight of the kid he had taken under his wing to train, sailing down a wire, while firing at the gunmen holding them. He would later reflect on regretting not looking over to see Chris's face at that instant. Moments before the shooting started, Vin elbowed one, and high-kicked another gunman to get to Josiah, who was still on his knees on the cement floor. Bad guys toppled like ninepins, as each of the six Federal agents, covered by JD's firing, did battle to re-take possession of their artillery. However, despite a fast victory, their success was short-lived.
Just as JD was thinking he had done the right thing, the pulley jerked to a halt about two-thirds of the way down. The pull caused him to lose his grip and JD half fell, half dropped to the floor. His ankle twisted as he landed; eliciting a yelp from him seconds before the momentum of his unscheduled plummet toppled him backwards into some packing cases. The cases fell away and the young agent tumbled back heavily to the floor. The back of his skull met the cement floor with a thunk, and JD shook his head to clear it, but without success. Before he could even consider his ankle, cruel hands snatched at his hair and drew him upright. Cold steel pressed into his temple and he shuddered. 'Oh this isn't good.'
Through the chaos, Kade's focus remained on the agent jerkily traveling down the wire and firing at his scattering gang. Already knowing his plans had been thwarted, he zoned in on his one remaining ace in the hole. An unforeseen glitch in JD's plans dropped an opportunity directly at Kade's feet literally. Seeing the dazed youth struggling, Kade moved quickly alongside him and twisted his fingers into JD's thick, black hair. Confiscating his firearm, he hauled the youth up. Placing JD's his own gun at the dazed agent's head, Thomas Kade turned to the recovered Team seven.
"Alright, that's enough. You even think about taking me down, I'll blow his head off his shoulders!" To make his point, he tugged viciously at the hair in his grasp.
"Aaaarrgh !" Even though he was a little stunned, JD felt that, and straightened in a desperate attempt to ease the pain. Kade watched the mood change within all six men, cocking the gun at JD's head when first Buck, then Vin, took an angry step forward. Larabee spoke as he halted them in their tracks.
"Don't fuck with us," he warned.
Kade grinned. "You gonna follow protocol, Larabee? Do I get to walk out with your teammate here? Or will you sacrifice him to stop me?"
"He won't need to." As JD stammered out his words, he reached into his ankle holster, pushed his second Colt into Kade's knee and fired. The reaction was brutal. Kade simultaneously screamed out in agony, while heaving the body in his grip away from him. Off- balance, JD rolled away into the strewn packing cases, coming to an abrupt halt seconds before Buck and Nathan were looking down at him. He blinked in an attempt to clear his vision, raising his head slightly to see Chris as he joined them.
"Did we get 'em all?"
Chris nodded, unable to mask his grin. "Yeah."
Satisfied, JD dropped his head back to the floor, and let the dark, welcoming, pain free abyss calling to him, take over.
THREE WEEKS LATER
In the apartment of Buck Wilmington and JD Dunne, affectionately known as the CDC, howls of despair rose above the clatter of metal and cheap plastic chopsticks on china. The members of Team Seven heaped Chinese food onto plates and occasionally into open mouths, while keeping one eye on the baseball game on TV. JD was torn. His beloved Red Sox were playing his newly adopted Colorado Rockies, and he was slowly realizing where his true loyalty lay as his former home team kicked butt. He simply chuckled at his friends' wails, fried noodles dangling from his lips as he forced in a huge forkful and chomped with relish.
Since recently getting a big screen TV, Chris's place was also popular to view major sporting events, but that guilty pleasure was reserved for weekends. Weekday games would be straight from work to the Wilmington-Dunne condo, accompanied by cholesterol-laden comestibles and light beer, before each member headed home.
"Jeessssus Mrs. Travis coulda hit that one harder!"
JD swallowed as best he could before speaking. "Did she play baseball, Vin?"
They all laughed and JD rolled his eyes. He was still mis-reading the occasional rib. He heaped more fried rice onto his plate to disguise his awkwardness. Not missing the discomfort, Vin winked and JD relaxed.
"Hey, kid when you're passing the fridge; grab more beers, would you?"
From his seat on the couch, JD scowled at his roommate, who was clearly comfortable in his recliner. "What? You got a bad leg or something, Buck?" He threw him a knowing look. "Oh no, wait that would be me!"
His focus remaining on the TV, Buck ignored the sassy remark and waved his chopsticks in the air. "Thanks kid, mighty nice of you."
"A white wine for me, JD," Ezra requested.
"Yeah, I could go for another brew, too," Vin agreed from his position on the floor. Chris looked back at JD from the overstuffed armchair, raised his bottle and nodded his order.
"As you're up, I wouldn't say no to a coffee," Nathan added, Josiah grunting his approval around a mouthful of foo yung.
With a grumble, JD stood, placed his plate on the bureau as he limped past it on his way to the kitchen, and set up the coffee machine before extracting bottles of beers and white wine from the fridge. Another chorus of groans from the living room made him smile. 'Go Sox'.
"He's still limping," Chris observed as he watched JD walk to the kitchen.
Buck glanced sideways at his long-time friend. "He's okay, just making a point," he said, winking. Buck straightened on understanding the implications of Chris's comment. "He's up to coming back to work, Chris. 'Sides, all he'll be doing is riding a desk for a few weeks, right?"
"Right," Chris confirmed, much happier to see the limp almost none-existent when JD returned with their drinks.
Beverages handed out, and deciding to take a soda for himself, on returning to the living room JD picked up his plate from the bureau, stopping abruptly when he noticed it had been resting on top of the day's mail. One addressed to him postmarked from Massachusetts caught his eye and he picked it up. Resuming his seat, and with all interest in the game temporarily gone, he balanced his plate on his knees and tore open the envelope. Seconds later a soft gasp and a look of utter surprise gained him an audience.
"You okay, kid?" Buck was instantly sitting up, his focus flicking between JD's pale features and the letter in his hand. His concern grew as JD failed to answer, the youth's gaze firmly on the paper.
"Yo..JD you still with us?"
"Is it bad news, Kid?"
Chris's voice finally pulled JD from his stasis, and he looked up. "Huh?" The kid's dazed expression caused them all to become interested and he suddenly snapped back to awareness, shoving the letter and envelope between his thigh and the arm of the couch.
"Uh no all good." He faked a smile and looked to be more interested in his food. "Just a letter from an old friend."
Glances were exchanged. JD was a hopeless liar, and this one seemed like a doozie, but they figured, for now, they'd let it go, and continued to watch the game. Lost in his thoughts and now oblivious to his surroundings, JD's food began to take on the appearance of a small peak as he forked it over and toyed with it.
"You not enjoyin' it?" Vin asked, unable to keep quiet any longer.
Again, the vacant look from JD concerned them, until he registered what Vin was asking about and he shrugged. "Uh sure, just full is all." Standing, he took his plate into the kitchen, grabbing the letter and envelope before leaving. Seconds later, the sound of his bedroom door closing prompted Buck to mute the TV and look at his friends.
"Okay, is anyone else getting nervous or am I over-reacting?"
"It's certainly a conundrum," Ezra replied. "Such a sudden change in demeanor."
"An old friend?" Chris reiterated.
Buck rubbed his nose. "I noticed the letter for him when I picked up the mail. It was postmarked 'Massachusetts'."
"And " Josiah pushed, clearly sensing more.
Buck swallowed. "It was also marked `MIT'."
Vin seemed to relax on hearing that. "Just some spam crap, then."
"Wouldn't make him react like that though, would it?" Nathan asked.
Chris's one word answer set the tone for the rest of the evening, an evening that saw no more of JD for its duration. Later, having said goodbye to the others, and shutting down for the night, Buck glanced at JD's closed door before sighing heavily and climbing the stairs to his own room. "Tomorrow, Kid we talk this out tomorrow."
Lying fully clothed on top of his covers, JD listened to the sounds of Buck shutting down the house for the night, absently glancing toward his door just seconds before he heard Buck climb the stairs. Raising his hand holding the letter, he stared at the paper. 'I can't believe I forgot about this.' With a soft groan, he pushed his head into his pillow and prayed sleep would come. He had a lot of thinking to do.
Two days on and JD's lack of even normal conversation around the office was driving the rest of the team to distraction. Leaning against the doorframe of his office, Chris noted the concern over JD's hushed behavior. He stared out into the bullpen at his youngest team member. Usually JD's boisterous nature would be something Chris needed to curtail in order to stop the kid from by exasperating his teammates. However, right now, Chris and the others would give him any leeway JD's heart desired, just to have him back to the boy they had grown deeply fond of in the near five months they had got to know him.
Buck was also getting nowhere. Chris hated to pull rank over something like this, especially as they were not currently on a case, nevertheless, he prepared to haul JD into his office to get to the bottom of it. Hearing his name JD looked up at the man standing in his office doorway, and with a nod to Chris's request, stood and followed his hero into the office.
Taking a seat, Chris gestured to a chair opposite his own. "Sit down, Kid."
Nervously JD complied. "Did I do something wrong, Chris?" He swallowed on recognizing *that* look. Larabee had told him several times of what he thought when JD assumed the worst before they even talked about an issue.
Chris relaxed back into his chair. "Your training's going pretty well, right?"
JD nodded. "Yes sir, real good. Buck can be a pain in the ass, but he's a great teacher under all that bluster."
Larabee grinned. "Yeah, he is. Okay, I'll cut to the chase. You're acting like you lost a five hundred dollar bill and found a nickel. Is there a problem? Anything me or one of the guys can help you with?"
JD stared at him for a long while, before dropping his gaze and fiddling with the arm of his chair. "Not sure it's a problem but I do need to talk to you." He looked up. "All of you, especially Buck."
Unsure why his gut did a little flip, Chris nodded. "Okay, how do you want to do this?"
JD's voice was barely audible. "I I don't know." Alarm growing by the silence that greeted his answer, JD looked up to see Chris deliberating.
"It's a little short notice, but as it's Friday, what say we gather at my place for a boys' weekend? Maybe a trail ride, cook- out perhaps there you'll be able to get whatever this is off your chest."
Nodding, JD smiled, his first real one in several days. "I'd like that."
"Good, then it's settled." Chris watched JD stand and start to move out. "JD!"
The youth turned back to him from his walk to the door. "Yeah, Chris?"
"Are you in trouble, son?" Another grin greeted his words, but the liquid eyes that accompanied it did nothing to ease Chris's concerns.
"No sir no trouble."
As JD left, Chris checked the time. It would be tight making arrangements this late, but he knew the guys would be up for it. They all wanted to find the underlying cause of this unusual sullenness from their young teammate, especially Buck.
Saturday afternoon, and seven men removed tack and brushed their horses after their ride. Always attentive to the horse he liked to ride when visiting Chris's, neither man would have been surprised by the way JD fussed over him today, but something in the way he lingered over the brushing down at trail's end did nothing to ease his friends' fears.
The ride had been fun and for a while, the kid they knew and loved was back. However, now it was over and the cookout under way, JD was back to his hushed demeanor. After eating, time passing seemed more like days than hours. JD finally pulled out the letter he had received earlier in the week. He and Buck had talked in the truck on the way over to Chris's the previous night, but the big man had not learned the full story. Buck was surprised as his anxiety level began to rise. What the hell kind of relationship had he and JD formed to feel this way? Buck smiled inwardly, already knowing the boy he had taken under his wing in more than just a work capacity, had somehow become like a brother to him; and it was the fear of the worst case scenario that was haunting him that scenario being JD announcing he couldn't be around them anymore. Buck shuddered perish the thought. He was snapped from his musings by JD's voice.
"This letter " he waved the object of discussion in the air. "It's from MIT. When I got my B.Sc, then my Masters, I passed top of my class with full honors, despite being the youngest, and I was offered a place to continue on for my Doctorate. It was tempting, but mom was deteriorating, and between working a few jobs to pay for a full-time nurse for her and feed myself, plus being several years younger than my fellow students, I asked if I could defer it until I was closer to the age others on the course would be. I loved achieving my degrees, but with so much studying, and working, I barely had time to socialize." He shifted in his seat. "Any extra- curricular activity mostly involved a quick trip to visit mom. With her being way across town, and me having no spare cash, those trips were few and far between. I guess what I'm trying to explain badly " he smiled, awkwardly. " is that my college time was pretty lonely. I hoped by deferring my place for a few years, I could get to earning some real money and be able to take care of Mom myself plus later, I'd be enrolled with people closer to my own age and hopefully make some friends this time around." He paused to watch as his first true friends in a long while took his words on board.
"My first captain in the BPD told me I could have a study break when the time came. It would be mostly on full pay, if I signed an agreement to stay with the force for a specified amount of time when I returned, which was a relief, as even though my post-graduate course was on another scholarship, I still needed to take care of Mom." His features saddened, and he failed to notice the forlorn looks and several watery gazes from the men he had taken to his heart, as his story unfolded.
"When Mom died, everything I had planned went out the window. I read in the office journal that you " he looked at Chris." were putting together a specialized unit here in Denver, and I knew then and there it was what I wanted." He smiled. "The rest you know."
"And the letter?" Josiah pushed, but Buck answered, his voice raspy.
"Your deferred place has come up, huh?"
JD nodded. "It's not a done deal; I have to attend an individual meeting, and if I pass that, a group interview, and then a final individual interview. I could fall at either hurdle and have my scholarship and place revoked."
"And you'd like to go for the interview," Chris guessed.
JD's expression showed a young man in turmoil. "I I don't know," he said softly. "I wanted it back then but now " he glanced around at them all. "Now I'm not so sure. I'm happy settled here, I love my job and working with you guys. I don't know if I could give all that up."
"How long's the course?" Vin asked.
The intake of breaths was audible.
"You'd have to live away." Nathan this time.
JD nodded. "During term time, sure."
"A splendid opportunity," Ezra noted, hoping he sounded convincing.
Buck leaned in and grasped JD's arm. "You should go for the interviews. You'll regret it for the rest of your life if you don't." Their gazes locked and Buck prayed JD couldn't read how he truly felt about it.
"I know, Kid. Do you have an appointment date?"
"Next Wednesday. I'd have to stay a few days if I pass the first one-on-one stage." JD looked up as Chris stood.
"Okay, make the arrangements to travel Tuesday. I'll square it with Travis and look to sorting out the details for educational leave."
Feeling the burden lift from his slender shoulders, JD grinned. "Okay thanks." He looked at all of them. "Thanks guys. You're right Buck, I have to do this." The familiar grin was back. "This is great; I thought you'd all go nuts." He stood. "I'm just gonna take a walk to the corral."
Six men watched him almost bounce away, blissfully unaware that the weight from his shoulders was now firmly shared out and resting on six others. They would never let on to JD how they felt, but in truth, the revelation and the thought of losing him for four long years was sitting sour and heavy in each gut.
Tuesday morning came all too quickly for Buck. Unable to accompany JD to Boston, due to a court date the next day, he drove him to the airport. With plenty of time to check in, the pair enjoyed a light meal at one of the food stands. Buck stared at his roommate. "You okay?"
Looking up from his food, JD nodded. "Sure. A bit nervous about going back home, but, yeah I'm fine. Mmmm just a minute " He pulled something from his inside jacket pocket and handed it to Buck. The brunet studied the class ring nestled in his palm.
JD smiled. It's nicknamed 'the brass rat', not sure why." He pointed at it. "See, it has a beaver on it the MIT mascot."
Nodding, Buck picked it up and turned it in his fingers. He went to offer it back, but JD halted him and closed Buck's fingers around it with his own hand. "I I want you to have it. I know it's not much "
Buck looked surprised. "Kid I'm honored, but I can't take your college ring "
JD attempted a smile. "I gave it to Mom but then she died " The pair locked liquid gazes.
Buck nodded and squeezed the object in his palm. "Thank you," he rasped. "I appreciate it."
"Buck " JD swallowed. "I I just wanted to say thank you for supporting me on this. I honestly don't know what the outcome will be. It's a dream I've pursued but then so was working with Chris and you guys."
Buck waved off the comment. "JD, it's okay "
"No I need you to know. If I choose MIT, it'll be in spite of my feelings for you and the guys. I've enjoyed every minute of my time with you all, especially you." He swiped at his eye before a tear could escape. "If I get in, I'll come visit every chance I get "
"Visit?" Buck looked mortified. "You have a home here, Kid. Even when Inez finally caves and marries me " he chuckled at JD's eye roll. " Your home's here for as long as you want it."
Unable to speak, or eat any longer, the pair sat in silence. JD glanced at his watch. "I guess I should go check in."
They stood, dropped their trays and rubbish onto the cart at the exit, and headed for bag check. Ticket accepted, JD hoisted his duffle bag over his shoulder and looked back at Buck. "See you in a couple of days, yeah?"
Buck nodded. "I'll be here." Awkwardly, they stood facing each other, until JD finally extended his hand. Unable to stop himself, Buck leaned in, took the offered hand and pulled JD into a tight embrace. "Take care, little brother," he whispered and felt a nod against his shoulder. Seconds later, JD was gone.
Outside, Buck grinned at the black Ram alongside his truck in the parking lot. He approached the descending window to see five faces peering back at him.
"Saloon?" Chris asked.
"Saloon," Buck agreed, before getting into his Chevy and following Chris out.
Sunny Cambridge, Massachusetts on Wednesday morning, and JD was up and about in his double deluxe view room, at the five star Hotel Marlowe. When booking the accommodations for him, Ezra insisted on the best, and despite protests from the easterner, initially paid for it himself to ensure it. JD had barely slept, spending most of the night emailing his friends. As he wandered around, sipping on his coffee, he grinned at the thought of their busy mailboxes when they got in to work this morning.
JD was finding being back east unexpectedly pleasant. He had predicted it would feel strange, maybe lonely, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. JD's excitement and lack of sleep however, stemmed from the upcoming interviews. Despite being fully prepared, the thought of meeting esteemed lecturers and professors, returned him mentally to his original student days. He had yet to comprehend he was no less equal to these figures, now.
Looking out of the hotel window, he viewed the Charles River, and the moored privately and commercially owned yachts, and the little fleets of Swan boats, and Duck tour boats, awaiting any early rising tourists. Glancing around, he inhaled as he took in the view of the city. It looked impressive from this angle. Finishing his coffee, he snatched up his jacket, keycard, wallet, and small leather portfolio case, and headed out.
His first and most significant visit was to his mother's grave. Cedar Grove Memorial Gardens was in their old home town of Dorchester. It had been a tough area, but he and his mom had been happy in the mostly Irish Catholic neighborhood. Though they were relatively poor, life was good. JD recalled how she struggled every day with the T, or had to catch two busses, to get to Chestnut Hill and the family she cleaned and cooked for. He smiled yeah tough, but happy days.
Always striving to be no less a man than his teammates, he was relieved they couldn't see him shed a tear while he placed flowers in a small pot incorporated into her headstone. He spoke softly to her, filling her in on his past five months with his new team, while apologizing for not visiting sooner. He wasn't really surprised it took him so long to leave.
Later, arriving on campus at MIT was a mind-blowing experience. Stepping out of the Taxi, JD stared up at the grand entrance to the main hall, and was transported back two years. It felt so familiar, as if he had never left. At the same time, the memory of several years of hardship and loneliness settled over his mind like a black cloud. He shook it off. It would be different this time wouldn't it?
With no need for the directions to the interview room, JD made his way there. He hesitated and composed himself before knocking. His deliberate punctual timing was to fend off any last minute nerves. A voice bid him to enter and he grinned at the man approaching him when he did so. "Professor Leech, good to see you, sir."
"John Dunne my you look well, boy."
"You too, sir."
They shook hands and the man gestured toward a seat. "Sit, sit. Tell me, how is life with the mighty ATF?" He smiled at JD's reaction. "Come on, John you were my favorite and best student, did you think I wouldn't look up how you were getting along?"
JD smiled. "I'm flattered, sir. But I didn't really want my career choice to be known to other students I want to be seen on equal footing."
The man raised a hand. "This is between your assessors, John. When the interview allocations were assigned, I simply couldn't help myself." He leaned forward. "So, have your aspirations to achieving your doctorate changed?"
"No sir, not at all." JD hoped his small fib would go unnoticed.
"Splendid. Well, let me first say, as far as I am concerned, this interview is over."
Straightening in his chair, JD stared, mildly alarmed.
"It's over because you are already in at this point. I only wish the rest of my day was filled with the caliber of scholar that you are." He smiled. "I refer, of course, to your amazingly quick and inquisitive mind. No other student has ever challenged me the way you did each day or since, come to think of it." He relaxed back in his seat. "Now, indulge me tell me what you consider a normal day in your profession."
JD relaxed. He'd have no trouble with this part.
Leaving the college grounds that day, JD grinned at the five girls who passed him and tossed several raunchy comments his way. Today, he felt he could achieve anything. This visit, it truly seemed different. For the first time on campus, he felt like an equal. Temporarily pushing back the earlier thoughts of his dream job and men he considered far more than mere friends and colleagues, he began trawling on his BlackBerry through lists of URLs for student accommodations. When he got back to his hotel room, he would continue the search on his laptop. JD figured there was no harm in being prepared. His concentration firmly on the task in hand, JD startled when he almost walked into a group of students. He smiled.
"Hi, sorry, my bad wasn't looking where I was going."
"No sweat!" One guy called out as they moved past him. He then looked back. "Hey, there's a party for the rowing team at McGinty's later, if you're interested!"
Trying not to look awestruck at the spontaneous invitation, his first one...ever, JD nodded. "Sure, thanks!" He had no plans to go, but it never hurt to be polite and show appreciation.
Almost midnight in Denver and Buck sighed as he headed to bed. JD had not checked in and he was disappointed. Buck thought to call him, but his day in court had been grueling, followed by several beers and a meal at Watson's bar with the rest of the guys to chill out. Time had flown and Buck soon realized the time zone meant JD would probably be in bed so, rather than chance disturbing him, he let it go. Just about to settle down under the covers, his cell phone chimed a message. Buck reached for the nightstand, grabbed his phone and read it.
"Time got away from me. All good. Second interview tomorrow. Talk soon. See you Friday. Miss ya. JD :o)"
Buck chuckled and text back.
"'Night Squirt and ditto :o)"
As he replaced the phone, Buck sighed contentedly, and fell asleep soon after.
JD crashed onto his bed, exhausted, but happy. After dinner, he decided to check out McGinty's, surprised it was still *the* place the students hung out. After some beers and several fun conversations with other students, the prospect of returning to college seemed considerably less daunting than a few days ago. He couldn't wait to tell Buck. JD sat bolt upright. Buck! He checked the time and groaned. `Shit!' JD figured it unfair to call Buck so late, so opted to text him, instead. He would make it up to the big guy tomorrow. A minute or so later, he grinned at the reply, set his alarm, and then eased himself into bed, pleasantly surprised at how much he was looking forward to the next day.
Day two at MIT saw a different set-up. This interview was in a small conference room and scheduled for two hours. Its design was to bring together several students applying for the much sought after and limited, post-graduate places, and explore their interactions, while getting to know them and discovering their goals. Unsure if his lack of nerves was a good or bad thing; JD smiled, nodded at his fellow interviewees, and took a seat.
He tried not to react at the over loud whisper between two rather pretty females as they looked his way. 'Fit yep, he was fit ' he shrunk down a little in his chair. 'Oh *fit*...' That observation kind of surprised him. His last time here, the girls had been several years older and barely looked at him. Now they were all of similar ages he grinned and straightened up. Watch out, Buck the Dunne animal magnetism might just be kicking in. Thoughts of what might be flooded his mind, and he almost missed the opening introductions.
JD looked up, startled. "Yes?"
"Would you care to introduce yourself?"
"Oh " He wondered if he should stand, opting instead to remain seated. "Hi, my name's John Dunne. Originally from Boston, but now living in Denver. Got my Masters two years ago."
One girl frowned. "How? That would mean you got it at ?"
"Eighteen technically, yes," JD answered, ignoring the mumbling around him. He had actually taken the finals at seventeen, just turning eighteen around graduation.
"What are your future plans, John? Do you have any yet?" one interviewer asked.
"Plenty," he grinned, hoping they wouldn't want him to elaborate. They did. "Uh, I guess my true interest lies with IT and computer science, and what it can do to enhance crime and forensic investigation. I like designing programs and apparatus that make life easier, safer, practical, and more functional for those " he paused just in time before saying 'of us'. "For those in that line of work."
"You wanna be a cop?" one kid asked.
'I am a cop,' he stated, silently. "Maybe."
"Forensics isn't that dead bodies and stuff?"
JD grinned. "Sometimes, yeah."
"You like that dead bodies?"
JD raised his eyebrows at the person speaking. 'Geeze, what's with all the questions?' "Not particularly, but thanks for asking." He felt sure his sarcasm carried, but no one seemed to say anything.
One by one, each applicant shared his or her name and backgrounds, ideals, and ambitions. All but him were coming straight from their Masters degree and had no more desire than to declare wanting to be involved in something humanitarian, or to be the next Bill Gates, and didn't always sound sincere while stating it. He had kind of expected those sort of pre-prepared replies, it's what he would have done in their situations. He pondered that. His circumstances certainly were different to others here.
Between 'bonding tasks', they chatted amongst themselves and it quickly became evident that none of these people had ever been out in the real world. Taking their degrees consecutively had cocooned them in an environment JD left behind almost two years ago. He knew his position with Team Seven was an unprecedented privilege, but what he had notched up in five months, these people were unlikely to experience in two lifetimes. Now he had to ask himself, what was he hoping to achieve by walking away from people and a job he loved, to obtain a doctorate that would open doors to God knows where? Would they necessarily be doors he wanted to walk through? Excusing himself, he sauntered toward a refreshment table and, still deep in thought, chose to make a coffee, absently stirring it repeatedly as he mulled things over in his mind.
He knew he was smart. JD smiled. It had taken him a long time to get to this point belief in himself and he knew he wasn't anything like fully there yet. But it helped that he got his academic accolades young, while caring for his dying mother and holding down several jobs doing so. The kid he once was had been highly motivated. He graduated top in his classes, and then the police academy, eventually landing a lucrative position with, in his opinion, one of the top Federal teams in the country. Him John Daniel Dunne. He alone had achieved these things, despite being small in stature, young in age and frustratingly younger in looks, painfully naïve, and way too idealistic. And sadly, eventually alone in the world. All that, and he was still only twenty.
JD glanced around at his prospective fellow students kids that, a few years ago he longed to be acknowledged by, be popular with. To call his friends. His thoughts turned to six men.
Of a Texan who had become his occasional playmate off the job, and taught him patience, self-protection, and proficiency on it; and a southerner skilled in the art of guile, and content to pass his knowledge and expertise on with unprecedented patience. A gentle giant who guided him on how to weigh up the odds and not just 'dive in'; to analyze people and not assume. Next a skilled medic JD smiled inwardly maybe the lectures on healthy minds and bodies were not as appreciated as they should be.
Uppermost, was a man very much in tune with him. A man that had been the first to become as close as a brother; and, even if it wasn't cool to admit to it in public, had offered him friendship, a home and unconditional love. Someone who had taken him to be his personal responsibility, but never tossed it back at him. A man he yep he could say it now a man JD admired greatly, thanked God every day for giving a damn, looked up to and loved.
Last, but not least, was his hero. The man JD most wanted to be like. Okay, maybe not so gruff in manner, but most certainly in every other way. Chris Larabee had been the reason JD ditched hacking and decided to become a cop, not that he had ever admitted that to the man. Also because of Larabee, JD left his home to travel west to work alongside him. The man was a legend, sharp, imposing, feared, and revered.
Getting to work alongside these men every day was a dream come true, living up to everything he had imagined it to be, and more. The job, and the men his friends, had become his world and he loved and cherished every moment of it.
Glancing around the room, JD had an epiphany. 'What the hell was he doing here?'
It became all too clear that he truly no longer craved this lifestyle. While a doctorate would be neat, he realized he didn't want to spend four years away from his job, his team his friends, to achieve it. An inner peace settled over him. It was over, he didn't belong here. He was no longer a student he was his own man. JD Dunne had the scars, the memories good and bad to prove it. He looked around at the graduates in the room. Yeah, he was their age their equal academically; but realistically, mentally he was years ahead of them in the game of life. This would no longer be a step forward but a step back. About to declare his conclusion, he noticed the lecturers and students in the room were distracted by a noise outside. A noise JD was all too familiar with. Concerned, and like the others, he wandered over to the windows.
Activity outside surprised him. Unable to hear much through the thick glass, the frenetic movements from the current scholars in the quad below, seemed far from relaxed. They were screaming, or shouting, and were certainly hurrying. JD's senses were already on alert and realization of what was occurring sunk in when more sporadic gunfire erupted. Sensing the rising terror, he addressed them all in the room.
"Take it easy, don't panic."
Calm was not the reaction, as girls sobbed and boys paled. Instinctively he walked toward the lecturers and handed them his cell. "I know you're aware I'm a Federal officer. Call the cops."
A nod came from the teacher that took his phone.
Reaching around to his back, JD pulled out his Colt and checked the clip. On seeing him armed, chairs scraped across the floor and toppled over as the room erupted into alarm. Snatching his jacket from the back of his chair, he dug into his inside pocket as he pulled it on. Taking out his ID, JD held it up. "I'm a cop Special Agent Dunne, Denver ATF." After quickly showing the wallet around, JD clipped it shield-side out, to the front of his belt, and addressed the teachers. "When I leave, lock this door, pull all the blinds and stay down on the floor. Inform the cops that I'm here. They'll need to let the OIC the Officer in Charge, know that I'm active that there's a Federal agent on site." He stared at one nervous man. "In the event anything should happen to me speed dial two got it?"
The man nodded and JD opened the door, glanced cautiously around, and then stepped out into the empty corridor. He pointed at the door. "Remember, lock it and close all blinds." With that, he took off.
Inside the room, they stared after him. One boy spoke. "He's a cop? But he's just a kid like us."
From a table, a lecturer picked up the case notes marked 'Dunne' and held them reverently to his chest. "God, help him."
From his desk, Vin glanced across at Buck. The brunet had been staring at the back of his outspread right hand for some time. Curious, the sharpshooter stood, ambled over and perched on the edge of Buck's desk. "Whatcha got there?"
Lifting his hand, Buck turned it so the back faced Vin. He fiddled with the ring on his pinky. "Uh it's JD's. The kid gave it to me before he left."
Inspecting it, Vin nodded. "He afraid of losin' it?" The awkward stare conveyed the answer. "Oh he *gave* it to you." Vin smiled. "Nice gesture."
Buck pursed his lips. "Yeah, I thought so. It was his Ma's. He gave it to her before she you know."
Tanner squeezed his friend's shoulder. "For what it's worth, I'll miss him too if he goes." He snorted. "Shoot, we all will."
Buck nodded and sighed. "Been thinking maybe it's time to turn in the badge. If I'm semi-retired, I could travel more "
Tanner shook his head. "Come on Bucklin, you could no more retire than I could give up chocolate. 'Sides, JD cares way too much about you to approve of you givin' up a job you love just to go chase after him " Buck's sudden alarm shocked him.
"Oh God you think if he goes back to college he won't want me around, is that what you're saying?" Vin's return expression eventually teased out a laugh. "Yeah, okay I guess I'm letting my imagination run away with me a little."
"Yeah a little," Vin grinned.
"Have you heard from him?" They both turned to look at an approaching Josiah.
Buck shook his head. "He hasn't called, but he did text me last night. He'll probably check in later, to let me know what time he's getting in tomorrow." The smile forthcoming from those simple words warmed Vin and Josiah's hearts. Buck was going to take it hard if JD left.
While they talked, the muted, large screen TV in the corner of the bullpen mirrored the one in Chris's office, both showing CNN's breaking news from Massachusetts.
Heart pounding, and adrenaline racing, JD moved quickly and cautiously through the corridors, down the stairs, and out into the quad. The erratic gunfire told him whoever he was about to go looking for, was still outside. He squinted on hitting the bright sunlight. Seeing a group of screaming students in the center of the quad and heading his way, JD held his gun hand low and ran toward them. "ATF! Keep moving toward the main building, I'm armed and I'll cover you!" Although terrified, the relief on their faces was evident. Passing them, JD raised his gun and holding it ahead of him in a double- handed, straight-armed lock; he stood still and scanned the area until he knew the scholars were safe. Gunfire to his left drew his attention and he took off.
Reaching the corner of one building, and with the distant sound of sirens echoing about him, JD peeked around the wall he was pressed against. He swallowed the lump in his throat when he spotted several bodies dotted around on the ground ahead of him, but for now, he put it to the back of his mind. He would grieve for them later. He took a breath. "Okay you can do this. The big boys are coming just have to hold him off until they get here."
Adjusting his gun in his right hand, JD was just about to move off when something hard crunched the bones in that hand, and he dropped his gun. Before he could react, several heavy blows to his kidneys, and then his abdomen, had him on his knees. Rolling on the ground, he gasped for breath. His eyes shut tight; he didn't see the sneaker that kicked at his face, before moving to kick his side.
"You murdering sonofabitch! We're gonna make sure you never shoot anyone ever again!"
Despite his agony, JD's eyes popped open on hearing the words. Shit whoever this was believed he was the gunman. He raised his aching hand, crying out at another kick. "No wait ATF ATF!" He pointed to where he hoped his badge was hooked, and shivering, waited through the agonizing silence that followed. He gasped as hands grabbed him and hauled him upright. Shakily he leaned against the wall and looked back at the college's rowing team.
One boy looked horrified at the damage they had inflicted. "Dude we're so sorry. We thought I mean you had a gun "
Still unable to straighten, and oblivious to the bruising and bleeding to his face and head, JD nodded. "It's okay," he gasped. " I understand." He took several steadying breaths and pointed away from where he'd heard the gunfire. "Hand me my gun and get the hell off this quad."
One boy nodded, bent down to pick up JD's Colt Defender and placed it into his battered right hand. "Shit "
JD waved it off and swapped hands. "I can use both."
Gunshots and they were near. He straightened. "GO!"
Once he knew the team was safe, JD looked to where he needed to be. The path ahead was undulating, but he shook it off. For now, he was the campus's best bet to get this guy he didn't have time for pain. With a grunt, he pushed away from the wall holding him upright, and headed in the direction of the shooting.
Returning from a meeting with Travis, Chris strode into his office, barely glancing at his team as they stood or perched around the bullpen, chatting. Picking up the remote for his TV, he was about to turn it off to work on some reports, when the headline caught his eye. He pointed the box in his hand and un-muted the TV. Chris stared in horror, before tossing the remote on his desk and re-entering the bullpen.
"That bad a meetin' huh?" Vin asked, suddenly getting up from the edge of Buck's desk when Chris brushed past him and headed for their TV. All five agents followed him with their gazes, Buck crying out when he realized what Chris was focusing on. A million questions flooded his mind, but instead of asking, he listened to the reporter who was standing and talking to camera, with the MIT main building in the backdrop.
" Sources say there may be casualties, but the SWAT team has yet to move in, though we are told it is imminent. Reports of a Federal Agent on site and dealing with the incident are unconfirmed."
As his heart raced, Buck dialed. If JD was involved in some way, his phone would be off. If he wasn't, he might just answer. "Who is this?" Buck glanced at a tense Larabee, his eyes closing as whoever picked up, filled him in. "Thanks. Keep that phone with you until Agent Dunne retrieves it or I do." His head dropped.
"Buck?" Despite asking, Chris already knew.
"JD was in the middle of his second interview when the shooting started. He left a lecturer his phone with instructions to call the police and inform them he was on-site and dealing with the incident."
Chris nodded, his lips pursed in thought. Ezra called out. "I have US Airways on hold, non-stop to Boston. How many seats shall I acquire?"
Buck locked gazes with Chris. "He told the guy if anything should happen to him speed dial two."
Chris frowned. "Me?"
Buck caught a sob. "We kinda kidded around, once said if we were separated, and either of us got killed in the line of duty we'd rather hear it from you."
"Gentlemen!" Ezra implored, waving the handset around while covering the mouthpiece.
Chris was torn; all five men appeared keen to go. Josiah made it easy. "You, Buck and Vin should go. We'll watch things from here."
Vin was surprised how relieved he was to hear Josiah's offer. He felt sure it would just be Buck and Chris.
"How long we got?" Chris barked, already heading for his office.
"Two hours to wheels up," Ezra replied. "I have explained the circumstances and they will make allowances for boarding." He acknowledged the nod and spoke into the phone. "Three, please one way."
"You all got a change of clothes in your lockers?" Chris checked.
Buck and Vin nodded.
Josiah, Nathan and Ezra followed them to the door. "God's speed, boys!" Josiah called after them.
He could see him! JD took a shaky breath, but from pain, not nerves. The gunman looked to be around twenty-five, to thirty, clean- shaven and neatly dressed. JD's initial plan was only to contain the man until the cavalry arrived, but even before he could weigh up whether the nut-job was seeking out targets, or just shooting randomly, a bunch of cheerleaders wandered into the gunman's path and they screamed when he pointed his gun at them.
Time was up. Steeling himself, JD moved into view to attract the shooter's attention, his arms once again stretched out in front of him and locked into a firing position.
"Federal Agent! Place your weapon on the floor, your hands on your head, and take one step back!" As JD called out, he was advancing. Surprisingly, while supported with his right, his gun remained steady in his left hand. From the corner of his unfocused eye he'd worry about that detail later he could see the terrified girls retreat. Relief washed over him. Just him and the gunman, now.
"You're a fucking dead man!" the shooter hollered, pointing his gun at JD.
JD felt surprisingly calm as Buck's voice echoed in his mind. 'A cool head wins the day, Kid. If a shooter's pissed, he's not focused.' JD nodded, inwardly. "Last chance, fella! Weapon down, hands on head NOW!"
As if in slow motion, JD watched the man's finger tighten around the trigger of what looked like a Glock. Somehow, in that split second, his vision cleared. Over the sound of a gunshot, JD fired a double tap to the man's head, the shooter's own bullet whizzing just past his ear as he watched the guy's head explode and his body fall to the ground. Once the man was down, all sound and motion returned to normal, and JD was suddenly surrounded by a cacophony of noise and raised voices. He was vaguely aware of a man dressed in black with an assault rifle, yelling at him to put down his weapon and lay on the ground. He laughed mentally at the irony. Raising his hands aloft, he managed to call out "Dunne, ATF " just seconds before his pain engulfed him and he dropped like a stone. JD's part in this drama for now was over.
Before the SWAT team could get close enough to determine which of the two armed men the felon was, they had both fired, the younger one hitting his target. Surrounding the scene, the officers were calling to JD to relinquish his weapon, surprised when the youth ID'd himself as a Federal officer, but then passed out. A quick examination revealed JD's badge, and his extensive injuries. Minutes later, he was on his way to Massachusetts General and Trauma Center, leaving behind the mayhem following in the wake of the shooter's insanity.
Six hours from take-off, and the wheels of US Airways flight 6348 touched down in Boston. The passengers mumbled when they were ordered to remain in their seats. Federal Officers boarded their plane and escorted off three, stern-faced men. Being unable to use their cell phones, it was eating away at the three teammates to know what had been happening. Buck's hair was almost vertical from where he had been worrying it. Catching a glimpse of himself in a glass partition, he quickly smoothed the ruffled tresses down. As they walked, Agent Frank Moriarty, FBI, talked them through the day's events.
"He was shot?" Buck rasped.
"No. As of yet, we don't know exactly what happened to him, but he definitely didn't take a bullet. All we know for sure is that, despite his injuries, he took the gunman out before he collapsed."
"Jesus, Kid," Buck said, softly.
The FBI agent smiled at the appellation. "The young man's ability speaks for itself, but I have to admit, he sure looks young to be a Fed."
"He is," Chris replied, "He came to us from Boston PD, mainly as a Technician, with the purpose of training in the field."
"Well, not sure who's responsible for his training, but, I gotta tell you, the kid's got some balls. He's a real hero with everyone here right now. Someone's doing one hell of a job with him."
Vin couldn't help grinning. "We all on the team take a hand, but he's with Buck mostly " he jerked his thumb at Wilmington. " But credit to the kid, he came to us willin' to learn, and was already showin' signs of bein' a first-rate cop."
"When can we see JD?" Buck's question made it evident he hadn't heard a word that was being said around him.
"I'm taking you straight to the hospital. Last I heard, the kid was still in surgery."
Chris glanced at Buck and squeezed his arm. "JD's a tough "
Buck interrupted the attempt at reassurance. "I know just wanna be there for when he wakes up." Buck's feigned bravado was as transparent as air to his friends. The men climbed into the waiting SUV and headed off running full lights and sirens.
Nathan looked up from the pad he was scribbling on and put down the phone. He addressed his two teammates who had moved to join him. "Chris says JD took the gunman down, but was admitted to hospital directly after."
"Was he shot?" Josiah asked.
"No. No one knows how, but he suffered blunt trauma to the kidney and abdominal area, causing internal bleeding; plus cuts and contusions to his face and head oh, and he has two broken fingers on his right hand."
"He had all that and *then* took out the shooter?"
Nathan nodded at a stunned Josiah. "Apparently so."
"Your best estimate?" Ezra pushed.
Nathan pursed his lips. "I'd have to say it sounds as if JD was hit several times by something hard and heavy." He shrugged. "Or maybe got hit by a vehicle. I just can't figure out how it fits."
"What of our three compadres?" Josiah enquired.
"Waiting it out at Massachusetts General as we speak."
As he stood leaning his forearms on the rails of JD's bed, and with a nod of approval from the nurse in the recovery room, Buck gently removed the paper OR cap covering the youth's hair. He smiled, noting how pale his friend looked. "That's better." Fussing to put some order to the mop of black hair, Buck frowned at the stark white strips across several cuts to JD's head and face, and the nasty bruising under his right eye. A nasal cannula pumped oxygen through the kid's nose, and JD's left hand carried an IV line, but Buck took that hand anyway, since the right was splinted and strapped. "What the hell happened out there, Kid?"
"We're moving him to SICU soon."
Buck turned to the nurse. "But, he hasn't woken up, yet."
"That's when we'll move him," she smiled. "And SICU is a precautionary move. The surgeons were very pleased with him in surgery."
Nodding, Buck resumed stroking his thumb along the backs of the tips of JD's fingers. He slowly cracked a smile as black eyelashes fluttered and tired eyes tried to look at him.
"When you're ready," Buck whispered.
JD sighed, softly and swallowed. Buck placed a few ice chips on his tongue and JD nodded weakly in gratitude.
"Knew it was you sittin' th ere " he drawled, drunkenly.
"God awful cologne."
Buck chuckled and the nurse squeezed his shoulder. He knew what she was asking, and once JD settled back to sleep, Buck left the room.
As JD was the only patient in SICU, Buck, Chris and Vin were allowed to sit in. With the doctors content with his progress, JD was now on Demerol and broad-spectrum antibiotics. Standing and stretching, Chris moved to the window and looked out over the distant city lights. It was three in the morning, but neither man was ready for sleep. They were still debating whether it was down to the amount of coffee they had drunk, or still being on an adrenaline high from their journey to Boston.
JD had roused a few times, but nothing worth getting excited over. He clearly wouldn't be capable of talking much, for some time. Beads of sweat formed on his brow and upper lip. Buck had dampened a cloth and was gently mopping at JD's face and neck. Scowling, he turned to his companions. "He's a mite warm."
Vin nodded, his own hand reaching out to rest on JD's blanketed knee. "Doc said it was to be expected."
All three looked up when Agent Frank Moriarty knocked, and urged them outside, into the corridor.
"We found out how he got hurt."
"And " Chris pushed.
"Rowing team jocks thought he was the gunman "
" And attacked him," Vin finished, quickly putting it together.
"Yeah. Poor kid, facing down a gunman alone, and getting the crap kicked out of him for his trouble," Frank added.
"They came forward?" Chris asked.
"Yeah wanted to know how he was doing. I suggested they stop by in a day or so."
Buck huffed and returned to JD. The three men watched him go.
"He'll come around," Chris assured, gesturing to Buck's disappearing form. "JD's like a kid brother to him he takes any injury or sickness the kid suffers, personally."
Frank nodded. "No problem. I'm glad Agent Dunne's doing okay. I'll check in with you tomorrow." He stopped and snapped his fingers. "Oh, an Agent Standish called, asked me to tell you he's reserved you suites at the Marlowe adjoining rooms, one of them with Agent Dunne's." He smiled and finally walked away.
"Nice," Vin grinned.
"I look forward to Ezra's expense claim for that one," Chris smiled back. He glanced toward Buck. "He won't leave until JD's in a regular room and talking up a blue streak. Maybe we should head for the hotel get some sleep, then we can drag Buck's ass outta here, and take turns with the kid."
Vin raised an eyebrow. "Good luck with that."
JD felt the pinch to his bladder as he shifted, restlessly. 'Shit', he thought. 'It must be bad I got a damned catheter in.' He wanted to open his eyes, but they felt heavy, as if someone had taped silver dollars to his lids. Unknowingly, he chuckled aloud. 'Silver dollars where did that come from?'
"Care to share the joke, Kid?"
"Hmmmm?" JD's head turned toward the familiar voice, but his eyes remained closed. He heard a chuckle.
"Come on, open those big brown eyes."
JD's brow, wrinkled. "Ha-zzzel mama said they're hazel " A warm hand swiped his forehead and rested there, causing him to fight against the heavy, closed lids and look up.
"And mama's always right." Buck grinned when long, black eyelashes parted to reveal a glimpse of said hazel eyes. He offered JD a drink, smiling with approval when JD had taken what he needed and pushed the straw away with his tongue.
JD swallowed. "Must be on the good stuff so tired hot " He sighed a soft 'thanks' when Buck carefully and gently dabbed a cool damp cloth over his face and neck.
"You took quite a beating."
A new voice. JD's head moved to greet it as he forced his eyes open a little more. "Chris?"
"Boston's a neat town, Kid."
"Vin?" the youth's voice was a mere squeak, as finally he was staring at three fuzzy images. "Boston?" There was a pause when neither man knew what to say next. Catching on, JD became restless, his eyes much wider, now.
"Gun shit! Gunman...is he dead? The students "
"They're fine, but all in good time, okay?" Chris promised. "Concentrate on getting well, and then we'll talk."
It took a few moments, but JD finally relaxed, and nodded. "Buck?"
The brunet leaned in. "Yeah Kid?"
"Missed y'all." JD released another soft sigh as he fought with closing eyelids. "Stay?"
"You bet." Absently twisting the ring on his pinky, Buck watched JD relax and go back to sleep. He turned to the others. "This is good." He nodded in silent answer to an unspoken question. "Next time he'll be better next time."
Vin and Chris bobbed their heads, silently agreeing to wait it out. Their nice, comfy hotel beds would have to wait a little longer.
Two days on and JD had been transferred to a private room. He was still a little spaced out, and with a slightly elevated temperature, but was sitting up and becoming more alert each minute. Waking from a light doze, he grinned at the two large gift baskets in his room, one filled with fruit, the other with candy and muffins. His grin widened as two of his three friends entered the room.
"You look better " JD and Buck chuckled as they spoke together.
Taking up a seat next to the bed, Buck grinned. "Amazing what sleeping in a good bed, a shave, and a hot shower can do for you," he said. He glanced at Tanner, who was seated opposite him, and was relieved at the nod and wink from the Texan. Vin had stayed with JD while Chris and Buck freshened up. Buck squeezed JD's wrist. "How are you?"
JD shrugged. "I'm still a little sore, but I'm off the Demerol, now." He glanced at Vin. "Just as well, it's all I can do to stop Vin from raiding all my chocolate from the candy basket." As the men laughed, JD sobered and watched Chris take a seat. "Chris, you said we'd talk later. It's later "
Chris nodded his understanding. "Yeah, I did. Okay, how much of the incident can you remember?"
JD recounted his last day at MIT, surprised that he could recall quite a lot. All three friends were affected by his sorrow at the result of the man's shooting frenzy. "Two dead?" he asked.
Buck nodded. "And three injured but it would've been more if not for you."
They watched as JD hung his head and wrestled with something. Finally, he looked up. "They " He swallowed. " At the Academy they teach you what to do how to get it right " shimmering eyes looked between the men, resting on Buck. "But nothing prepares you for the moment a man's head explodes when you take his life." His last words were whisper soft and he dropped his gaze. He reached out and clutched Buck's offered hand, comforted at the return squeeze.
JD looked up shyly at Buck. "I heard you, in my head just before I fired I heard you tell me what to do, Buck."
Buck's own glistening gaze focused on the youth before him. "What you heard was what you've learned," he replied. "My voice was just your brain's way of delivering the message." He could tell by JD's stare he wasn't convinced, but no more was said on that particular subject.
Chris observed JD's misery, making a mental note to arrange for counseling sessions while the youth was recovering. "Vin and me have to fly back tomorrow," Chris informed.
JD nodded. "Sure. Doc says I can't fly for two more weeks."
"We know," Vin smiled. "That's why all of us, but Buck are gonna come back to get you."
JD looked in confusion at his best friend.
Buck winked. "How can I come back? I'm not going anywhere." He chuckled at JD's face-splitting grin, and leaned in. "You didn't think I'd leave you here alone, did you?" He chuckled. "Gonna have to pick up some clothes, though." JD's tight swallow and steady gaze said more than words ever could. They all turned at a knock on the door, surprised when a large group of young people walked in.
"Excuse us we wanted to say 'hi' to Agent Dunne."
Vin stood and looked them up and down. "And you are ?" He noted the shy looks.
"We're the guys that put him in the hospital," one youth confessed. He stepped closer to the bed. "Sorry, man."
JD smiled. "No problem. You did what you thought was right and if I may say so was a pretty ballsy thing to do, under the circumstances."
"Says the guy who took out the crazy man after having the shit kicked outta him," the youth replied.
JD gestured toward Vin. "Nah he's done worse to me during self-defense training."
With the tension relieved, the group laughed. One of several girls stepped forward and handed JD a bear dressed in a Red Sox jersey. "We heard you're a fan." She took his hand. "That guy would've killed us if you hadn't been there. Thank you."
Realizing she was one of the group of cheerleaders that had been in the gunman's path that day, JD blushed and shrugged. "Thanks but I was just doing my job."
After each youth said their piece, or patted his arm, the group turned to leave. "See you in September?" The girl asked.
"Still waiting to hear," JD reminded. Once they left, JD suddenly felt dog-tired and drifted off to sleep soon after.
For the rest of the day, after JD awoke, Chris and Vin filled him in on events at home, and all three agents got a kick out of JD's delight when Josiah, Nathan and Ezra called to ask after him. By evening, JD was tiring again, but clearly more upbeat. Chris and Vin stood and approached the bed.
"We'll be back in a week. Do as you're told and take it easy."
JD nodded. "Sure thing, Boss man."
Vin ruffled the youth's hair, and JD grunted when he realized, between the IV in one arm, and the strapping on his fingers of the other, he had no hands to swipe at the Texan.
"Guys thanks." JD's heart was heavy. He hated to see them leave, but knew they had to. Chris leaned in, whispered something into JD's ear, and then both men walked to the door, pausing to wait for Buck. As JD shuffled down in the bed to rest, Buck stood and leaned in.
"I'll see you in the morning." He grinned at the sleepy nod, leaning in closer and whispering. "Uh what did Chris say?"
Smiling as Chris winked; JD yawned and closed his eyes. "He said I did good."
Walking slowly into his hotel room one week later, JD sighed with relief. It felt good to be back in the real world, and he was really looking forward to some decent food and sleeping in a good bed. Because JD's room had two king-sized beds, Buck had moved out of his accommodation and was sharing JD's. Several hours on, and one good meal later, JD turned to Buck.
"There's a couple of things around town I'd like to show you before the others arrive."
Buck nodded. "Okay as long as you don't overdo it."
JD smiled. "I won't, promise." That night, they paid for a movie, but neither man saw the end, as they both fell into a heavy sleep.
Buck awoke sometime in the wee small hours, to JD talking in his sleep. The moonlight through the hotel window illuminated the room just enough to enable him to observe his roommate. When JD started thrashing, Buck jumped out of bed and perched on JD's. He just caught a flailing fist before it hit him in the face. Holding it tightly, he leaned in.
"JD Kid? Y'alright there, boy?" He jerked almost as violently as JD did when the young agent sat bolt upright.
"Wha ?" JD glanced around, finally resting his gaze on Buck. "Hey."
The brunet smiled. "You were calling out."
"I was?" JD shrugged. "Damned if I can remember why." Even as he spoke, the image of the gunman's head splitting open teased the edges of his consciousness.
Buck doubted that remark, judging by the sweat sheen across JD's brow and upper lip; but he had no desire to call him on it. "You need a pain pill?"
"Nah. I'm fine, thanks." He shuffled cautiously down in the bed. "You okay?" Even through the gloom, JD could see Buck was bothered about something. "Hey talk to me, I can take it."
"So? Eighty percent of our conversations are silly."
Buck laughed. "Yeah." He gathered his thoughts. "If should " He sighed. "Would you think me crazy for retiring so's I can travel more?"
JD knew instantly where this was going. "Yeah, but I'd love you for considering it." He sat back up. "Bro you're not ready to hang up your spurs, and especially for me." He made a face. "That is where this was going, right?"
Buck chuckled. "Smartass. Yeah I just figured I could get me a part time job, then I could travel more "
JD squeezed his arm. "You're one in a million. Now go back to sleep."
Patting JD's blanketed knee, Buck stood and moved back to his bed. "So was that a yes?" He laughed as a pillow came out of the dark and smacked him in the face. "Okay, another day maybe." For a long while, he lay there, comforted by the eventual soft breaths of his friend as he slept. Realizing he was actually watching JD sleeping, Buck shook his head. "Good thing he didn't see that," he said, unable to hold back a full on grin. He settled in the bed, inwardly rejoicing that JD was still around so he could do so.
Two days later, and JD and Buck got out of a taxi outside Cedar Grove Memorial Gardens. Leaning on Buck as they stood next to Rachel Dunne's grave, JD touched the headstone. "Mom, this is Buck. Figured it was time I introduced him to you seeing as I talk about him to you all the time."
Releasing JD's arm momentarily, Buck squatted and placed a small posy against the headstone. "Pleased to meet you, ma'am. This kid of yours is a fine boy. I'm proud to call him my friend."
Choked by his words, JD watched Buck stand, smiling when the brunet pulled him close. A few moments later, the pair headed back to the taxi. After a ride around the old neighborhood, and stopping for a while at the condemned building where JD and his mom once lived, the pair headed back to the hotel. After JD had rested, and over dinner in their room, JD debated on whether he wanted to talk about his thoughts over taking up a graduate position, if offered. Still unsettled about the whole issue, he pushed it to the back of his mind as he spoke to Buck.
"Thanks for coming with me, today. It meant a lot to me."
Buck smiled. "Me too. Thanks for inviting me." Buck sensed there was more JD wanted to talk about, but decided not to push. This trip had been an emotional roller coaster for all of them, but mostly JD. He knew when the kid was ready, he'd talk and Buck would be waiting.
They decided on an early night. The guys were arriving tomorrow, and the day after that, the seven men were attending a memorial service for the students who had died. Soon after, JD could go home. It had been one very memorable and eventful trip to his former home for John Daniel Dunne. He had been assured the disruption to his second interview, and the decision to wave his final one, wouldn't affect the deliberation of his placement. He finally decided on waiting for the results before talking to Buck and his teammates.
DENVER, ONE MONTH LATER
Celebrating JD's imminent return to work, and his commendation for the incident at MIT, Chris invited the team to his home for a weekend of cookout, riding, and just generally hanging out together. Sitting on the deck on the warm, Sunday evening, JD produced an unopened letter from his jeans pocket. He addressed them all.
"This came Friday."
Buck sat up. "Is that what I think it is?"
JD nodded. "I opted for a letter, rather than an email."
"You haven't opened it," Ezra observed.
"Yeah, I know." JD took a breath as he leaned over and rested his elbows on his thighs. "Before I was called away during my second interview I did some thinking." He nervously fumbled with the envelope in his hands as he gazed around at them all. "Prior to coming to Denver, a doctorate seemed a neat idea, but, while I was in the interview, it suddenly hit me that I no longer wanted it. I'm happy. I've got a great career, great friends and teammates a nice home " he smiled at Buck.
"I'm proud of what I've achieved a doctorate isn't going to change that."
Understanding where this was going, Chris leaned forward. "Are you sure?"
JD nodded, handing the letter to Buck. "Positive." He sat upright. "So big brother would you do the honor of opening that for me?"
With a slight tremble to his hands, Buck nodded and did so. After a long pause, he looked back at his roommate, best friend, and surrogate kid brother. "You got in."
Everyone whooped; it seemed like the right thing to do.
JD grinned. "Cool." He clinked his soda bottle with their beer bottles. "Tomorrow I'll tell them thanks, but no thanks." Seeing JD at peace with his decision prompted the group to let it lie.
Several months later, and at his friends' perseverance, despite his protests it wasn't earned, JD accepted an honorary doctorate bestowed on him by MIT, and the city of Cambridge. Buck was still being teased about his sniffling, when he and the guys watched JD, in full robes, take his award. Still not completely comfortable with the honor, and even though it was unnecessary, JD worked out a schedule with the university to take his doctorate as a distance student. He knew it would be tough to fit in with his job, but when had heavy odds ever stopped him before?
Returning to the office for the first time since receiving the honor, JD shook his head on seeing his Red Sox bear, which was sitting on his desk, and wearing a graduation cap; placed alongside an overly long, desk nameplate made especially for him by his friends and teammates. He read it to himself.
'Special Agent John Daniel Dunne Sc.D.CST P.I.A.' He grinned. "'Pain In the Ass', huh boys? You ain't seen nothing, yet!"