Author's Note: Huge magnificent thank-yous to Winter and Sue M. Winter wrote the outline for the ending of the story after I got stuck, and Sue M. contributed more helpful suggestions than I can count. Both of them helped make the 'finished product' a reality. And thanks once again to Marnie, for finding so many of my boo-boos!
This story is for Michele - finally!
They had been called to the burnt out subsidized apartment building by a homicide detective from the Denver PD. Normally, a murder investigation wasn't anything that would concern ATF Team 7, but this one involved arson, on federal property, and the deceased was a federal agent with the DEA. The building was in the process of renovation, and no one was living there, so why the agent had been at that spot no one knew. They had arrived ahead of the FBI and upon realizing the body was still there, Buck had taken charge of securing the scene while Chris conferred with the detectives at a discrete distance. Having lost his wife and son the way he had, Buck figured that the charred corpse was something their team leader was better off not seeing.
Homicide detective Frank Davis pointed him in the direction of the body and introduced Buck to the one of the PD's forensic experts, Troy Solano.
"The body is burned beyond recognition, but the actual cause of death appears to be a gunshot wound to the head," Solano explained, and indicated a point right between his own eye brows. My guess is that the fire started accidentally, and she was probably already dead... I'll know more after an autopsy."
"She?" Buck frowned.
The pathologist handed Buck a plastic evidence bag containing the remains of a DEA badge.
"Name's Anita Vaughan..."
"Oh my God..." Buck gasped.
"You know her?" Solano frowned.
"Yeah . . . No . . . well, not really. Her partner and I worked together a few years ago." Buck left out the details. That particular bust wasn't the high spot in either his career or in the history of the ATF.
"Any idea why anyone would want to kill her?"
Buck shook his head sadly. "She was just a kid. Fresh out of college. Only been with the DEA a few months."
Buck had run into her partner, Danny Bulai, at a conference two weeks before. He couldn't place the face but he remembered the name, and it was associated with a part of his past he fervently wished he could put behind him. Bulai remembered him, too, and their encounter had been an awkward one until their two young partners had introduced themselves. The conversation had ended on a cordial note with him and Bulai exchanging jibes about babysitting the two younger agents. JD and Anita had gone to lunch together a few times after that. Buck didn't think there was anything between them other than friendship and the common bond of being the youngest on their respective teams, but he still didn't look forward to telling the kid that the dead agent was someone they knew.
Bulai was nowhere to be seen.
"Where's her partner? Why isn't he here?"
"On vacation with his family," Solano replied. "They'll question him to find out what he knows about who could have done this..... Looks like the cavalry has arrived...." He nodded at a group of three men and a woman getting out of a black government vehicle. If their black FBI windbreakers and sunglasses hadn't given them away as FBI, the way they walked up to Vin and told him they were taking over would have.
Vin, who along with JD and Ezra had been searching the perimeter of the crime scene for evidence, looked over at Buck, who nodded to him to acknowledge the FBI's authority on this one. The ATF's only concern was the possibility of arson at that point. A large section of the interior had been reduced to ash, but if Solano's guess that the fire was incidental was correct, they'd be out of the picture entirely.
Nathan, Chris and Josiah were conferring with Detective Davis, and Nathan moved away from the group to join Buck and Solano near the covered remains on the floor. He squatted down beside the body and lifted the drape. Buck averted his eyes. Anita Vaughan had been a pretty little thing with auburn curls and big, dark eyes. He didn't want to see her the way she looked now.
Nathan replaced the drape and shook his head sadly. "Took a marksman to hit her right between the eyes like that. This wasn't a drive-by or a stray bullet. Looks like something personal."
"I agree," Solano said.
JD ducked under the yellow crime scene tape and Solano studied the young agent carefully.
Buck didn't blame him. Were it not for the ATF windbreaker he was wearing, JD could easily be mistaken for a teen-ager sticking his nose where it didn't belong.
"Vin and I can't find any trace of an accelerant," JD said. "The foreman said they were cleaning up some tile adhesive and there was solvent everywhere. A spark could have set it off."
"Well, I guess that will leave us out of things," Buck said, almost relieved.
One of the FBI agents joined them. He'd removed his sunglasses and without them, it was apparent that he was not much older than JD, although the resemblance ended there. The young FBI agent was almost as tall as Buck, with hair bleached blond by the sun and a bronze tan that made him look more like he belonged on a beach with a surfboard.
"Hey, Todd," JD greeted him.
The young agent acknowledged JD with a nod and then held out his badge and introduced himself to everyone. "Todd Schaeffer, FBI... How much more time do you need to go over the scene? We'd like to get the body moved."
Buck looked around, surveying the area. "Give us another hour. That should cover it."
Schaeffer shook his hand and then returned to his own group.
Buck rested his hand on JD's shoulder and wished he didn't have to do this. "JD... It's Anita Vaughan," he said, nodding sadly towards the covered remain.
JD's reaction was one of stunned disbelief. His head turned sharply toward the body. "No... I was just talking to her yesterday! We... we were working on a computer simulation of the Glorietta incident..." He caught himself and looked up at Buck. The older agent had been involved in that particular debacle and never liked to discuss it, even though he knew the event had been the reason JD was now with the ATF instead of the CIA.
Buck just shook his head. "What a waste," he said sadly.
JD swallowed a lump in his throat. He and Anita were not romantically involved, but she had shared his passion for computers and understood them better than any of the guys on Team Seven. He couldn't believe she was gone.
He returned to where Vin was putting charred pieces of sheet rock into plastic bags, wondering what she could have done to piss anyone off enough to kill her. He supposed the fact that she was DEA might have been enough for some people, a thought that didn't rest easy with him as he looked at the big yellow "ATF" letters on Vin's back and knew he was wearing some just like them.
Vin noticed that the younger agent looked visibly shaken. He wondered if JD had ever been that close to a corpse. "Jus' don't look at it, JD," he said softly.
"I knew her," JD said softly.
Vin looked up at him. "Her?"
"Yeah.... Her name is... was... Anita."
Vin's head whipped around. "Oh man... the computer gal..." Vin had met Anita a couple of times.
"Yeah," JD nodded sadly. "Geez Vin, that could be me. Or you."
Vin nodded. "It's a dangerous business sometimes, JD."
"They're sayin' she was shot right between the eyes, Vin."
Vin looked up from what he was doing, then glanced back at the covered body. He scanned the area around him and began to get an uneasy feeling. They were right in the middle of downtown Denver, yet, no one had reported the shooting. Had it not been for the fire, the body would still be lying there undetected. The windows in the building were open, probably to vent the fumes from the solvent. It would have been a clear shot from any number of surrounding office buildings. "Do they know if she was shot at close range?" the sharpshooter asked.
"I don't know," JD shrugged.
Vin didn't fault JD for that - the murder investigation wasn't their job, anyway. But, he began to get an uneasy feeling knowing his own back was to the window like it was.
"You're Vin Tanner, aren't you?" the young FBI agent, Todd Schaeffer, approached, having overheard the conversation. It wasn't a lucky guess. Vin's name was on the pocket of his BDUs. But Schaeffer seemed to know Vin's reputation as a marksman because after shaking Vin's hand, he asked, "You think it was a sniper?"
Vin nodded. "Possible."
Schaeffer moved to one of the windows and looked out and up at the surrounding buildings. For some reason, that made the hair on the back of Vin's neck stand on end and he was about to tell the FBI agent to get his damned head back inside the building when he saw the pinpoint red glow of a laser site right over Schaeffer's heart. He reacted instantly, diving for Schaeffer's legs to knock him out of the line of fire, but as he was doing so, he heard the delayed echo of a rifle.
You never hear the one that gets you he thought in the instant before he felt his head explode in a burst of pain and shards of light, and everything went black...
+ + + + + + +
This isn't happening... Buck thought, as he watched a nightmare unfold before his eyes. Everyone heard the shots and before it even registered that shots were being fired at them. The gathered law enforcement officers watched in horror as three of their number fell.
Schaeffer lay on his back, a crimson stain spreading across the front of his shirt. Vin had hit the ground already unconscious, blood pooling beneath his head. JD had dropped to the floor and was sitting there clutching his side, staring at the blood seeping between his fingers with a look of stunned disbelief.
Buck ran to him as he needlessly yelled for someone to call 911. A dozen cell phones had already been whipped out and help was already being summoned. He knelt beside JD as Nathan and Chris ran to Vin. Josiah and Ezra drew their weapons and each crouched at a window, providing cover along with other armed personnel.
JD leaned back against Buck. "What... Buck?..." he looked down at his bloody hand, removing it from the copiously bleeding wound on his side. Buck quickly used his own hand to apply pressure and JD cried out in pain.
"Take it easy, kid. Buck's got ya' now."
"What... happened? Vin... Owwww... hurts..."
"You've been shot, kid. There's an ambulance comin'. Just stay with me, okay?" He looked grimly over at Nathan. The healer had left Vin's side and gone to tend to the FBI agent. Buck wasn't sure if that was a good or bad sign.
JD began to tremble uncontrollably. "Cold... owww..." he muttered.
Solano crawled over to them and used his jacket to cover the kid.
"Ain't you a doctor?" Buck asked the pathologist in an accusing tone of voice.
"Yeah, but I can't do anything right now except what you're doing." He quickly removed his dress shirt and folded it into a pad which he gently slipped under Buck's fingers. "Lie him down. Let's get his feet elevated. He's going into shock."
JD moaned when they laid him out flat, but he was losing consciousness. Buck looked over at Vin again. Chris had cradled the sharpshooter's head in his lap and was holding a bandage - or someone else's shirt - against the side of his head.
It seemed like hours, but it was only a few minutes before the room filled with paramedics wearing Kevlar vests. They eased Buck aside and then got JD ready to transport while he looked on still feeling like this had to be a nightmare. After a wait of several agonizing minutes, one of the paramedics finally walked over to him.
"His vital signs are stable, which is good," the paramedic said. "You want to ride in the ambulance with him?"
Buck didn't even need to think that one over. Chris was already heading out the door with Vin's gurney.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was right behind the stretcher as two paramedics wheeled an unconscious JD into the ER Unfortunately, he was allowed to go only as far as the door to the trauma room, and was forced to watch through the small windows in the swinging doors as they began an assessment of JD's injuries.
The young agent's boots and socks were removed and then a nurse set to work with a pair of shears cutting off the rest of his clothes. Buck could see the blood smeared against the pale skin of JD's left side.
He noticed JD's eyes flicker open and pushed his way through the door, only to be stopped by one of the nurses. "Outside!" she said.
"He's wakin' up!" Buck said frantically.
"We'll take care of him... now please..."
She motioned him back with her hand and then went to JD's side as the boy tried to figure out where he was as his vision cleared. He panicked when he realized he was completely immobilized.
The nurse knew she needed to calm him down.
"What's your name?" she asked him softly.
He looked up at the nurse. Her name tag said 'Rose' on it, but he didn't know if that was her first name or her last. She smiled at him kindly.
"JD," he answered. "Where... what happened?"
She smoothed his hair back. "JD, you were shot. We need you to remain as still and as calm as possible, okay? We need to see how bad you're hurt."
The ER team rolled JD onto his side, careful to keep his body stabilized. The remains of his clothing were pulled out from under him as the trauma surgeon examined his back. "No exit wound," he said. "How are his vitals?"
JD heard someone say a bunch of numbers, but he couldn't concentrate on what they meant. His attention was being diverted by sharp spikes of pain each time he was moved.
Rose took his black tee shirt and started to put it in a bag. She saw the big yellow letters on the back.
"You're ATF?" she said, as if she didn't quite buy it.
"Yes'm," JD said.
She smiled and shook her head. "How old are you?"
"Old enough to get shot... Oooowww!" JD winced as the doctor probed a tender spot on his back.
"Bleeding seems to have stopped, but give him a unit of typed just in case... " the doctor ordered. He looked at JD. "Do you hurt anywhere other than your wound?"
JD could feel the hole in his side, a sharp, burning pain that wrapped around to his back and became excruciating if he tried to breathe too deeply. JD grimaced. "No . . . but that hurts enough..."
"Can you wiggle your fingers and toes?
JD moved his fingers easily, but was alarmed to discover that he couldn't even feel his legs. He tried to look down at them, but his neck was encased in a cervical collar. What was weird was that the doctor said, "That's good," which meant he'd moved his toes even if he hadn't felt it.
The doctor poked various places along JD's feet and legs and continued probing upward, asking him if he could feel any of it. JD felt nothing and was getting more and more frightened until finally, he felt a sharp pain in his hip. "Ouch," he winced.
The doctor poked his other hip with the same result, and the worked his way up towards his chest, pricking at him with a sharp instrument. From his hips on up, JD felt everything he did.
"I want a complete spinal series," the doctor ordered, then looked at JD. "Agent Dunne..., can you tell me what day of the week it is?"
"Tuesday," JD answered.
"Where do you work?"
JD looked at Rose and frowned. "The ATF . . . I just told you that."
Rose smiled at him. "Sorry, JD, we're just nosy," she winked at him. "Is there anyone we should notify?"
"Buck... my friend..."
"Big guy? Dark hair and a mustache?"
JD nodded. "Yeah."
"He's waiting right outside. We'll let him see you in a few minutes. First we need to take some pictures of your back, and we're going to start another IV and insert a catheter . . ."
"No . . . no, I don't want that!" JD panicked at the thought.
Rose smiled at him and pulled out a plastic package with that . . . thing in it. "Nobody does," she said, "but it's standard procedure."
"No . . . please . . . ," JD said, and was mortified when he realized he was crying, like a damned baby.
Rose stroked his hair. "I know you're scared," she said gently. "But you have to let us do what we can to help you."
The doctor spoke to him next. He didn't have a name tag. He should have a name tag JD thought.
"We're going to have to take a look inside and see what damage the bullet did," the doctor explained. "It's a minor procedure, but it might reveal that you need more extensive surgery," he explained. "They're getting the OR ready now, and as soon as we get some pictures we'll be taking you up. Do you understand?"
"I'm not stupid!" JD sobbed. He was frightened and angry. This sucked.
"As a precaution, we're also going to start you on a drug that will minimize the swelling in your spinal cord."
Spinal cord? No one had said anything about a spinal cord... Aw hell! "I wanna see Buck!" He gave Rose a pleading look, trying to forget that the woman was about to do some very unpleasant things to him.
Rose looked at the doctor, who nodded. "Okay," she said. "Just let us finish up here and I promise I'll get him."
JD closed his eyes. There was just too much going on to absorb all at once, and Rose was asking him more questions. When was the last time he ate, did he have any allergies, when was his last tetanus shot, had he ever tested positive for HIV, was he on any prescription medication, did he smoke, did he use drugs... she even asked him when was the last time he'd taken a dump.
He wanted all of this to go away. He wanted Buck.
Dammit, he was crying again. The fucking catheter fucking hurt and it made him feel like he urgently needed to pee. He begged them to take it out but no one was listening to him.
Oh god... "I'm gonna throw up," he gasped.
Rose moved quickly and placed an emesis pan next to his head and he promptly filled it with his last meal. She held his hand until it was over and then she got a washcloth and cleaned his face off.
"Better?" she asked him.
JD nodded - or tried to, even though at that point, he didn't see how things could get much worse.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was pacing up and down outside the trauma room when Nathan joined him. He didn't look especially grim, so Buck dared to ask, "Is Vin okay?"
Nathan nodded. "He's stable. The bullet appears to have just grazed him, but, he's havin' trouble stayin' conscious. They're doing a CAT scan to see what's going on.... What about JD?"
Buck shook his head. "They won't let me in there. They're still working on him."
"Schaeffer didn't make it," Nathan said softly.
Buck was truly saddened to hear that, but at the same time, a selfish part of him was thinking, better him than one of ours.
The trauma room door opened and the same nurse who had pushed him out looked at Buck.
"Are you Buck Wilmington?" she asked.
"Yeah, how is he?"
Her tone of voice was guarded. "I think the doctor will want to talk to you... but he's conscious and alert, and his vital signs are good..."
Buck was hearing her unspoken "but..." and he was about to grill her for more information when a middle-aged man with a stethoscope around his neck exited the trauma room. There was blood on his pale blue scrubs. JD's blood.
"This is Mr. Dunne's friend, Buck," Rose said.
The man extended his hand, first to Buck, then to Nathan. "I'm Dr. Serafini," he said. "I'll be operating on your friend in a few minutes."
"He's gonna be okay, right?" Buck said hopefully.
Serafini put his hands on his hips and let out a sigh. "He's stable, and not in any immediate danger, but what concerns us right now is that there appears to be some damage to his spinal cord..."
Buck sagged against the wall and closed his eyes.
Serafini continued. "At the moment he is unable to feel anything from his thighs on down. He does have some limited movement, so his spinal cord isn't severed, but right now, he can't move his legs. We won't know more until we run further tests."
"Oh dear God," Buck whispered.
"Can we see him?" Nathan asked.
"Yes, but just for a few minutes."
"Does he know?" Nathan asked.
Dr. Serafini nodded. "Yes."
JD lay flat on his back immobilized by a hard plastic cervical collar and small sandbags on either side of his head and torso. There were two IVs running into his left arm - one snaking down from a unit of blood. Urine drained into a clear plastic bag that had been discretely hooked where it wasn't too obvious, but other than that, they were relieved to see that he wasn't on a ventilator, or attached to any machines more complicated than the pulse oximeter clamped to his index finger.
"Hi, guys," he said when he saw them.
"How ya doin', kid?" Buck tried to sound casual.
"Dunno, Buck. I don't think it's fully sunk in yet that I've been shot."
The kid's voice was calm and even, but Buck saw the fear in his eyes and he knew JD had been crying.
"There's a good chance this won't be permanent," Nathan tried to reassure him.
JD tried to nod again. It was impossible in the cervical collar. "I can wiggle my toes a little, so that's a good sign, I guess... They'll know more after they take the bullet out."
Buck took JD's free hand. "We'll keep our fingers and toes crossed," he smiled.
"Who did this?" JD said, his voice barely more than whisper. "Why?"
"We don't know, JD," Buck squeezed his hand. "But we're sure as hell gonna find out."
"The other guys here?"
Buck gave Nathan a questioning look, which JD picked up on instantly.
"What?" the boy said. "What happened?"
"Ezra and Josiah are still at the scene, helpin' the cops, I suppose..." he glanced back at Buck . . . "Chris is with Vin. He was hit, too."
"Aw, no..." JD squeezed his eyes shut. "How bad?"
"He'll be fine," Nathan said, even though Buck knew he had no way of knowing that yet.
"Is there anything you need?" Buck asked.
"I need you to find the bastard who did this to us."
"You can count on that," Buck promised.
Rose came back into the room. "We have to take him up to surgery now. One of you can ride up with him, if you'd like."
There was no question that Buck would go. Nathan saw them to the elevator and was on his way back to the treatment room where they had Vin when he ran into Ezra and Josiah. He told them what he knew about the conditions of their fellow agents. When they arrived at Vin's cubicle, they were preparing to move him to a regular room. His bloody clothing had been replaced with a clean gown and the blood had been rinsed out of his long hair. A small patch of hair had been snipped away, leaving the neat line of surgical staples used to close the laceration on his scalp plainly visible. He was listless and pale, but aside from the IV in his arm, he didn't look too gruesome.
Chris, on the other hand, looked like a weight had been taken off his chest. "He's gonna be okay," he informed them. "Got a mild concussion and he's a little sick to his stomach, but they're only gonna keep him overnight."
The other three agents nodded, relieved, but then Nathan told Chris what he knew their boss was waiting to hear. "They've taken JD to surgery. The bullet may have damaged his spinal cord."
"Fuck!" Chris raked his hands through his hair. "Permanent?"
Nathan shook his head. "They don't know yet."
"Damn!" Chris paced the length of the small cubicle. "Poor kid... How is Buck taking it?"
"You know Buck," was all Nathan had to say. Chris knew what that meant - that on the outside Buck was putting up a strong front for JD's sake, but on the inside, he was falling apart.
"Go to them, Chris," Vin's soft voice whispered. Everyone turned to him, surprised to see the sharpshooter awake. "I'm okay.... it's Buck an' JD need ya now."
+ + + + + + +
It had been almost six hours since JD was wheeled into surgery. Ezra had volunteered to get take-out for them and had come back still wearing his ATF field uniform, which surprised everyone. Ezra hated the combat boots and BDU pants, and he never, ever wore tee-shirts except when they were required to be in uniform. Buck supposed that, like the rest of them, JD and Vin, and not his wardrobe, had been foremost on Ezra's mind.
Aside from having a hell of a headache, Vin was okay. Chris was with him, and Ezra was supposed to go let him know when JD was out of surgery. Nathan and Josiah had kept the vigil in the waiting room with Buck, who'd been too nervous to touch the food Ezra had brought over.
None of them talked about the possibility of what JD might be facing, other than for Nathan to remind them that it was much too soon to know the final outcome. JD could very well walk out of the hospital on his own two legs in a few days.
But then again, maybe he wouldn't.
As Buck was walking to the nurse's station to inquire for the eighteenth or nineteenth or maybe twentieth time if there was any word, Dr. Serafini stepped into the waiting room. Another doctor was with him, a stocky blond woman about Josiah's age.
As Serafini greeted them all, his manner was somewhat reserved, which worried Buck, even though he announced, "JD's doing fine. He's young and he's in good physical shape, so that's in his favor. He came through the surgery very well..."
Buck cut to the chase. "What about his legs?"
Serafini looked at the other doctor and introduced her. "This is Dr. Morgan. She performed the surgery. I'll let her answer your questions."
Morgan shook Buck's hand as the others gathered around. "The bullet didn't seriously damage any internal organs, but we had a hard time getting to it, so he's got a pretty good-sized incision on his left side." She held her fingers about 9 inches apart. His spinal cord appears to be intact, but there were some bone fragments that were putting pressure on it, and they had to be removed along with the bullet."
Buck hated this run-around. "Can he walk or not?"
Morgan looked him in the eye. Buck could sense that she wasn't angry with his abrupt manner so much as she was sizing him up to see how he could take the news she had to deliver. He felt his stomach flip-flop when she shook her head. "Right now, no, he probably can't."
Buck wanted to shake her, to make her retract that awful statement. But he just stood there, numb with disbelief, feeling like he'd been kicked in the chest.
"There will most likely be some improvement," Morgan added. "But how much, it's too soon to tell."
Buck had just been told some of the worst news of his life, yet all he could do was stand there.
Finally, Nathan spoke up. "Can we see him?"
"Of course you can," Dr. Morgan smiled. "But don't expect too much. He's pretty heavily sedated and he's going to look and seem a lot worse than he is. He's running a slight fever, but that's to be expected. You can try talking to him, but don't be surprised if he goes right back to sleep."
Buck didn't mean to blurt out what he did next, but it escaped before he caught it. "What do we tell him?"
Morgan sighed. "That's a tough one. You know him better than I do. Just don't lie to him, don't tell him anything you don't know, and don't make him any promises."
The others nodded and Ezra reached out to shake hands with both doctors. "Thank you," he said, although it seemed inadequate.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra left to tell Chris the news, and as a nurse lead the others to JD's room, Buck tried not to stare at the other patients on that same floor. Some were on ventilators, and the guy in the room across from JD had a metal halo screwed right into his skull. Thankfully, the nurse drew the curtains around JD's bed to give them some privacy, so Buck was spared the unnerving sight.
JD looked like hell. He now had an oxygen mask over his face and a nasogastric tube in his nose, and he was hooked up to a cardiac monitor. A pump delivered pain medication through an IV line. Except for his arms, he was completely immobilized with a body brace, splints on both legs, and a cervical collar. A fine sheen of sweat covered his face and upper body.
Buck reached for JD's hair, and then stopped short. He looked up at the nurse as if seeking approval.
She smiled at him. "Don't be afraid to touch him. You can't hurt him."
Buck gently smoothed back the thick, dark hair. "JD? Wake up, now, you hear me, kid?"
To his great relief - because JD looked paler than death - his long lashes fluttered and his eyes opened.
"Hi, Buck," he said in a hoarse voice, and then tried to rub at his nose.
The nurse pulled his hand away. "There's a tube there, JD. I know it feels funny, but you have to leave it alone."
"What happened?" JD asked.
"You were shot, remember?" Buck said gently.
JD's eyes widened. "Oh... yeah... Doesn't hurt anymore."
"Well, they got you doped up pretty good," Nathan said.
"Can I go home now?"
Josiah smiled and also tousled JD's hair. "No, you have to stay here a little while longer."
JD sighed and started to close his eyes again when Ezra entered the room with Chris. He tried to turn his head but like everything else, it was held securely in place.
Chris walked up alongside the bed. He took JD's hand and clasped it tightly. "Hey, kid."
"Hi, Chris... Ezra." He tried to turn his head the other way and frowned. "I can't move nothing."
The other five men exchanged glances, four of which ended up directed expectantly at Nathan, who as a paramedic knew more than they did. His voice was calm and soft when he spoke. "You hurt your back, JD. They don't want you moving around and making it worse."
JD accepted that, for the moment. "My throat really hurts."
The nurse moved to where he could see her face. "They put a tube down your throat during the surgery so you could breathe. It'll be a little sore for a while. Would you like some ice chips?"
JD tried to nod, and discovered he couldn't. "Yeah, that would be great," he rasped.
The nurse looked at the five visitors. "I'm afraid most of you are going to have to leave now. He really does need to rest."
There was no decision to be made. Everyone knew Buck had to stay.
The others said their good-byes, finally ready to head for home after a brief stop to look in on Vin.
"Heard anything from the PD or FBI yet?" Ezra asked, assuming Chris would have been the one to have spoken with them.
"Detective Davis came by a while ago. No leads. They combed the surrounding buildings and didn't find anything. The FBI is going over the scene now. They have a personal stake in this, so they'll come up with something," Chris explained.
They walked the rest of the way to the elevators in silence, until Josiah finally said what they were all thinking. "Do you think the kid'll be okay?"
"Hell, he'll want to be back at work as soon as he's allowed, if not sooner," Nathan tried to be reassuring without giving false hopes. JD wasn't going to die, and the team could handle anything else.
Once they were on the elevator, Ezra voiced something else they had all been thinking. "Was anyone else as uneasy as I was back there?"
The other three nodded, and Josiah said, "It was hard to see him... that way. All trussed up like that."
"They'll keep him that way until the swelling goes down, to prevent him from accidentally injuring himself any further," Nathan explained.
"How long will that take?" Ezra asked.
Nathan shrugged. "Depends on how bad it is. Two, maybe three weeks."
"Weeks!?" Ezra exclaimed, suddenly understanding exactly how serious JD's injury was. JD never stayed in one spot for more than two minutes, and having to be tied down -literally - for that long was going to be torture for him. "He's going to have a tough time," he said sadly.
"We'll get him through it," Chris said, in that tone of voice he used that invited no argument. "And then we'll find the son of a bitch who did this to him."
+ + + + + + +
Two days later and JD was awake and staring at the ceiling. Not that he had a choice. He couldn't move his head to look at anything else. The least they could have done would have been to have those tiles with little holes in them so he could count them. He supposed it didn't matter. He was still on pain meds and they made him sleep more than he was awake.
There was a TV in the room, but, all he could see was the side of it. It looked like the angle of it could be adjusted, but apparently, his roommate had the remote for it. He couldn't turn to look at the guy, so, they hadn't actually met each other. The other guy hadn't made a sound, in fact, so they hadn't even spoken to each other. For all the good it did him, he could have been sharing the room with a potted plant. A selfish, remote-hogging, trailer-park-talk-show watching, son-of-a-bitch potted plant.
So, instead of watching TV, and between visits from his teammates, he talked to himself in his head. The same conversation over and over, repeating the words Dr. Morgan had told him and adding some of his own.
It's possibly just cord shock.
As soon as the swelling goes down, you could completely regain sensation and movement.
Remember, you can move your toes.
Might need some time for the muscles to rebound after not being used for a few weeks, but a little physical therapy, and I'll be fine.
He left out other things Dr. Morgan had said.
Incomplete return of function.
Dr. Morgan was a nice lady. He hated her guts.
A single tear rolled down his cheek and was promptly brushed away by the back of his hand. He tried to think about the reassuring stuff the doctor had told him. Like, he'd probably have bowel and bladder control, not that that made any difference at the moment. The nurses did everything for him -way past the point of mere total and complete humiliation.
He'd probably be able to have sex. Oh yeah, he had really wanted to discuss that subject with a woman old enough to be his mom.
Most of him still worked, in fact, and he knew there were patients in rooms just a few feet away who would consider themselves lucky if they had half of what he had left.
But even though in his head he knew he was lucky - that things could be much, much worse -in his gut, he couldn't imagine spending the rest of his life in a wheelchair. What about his job? How was he going to continue as a field agent if he couldn't walk?
He felt another tear roll out of the corner of his eye and wiped it away just in time.
He heard the door open and a familiar voice said his name.
"Vin!?" He really was happy to see the other young agent. Well, hear him anyway. He had to wait until Vin was standing right next to him before he saw him.
"Hey, JD," Vin smiled and then held up his hand. JD clasped it firmly.
Then he noticed that the left side of Vin's face from cheekbone to hairline was purple. "Geez, you look like shit, Vin," JD frowned. "They told me you got shot, too."
"Yeah," Vin laughed. "But they hit me in the head where it wouldn't do no damage."
"No shit!?" JD was impressed.
"No shit." Vin carefully separated his long hair to uncover the stapled wound on his scalp and bent down so JD could see it.
"That is gross!" JD was justifiably impressed by the injury, and made a face.
"I woulda come ta see ya before, but Chris took me out to the ranch for a couple of days. Made me stay in bed." He looked JD up and down. "Guess I don't gotta tell you how borin' that is."
JD laughed. For some reason, Vin making light of his situation made him feel better, not worse.
Vin smiled again, briefly, but then asked softly, "How are ya' really doin', JD?"
"I'm okay, well, maybe a little stir crazy. It's just... this is all... kinda strange."
"Kinda scary, too, I reckon," Vin said.
"Yeah. Looks like I may wind up a desk-bound paper pusher," JD said with more anger in his voice than he had intended.
"Ain't nothin' wrong with paper pushers, JD. If it weren't for them, the rest of us wouldn't get nothin' done."
"It ain't what I want."
"Yeah," was all Vin said, but somehow, JD knew he understood. He changed the subject. "How long are they keeping you here?"
"Doc says three weeks, at least. Then..." JD tried to sound casual about it, but it was so hard... "then maybe I'll be transferred to a rehab center." He really hadn't wanted to think about that, and it was even harder to say it. He had to fight back the tears again.
Silently, Vin reached down and clasped his hand again while JD regained control of himself.
When JD spoke again, it was he who changed the subject. "They got any new leads?"
Vin knew he was referring to the shooter. "Damn right they do. I saw a blip from a laser sight right before . . . " His voice trailed off and he looked downward. "I tried to get that FBI kid out of the way, but... it was all so fast...."
"Buck told me he died."
Vin nodded sadly. "Yeah. Didn't even make it to the hospital."
JD almost blurted out that maybe Schaeffer had been the lucky one, but then decided that as bad as things were at that moment, they were still preferable to 'dead.'
"Anyway," Vin continued, "I'm pretty sure I saw a puff of smoke from one of the windows in the building across the street, right as I was hit. They're tellin' me I couldn't possibly remember anything like that after a head injury, but I spent the morning showing the investigators where I saw it, just in case. Could lead to somethin' important."
"Yep, it could," JD agreed.
Vin was silent for a few seconds, then said, "We'll find whoever did this, JD. You know Chris. He won't let us stop until we do."
"Yeah, I know." That thought also consoled JD. Chris Larabee would not let this go, no matter how long it took.
"You need anything?" Vin asked.
"Can you bring me my iPad? I can't watch the TV." He deliberately raised his voice for the last sentence, but the potted plant in the next bed gave no indication of having heard him.
"I'll tell Buck to bring it."
"Thanks... but you'll come back, right?"
Vin frowned. "Sure I will, JD. Every day, if you like."
JD smiled. "Beats the hell out of counting the cracks in ceiling."
Vin looked up. "There ain't no cracks in the ceiling, JD."
"My point, exactly."
Vin laughed and stood to leave. "Later, then."
JD waved him off. "Yeah. See ya."
Out in the hallway, Vin's heart sank. It hurt to see JD lying there so still. He could see how much he hated it, how much it frustrated and scared him. It scared him, too, thinking that it easily could have been him.
JD listened as Vin's soft footsteps faded. He was getting real good at listening. To the TV, to the conversations in the hall. To his own breathing. Damn he hated this.
He wiped away another tear, clamping his eyes shut against any others that wanted to fall.
But they fell anyway.
+ + + + + + +
Buck froze in the doorway when he saw JD's bed surrounded by four members of the medical staff. One of them he recognized as Miranda Cobb, a respiratory therapist who'd taken care of Vin when he'd had pneumonia. He didn't like the look on her face.
He walked slowly into the room. She was trying to get JD to cough.
"What's goin' on?" he asked as he moved into JD's limited line of sight.
"Buck . . ." JD whispered when he saw him.
Miranda put an oxygen mask over JD's face and the kid looked up at him. He was scared, and Buck noticed that no one was looking at him or talking to him. They were just working around him.
"You need to tell him what's happening," Buck said.
JD was so glad Buck was there. The nurse had checked him earlier and then had gone to get all these other people. He'd had to blow into a plastic pipe and they had written down stuff and called Dr. Morgan and told her things he didn't understand, but no one had explained anything to him.
Miranda looked at Buck, and then down at JD. "I'm sorry, JD . . . I didn't mean to ignore you . . . We get so busy sometimes we forget there is a person attached to all this stuff," she indicated the equipment around JD's bed. Buck noted somewhat uneasily that there was more of it than there had been before.
JD held up his hand and Buck instinctively grasped it. Both of them looked at Miranda expectantly.
"His O2 sats . . . the level of oxygen in his blood . . . has dropped lower than we'd like it to be, and his temp has gone up a little. We're trying to find out the reason. Could be just that the pain meds are suppressing his breathing, or he may be developing pneumonia or an infection."
Oh Christ, Buck thought. That's all the kid needs.
"What's going to happen?" JD asked. She didn't know JD well enough to detect the slight tremor in his voice the way Buck did.
The woman used the stethoscope draped around her neck to listen to JD's chest. JD looked at Buck, who pulled one end of the instrument out of her ear. "Boy asked you a question."
She sighed, "I'm sorry, but if you will let me finish, I will tell you both everything I know."
Buck figured he was probably being too impatient, but the call from Vin telling him to take JD's iPad to the hospital was less than an hour before, and Vin had said JD was okay when he'd seen him. Whatever had gone wrong had happened that quickly.
One of the nurses carefully removed the body brace to check the incision on JD's side. It was the first time Buck had seen it and he was horrified that it went halfway around the kid's torso. The nurse prodded the edges of it gently and JD gasped. The kid couldn't see what she was doing, which was probably a good thing, but he couldn't move to get away from the pain she was causing him, either. He gripped Buck's hand tighter.
The nurse said something out loud, but she used words Buck didn't understand. He was about to protest when she looked up at him. "The incision looks good. I don't think he's got an infection there."
"His chest sounds are okay," Miranda pronounced. "But we need to run some tests. They may have to reduce his pain meds."
All things considered, JD was relatively comfortable except for an occasional tugging in his side or a sharp flare of pain in his back every once in a while. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of anything that might change that. He'd learned quickly, however, that no one wanted his opinion, and if they were going to cut his pain medication, he wouldn't be able to stop them.
Buck gently stroked the back of JD's hand with his thumb, wondering if the contact was more to comfort JD or himself. One of the nurses with Miranda drew some blood and took a urine sample from the catheter. She explained as she went along what kind of tests needed to be run using words like 'blood gases,' 'renal function,' and 'leukocytes' - and it began to dawn on Buck what a truly precarious situation JD was in, and that he faced the very real possibility of potentially life-threatening complications.
Finally, JD was wrapped up tight again and they left him in peace, with a warning to keep the oxygen mask on. It was going to be hard to understand him through it, but Buck was determined to listen if the kid wanted to talk.
He stroked JD's hair. It badly needed to be washed, but he figured someone would notice that eventually, so he didn't let it bother him.
"This is pretty intense, ain't it, kid?" he said.
JD nodded. "It all happened so fast, Buck... Vin an' me were supposed to go rock climbin' this week-end... and now..." his voice trailed off and he squeezed his eyes shut, but a tear managed to escape out of the corner of one eye.
Buck didn't say anything. There was nothing he could say. All he could do was stand by him while JD rode out the pain, physical or emotional.
After a few seconds, the boy opened his eyes and inhaled deeply. At first Buck was worried he was having trouble catching his breath, but then he realized he was just composing himself.
"Hey, did you bring my iPad?" he asked.
"Right here!" Buck pulled the iPad out of the athletic bag he was carrying and put it in JD's hands. He plugged the charger into a wall outlet next to the bed, in case it was out of juice.
JD flicked it on and went straight to one of the games he had on there.
Buck knew JD was shutting him out, but he didn't take it personally. Kid needs some time to get used to this. Hell, we all do.
It wasn't long before JD drifted off to sleep again. Buck gently removed the iPad from JD's lax fingers and looked for some place to put it where JD could still reach it, and discovered there wasn't one. He'd have to figure something out.
He was tucking it back into the bag when Dr. Morgan showed up. She greeted Buck with a handshake
"How long has he been asleep?" she asked.
"Just a few minutes."
"I almost hate to have to wake him up . . . but we're going to have to take him for an MRI. If he's improved enough, we can start physical therapy and remove some of the restraints. The sooner we get him moving around, the better. His problems now might be from his forced immobility."
"What's... what's going to happen to him?" Buck asked timidly.
Dr. Morgan shook her head. "Best case scenario... he will regain full use of his legs in 6 weeks or so. Worst case, he won't improve at all. If that happens, he's going to have to learn to walk a new way."
"Oh sure," Morgan smiled. He's got a great deal of residual function left. There's no reason why he wouldn't be able to walk, eventually, although he might need some kind of support. He'll have to learn to use a wheelchair, too."
"He might be able to walk, but not have the strength and stamina he'll need to get everywhere he wants to go. A wheelchair would actually give him more freedom, not less, if that's the case."
She looked at Buck's stricken expression and her voice softened. "I'm sorry if I'm sounding too casual about this. I work with patients like JD all the time, and sometimes I need to remember this is all new to each one... "
"You just don't know JD..." Buck began, his heart aching at the thought of the kid being... geez, you can't even think the word, he admonished himself.
She put her hand on Buck's. "I know he's got someone who cares about him. That's half the battle right there."
One of the nurses who had been there earlier came in with yet another bag of something that she hung on JD's IV pole and connected to the line running into his arm. Dr. Morgan noticed Buck's concern.
"We're going to start him on some stronger antibiotics... just to be on the safe side." She turned to JD and stroked his face. "JD? Can you wake up for me?"
The kid opened his eyes and Morgan explained that he was going to be taken to have some tests done. JD almost looked excited at the prospect of doing something besides lying there.
A few seconds after they wheeled him out, Vin showed up, carrying a cardboard tube in one hand. He stopped short when he saw JD wasn't in the room.
"He's not here. They took him for some tests," Buck explained.
Vin seemed pleased to hear this. "Perfect timing... drag that chair over here..."
He shook the cardboard tube and a roll of paper fell out, along with a small box of tacks. "Gimme a hand here, Buck," he said as he climbed onto the chair.
Buck unrolled the paper to find a half dozen posters. There was a pretty blond girl in a red bikini, a pretty dark-skinned girl in a white low-cut sequined gown, a pretty Latina girl in a pseudo leather biker outfit that she'd have to be suicidal to actually ride in, a pretty red-haired girl dressed in a pseudo cowboy outfit, again, an outfit that was never designed to actually ride in; and a pretty Asian girl in low-slung jeans and a wrap-around top. The sixth poster, though, was of Carlsbad Caverns.
Buck passed posters and tacks to Vin until all six were affixed to the ceiling where JD could see them. Vin jumped down off the chair and examined his handiwork from below.
Buck had to admit, the view was impressive, but he did ask Vin, "I understand the ladies, Vin, but why the cave?"
Vin's smile faded a bit. "Oh. Well, JD has said he always wanted to go there... It's..." his voice softened to almost a whisper. "It's handicapped accessible, so, he still can. You know... if..."
Buck nodded that he understood.
"Chris is lookin' into creating an administrative support position for the team, in case JD..."
Buck held up his hand. He didn't want to hear these things out loud. Not yet.
+ + + + + + +
JD was wheeled back into his room and was carefully transferred from the gurney to the bed. Four people lifted him but he still felt a momentary panic when there was nothing under him but their arms.
He had been grateful for the momentary change of scenery, even if it was just a different ceiling, and once he was settled in his bed again, he was pleasantly surprised when he looked up and saw the view.
He actually smiled before he even thought about it.
"Buck! Did you do this!?" he giggled.
The boy's laughter was music to Buck's ears, but he admitted, "Wasn't me... must have been elves."
JD studied the pictures, his eyes settling on the poster of the Carlsbad Caverns. Vin was the only one he'd ever told about wanting to go there.
"Vin," he said.
Buck nodded. "He thought it might help brighten up the room a bit."
"It's great... Where is he?"
"Had to get back to work."
JD frowned thoughtfully. "Isn't it Saturday?" He really wasn't sure. Between the drugs, which made him sleepy a lot of the time, and the confusion of what had happened to him, passage of time had become somewhat meaningless over the past few days.
"Yeah, but..." Buck didn't know if he should be giving JD details of the investigation into the sniper attack, but then decided that if it was him, he'd want to know. "Vin saw where the shots were fired from. The FBI has collected every scrap of information they've got on every person who works in that building and we're helping them with the background checks. DEA, ATF, FBI, Denver PD... we all want this guy in the worst way. We're gonna find him, JD. I can promise you that."
JD took a deep breath. It was good to know his friends cared enough to take what had been done to him personally, but at the same time, it made him feel uneasy to know that the shooter was still out there. No one had mentioned it, but JD knew there was an armed cop around somewhere. They would not have left him unprotected, but it was best that no one - including him - knew where or who the guard was. That way, it would be more difficult to sneak past him... or her. He just hoped that if someone did try to get to him, they'd be where they were needed. He'd never be able to defend himself.
"You want anything, kid? A snack? Something to drink?"
JD tried to shake his head, mostly because he wasn't sure Buck had even realized he'd have to feed him, even if they wouldn't yell at him for taking the oxygen mask off, which they probably would.
Buck reached into the bag with iPad. " Brought you these just in case," he said as he pulled out a bag of colored miniature marshmallows.
JD set the bag on his chest and managed to get it open even though he couldn't see it. He was able to pick up the tiny confections and shove them under the mask to get them into his mouth on his own. They weren't the primo junk food he and Vin were used to, but they were sweet and went down easily, despite the damn tube they still had down his nose. He didn't have to worry about the treats making him sick - his medication had made him nauseous a couple of times and they had just used that tube to suck everything out of his stomach. That's why it was there. Problem solved. Swallowing felt kind of yucky, though, so he didn't eat as much or as fast as he normally would have.
His eyes glanced at the TV that was still pointed towards his room mate. He had it on some lame-ass local access channel. He slid the mask down long enough to say, "Gee, I bet there is a game today," louder than was necessary. "Too bad we can't watch it."
The only indication that the guy in the next bed had heard him was that the volume on the set went up a couple of clicks.
"Jerk-off," JD muttered. Not that it mattered, anyway, really. It was hard for him to concentrate on anything for very long.
"Want me to go talk to him?" Buck said, getting ready to pull back the curtain that divided the room and give the guy a piece of his mind.
But JD stopped him. "Nah. He's probably worse off than me, if he can't talk or nothin'... I just wish he had better taste." JD sighed inwardly, resigning himself to the fact that the guy had pretty much made it clear he didn't want to communicate, either way. Ah well, at least he'd found out before making a fool of himself sometime later.
Buck sat down again. "You want your iPad back, JD? I took it because you fell asleep..."
JD shook his head, and slowly ate three more marshmallows before he said, "Buck?"
"What's gonna happen?"
"What do you mean, JD?"
"When I get out of here. Where... am I gonna go?"
Buck inhaled sharply. He knew the kid was worried about his future. JD had no family. He wasn't even 21 years old and he was completely on his own.
Well, that wasn't completely true, was it? He had Buck, hook, line and sinker.
"You're gonna go to rehab if you need it, then, you're gonna get your butt back to work. What did you think you were gonna do?"
"What if I can't walk? I can't do my job if I can't walk."
"Then we'll find you another job."
"Doing what?!" JD said angrily. "Pushing a pencil?"
"Don't worry about that now, JD...."
"Somebody has to worry about it!" his voice cracked the slightest bit.
Buck took his hand and held onto it even though JD refused to return his grasp. "It don't gotta be you, kid. Let the rest of us take care of it, okay?"
He noticed how warm JD's hand felt and when he looked into his eyes, he could see the boy wasn't feeling well.
He was just starting to doze off again when Dr. Morgan returned.
JD forced his eyes open as she stood over him. Both he and Buck could tell from her businesslike expression that there was nothing to get excited about - good or bad.
"I've been looking over your test results, JD," she said. "The swelling around your spinal cord seems to be going down. That's the good news."
"Then why can't I move my legs?" he asked belligerently.
His attitude rolled right off Morgan, Buck noted. "Well, that's the not-so-good news. Your level of function has remained pretty much the same. You've got a little more sensation than you did in the ER, but your legs still aren't getting the complete messages from your brain."
"It's not gonna get any better?" JD said in a small voice.
"There isn't any way to know that, yet. The bullet was lodged near your spine... right about here...." She indicated the spot on her own back. "It had broken into three pieces so we had to take them out so they didn't do any more damage. But what we don't know is if your problem is because the fragments compacted some of the smaller nerves in that area, or because they severed them, or even a combination of both. The nerves that are cut, if there are any, likely won't come back, ever."
Buck thought she was being a little too blunt with the kid, but he held his tongue.
JD glared at Morgan with such anger that Buck expected him to explode at any second. But Morgan just stared right back at him and finally, JD said. "Okay. Thanks for giving it to me straight."
"You'll start physical therapy tonight to maintain the muscle tone in your legs... "
"What's the point?" JD said angrily.
"Well, the fact that you haven't improved doesn't necessarily mean you won't. Injuries like yours can sometimes take months or even years to overcome. As long as your spinal cord isn't severed or destroyed, there's always a chance. But, this isn't something you are going to get over in a week or two, and if we don't maintain the muscle tone in your legs, it will just make it that much harder when it's time to learn how to walk again."
To Buck's surprise, JD acquiesced.
Dr. Morgan continued. "We still don't know what's causing your breathing problems, but we're going to try cutting back on the pain meds. The fever could be signs of an infection or abscess, so we're going to up the dosage of antibiotics. Between the two, I'm afraid you might not feel very well."
"Great," JD mumbled.
Morgan smiled at him. "JD, I know it doesn't seem like it, but, you really are doing fine at this point."
"Yeah, well give me back my gun, and I'll do even better."
"JD!" Buck gasped.
JD wiped fiercely at his eyes before the tears could fall. God, he hated this!
Dr. Morgan looked at Buck sympathetically and then said to JD, "You know, JD, it's okay to cry..."
"No," JD said flatly. He shut his eyes so he didn't have to look at her, or at Buck. He didn't know why he'd said what he had about the gun. That was stupid. He didn't really want to die.
He eventually opened his eyes and looked sheepishly at Buck. "Sorry, Buck, I didn't mean that." He saw Buck nod, but noted the haunted look in the man's eyes. "It's..." he sighed, heavily. "I just want everything back the way it was."
+ + + + + + +
By that evening, JD's fever had climbed to 103, and Dr. Morgan had ordered more tests. They were awaiting the results of yet another MRI scan, this one of JD's chest and abdomen. He was complaining of abdominal pain before they made him drink some kind of concoction for the scan, and since having it, he'd been trying to throw the stuff back up, even though there wasn't actually anything in his stomach. He was still immobilized, so every time he started gagging, he panicked.
Finally, Dr. Morgan had ordered a sedative for him, and it had helped some, but the kid was still miserable.
Buck ran a cool cloth across JD's face and pushed his hair out of his eyes. He'd already called Chris and told him to tell the others not to come by that night, that JD wasn't up to it. The senior agent had detected the apprehension in his voice. Dr. Morgan had insisted that this wasn't anything out of the ordinary, but hell, this was JD she was talking about, and Buck couldn't be objective. JD had been doing well, and now, he was so sick. On top of everything else, it didn't seem right, or fair.
When Dr. Morgan came flying into the room about that time, Buck didn't like the expression on her face.
He tried to remain calm as she removed the body brace so she could listen to JD's chest and belly. "What's going on?"
Dr. Morgan looked at him, briefly, but then spoke directly to JD. "JD, one of the blood vessels we had to seal off when we made the incision in your side has started bleeding again. You've got blood pooling in your abdomen and it's putting pressure on your lungs. We're going to have to take you to surgery again in just a few minutes."
"No!" JD cried. "No..." Now that they had reduced his pain medication, he could feel the big cut around his middle. It was so sore, and he couldn't bear the thought that they were going to cut him open again. He could feel his panic rising. "Buck..."
"Take it easy, kid," Buck said softly. He looked at Dr. Morgan. "Does it have to be now?"
She looked at him, this time, keeping her voice calm for JD's sake. "This is a life-threatening complication, Mr. Wilmington." She shook her head. "He can't wait."
Buck turned back to an anxious JD. "I know, kid, I know... But you're going to be okay. Don't you worry."
She touched Buck's shoulder. "They'll be down to get him in a few minutes."
JD couldn't hold back the tears. He was sick and in pain and now he was scared to death. "I can't do this, anymore, Buck."
"JD, I think you can do just about anything," Buck smiled. "I'm gonna be right here with you when you wake up, and in a few days this will all seem like a bad dream."
"I'm scared," JD admitted.
"I know, kid, but, they'll take good care of you here. Vin ever tell you about after he joined the team? When they had him here? He was a lot worse off than you, and now he's right as rain ain't he? You're gonna be fine, too." Buck could tell JD wasn't really listening, but was unprepared for his next words.
"Buck... what I said before... about the gun... I don't really wanna die."
Fighting his own emotion, Buck grasped his hand. "You ain't gonna die, JD, I promise."
JD actually managed a small smile, and Buck responded in kind.
Miranda, the respiratory therapist, moved quietly to the bedside. "JD, I want you to listen to me, hon," she said casually. "When you wake up, you're going to be on a ventilator. Do you know what that means?"
JD shook his head. "No! Tube... in my throat... Don't want it..." he gasped, and Buck realized that the boy really was having trouble breathing now.
"It won't be fun, but I don't want you to be afraid that it's there, okay? We just need to give your lungs a little rest, and then you should be fine."
Resigned to his fate, JD nodded, but Buck felt the color draining from his own face. He tried to stay calm for the kid, though.
"You're going to have some pain, too," Miranda explained. "But now that we know what's causing your problem, we should be able to give you whatever meds you might need."
"Let's just... do it," JD wheezed.
Miranda did a quick exam of her own, and then left them alone.
JD's hair was damp with sweat and Buck wiped his face off again.
The boy looked at him and the big man instinctively leaned in. "Buck..."
But before he could say what he wanted, the patient transport people arrived and expertly gathered up the IV's, monitors and other paraphernalia and wheeled JD's entire bed from the room.
One of the nurses saw the puzzled look on Buck's face and explained, "He'll go to the ICU for a day or so, before they bring him back here."
Buck felt his stomach flip and his heart constrict, as if he'd been hit with a brick. Intensive care? He nodded mutely at the nurse and then went to find the waiting room.
He stopped on the way to call the others, and they began arriving 15 minutes later, starting with Ezra. Nathan and Josiah arrived a few minutes after him. Vin was still staying out at the ranch with Chris and it took them a good forty minutes to get there.
No one said anything. They just sat, and waited. And prayed, each one in his own way.
+ + + + + + +
What seemed like an eternity later, Dr. Morgan came to the waiting area. Her face was serious, but not grim.
"Doctor?" Buck stood up to greet her.
"He's stable," she said. "We found a small abscess that was probably causing the fever, and the leaking vessel was repaired. He's breathing normally again, but he's very weak. It'll be another 48 hours or so before he's out of the woods. We have to get the infection under control now."
"He's going to be okay, though, right?" Buck said hopefully.
Morgan shook her head. "He's very ill, you have to understand that. He has to want to fight this."
Buck knew she was referring to JD's comment about the gun, but, he wasn't going to mention that to the others. "Can we see him?"
"You can," she told Buck. For a few minutes, no more."
+ + + + + + +
Buck walked softly into the ICU. He'd been here before, with Vin. But that had been different somehow. It wasn't that he didn't like Vin, or that he hadn't cared about the young agent when he'd been so sick, but... well... he just wasn't JD. Vin was a good kid, and Buck liked him a lot, but JD had Buck's heart wrapped around his little finger right from the moment they met.
Buck wasn't sure why that was. Maybe because he was so damned young - JD had started high school at 12, graduated at 15 and then breezed through college in just three years. He'd first joined the team under the exceptional student program that allowed them to hire him even though he wasn't old enough to be an agent. And the funny thing was, despite that high IQ, he was still pretty much a normal kid. He liked video games, and junk food, and loud music, and he was messy. Buck's life hadn't been the same since he'd let him move in after no one would rent the 18-year-old a place of his own. In most ways, it had gotten a lot better. His formerly empty apartment was now really a home - the first one he'd had since his mother had died . . . just like it was for JD.
His last thought prompted Buck to look at the kid. The boy looked awful. There were dark circles under his eyes and tubes and wires everywhere.
He stroked his hair and said his name. "Time to wake up now, little brother," he said. JD didn't respond. Buck wouldn't have known he was even alive were it not for the steady beep of the heart monitor. A machine was breathing for him, so even that was not a reliable indication.
But when he reached for the kid's hand, JD returned the gesture. His grip was weak, but he definitely knew Buck was there. He leaned in. "The guys are here...just outside. They said 'hi'."
Buck sat there with him and talked until the ICU nurse told him it was time to go. Before he left, he ruffled JD's hair gently. "Don't give up, kid," he told him. "Don't let ol' Buck down."
Buck returned to the waiting room and the others looked up expectantly, but he had to sit down and compose himself before he could speak. He let his head drop into his hands.
Glancing apprehensively around at the others, Chris gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze. "You okay, Buck?"
"He looks so bad," Buck whispered. The first time they had brought JD back from surgery, he had looked awful, but this time... with all those tubes and wires . . .
"I know," Chris said softly. And even though Chris hadn't seen JD, he did know. He'd been through this, with Vin.
Buck looked at the others. "Not much more you fellers can do here, I guess. I'll stay with him and let you know if anything happens."
They stuck around for a while, but eventually, one by one the rest of the team offered their reassurances and then left Buck alone with his thoughts.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was sitting next to JD's bed when Vin came by the next day. They'd brought in a comfortable recliner, so he'd managed to catch some sleep. He didn't know how long he'd been there, but realized he was hungry when Vin handed him a bag from McDonald's.
"I figured maybe you ain't had nothin' to eat," the young agent said.
Buck almost felt guilty for having an appetite, but he hadn't eaten in over 24 hours, and eagerly dug into the food.
"How's JD?" Vin asked.
"Better," Buck was happy to report. "His fever's down. He's woken up a few times. He's not too happy about that thing in his throat, though."
"I don't blame him," Vin shuddered. "Been there, done that," he laughed.
"He's fightin' though."
"That's a good sign," Vin observed.
Buck agreed. "You know, it's funny, but maybe a close call like this will put things into perspective for him."
"How you mean?" Vin asked.
"It ain't gonna be easy for him, but, I think now he knows he wants to live, even if... you know."
Vin felt there was more to that statement, but was interrupted before he could ask.
Much to his surprise, JD opened his eyes and managed a weak wave of his hand.
"Hey, JD," he said softly, and then couldn't think of anything else, so he took JD's hand in his own. JD's eyes closed again, but he squeezed Vin's hand briefly. Vin said a silent prayer for his friend. He'd never had a family himself, and now, he had 6 brothers, and they all had their quirks that got on the others' nerves. But everyone loved JD. He had to be okay. Vin turned to leave, his mood darkening as his simmering determination to get the guy who did this dominated his thoughts once more.
+ + + + + + +
JD's ICU nurse, Virginia, smiled cheerfully at Buck and fingered JD's hair. "He's doing very well," she said. "They will probably take him off the vent tonight or tomorrow."
JD had been given a pad and a felt-tipped pen once he was awake enough to try to communicate. He picked it up and awkwardly wrote 'NOW' on it.
Virginia laughed. "The doctors would skin me alive if I took it out," she told him.
JD picked up the pad again. 'HATE IT!!!' he scribbled.
"Well, if you liked it, I'd be worried."
Buck liked the way Virginia had of ignoring JD's complaints without ignoring him.
JD knew he was fighting a losing battle and set the pad down, closing his eyes.
"When they take it out, I'll bring you some ice cream," Buck promised.
JD's eyes opened again. He scribbled on the pad, 'chocolate'.
"Any flavor you want," Buck smiled.
JD looked hard at the man and picked up the pad again. 'Quit worrying'
"Me worry? Shoot, like I got nothing better to do than fret over you!"
JD picked up his pad one last time and tapped several times at the words he wrote. 'full of crap.'
+ + + + + + +
JD had been moved back to his room after two days in intensive care. The antibiotics took three more days to knock out the infection, but he knew he'd been very lucky. He actually wasn't feeling too bad, considering how sick he'd been just a few days before. When they had removed the ventilator, they'd also taken off the cervical collar, so now he could turn his head a little, too. Progress . . .
He was never going to be happy about the mess he was in, but ever since they'd rushed him back to surgery, and Dr. Morgan had told Buck he had "life-threatening" complications, well, that had been pretty much a kick in the ass. It had flashed through his mind that he was maybe never going to walk again, but there were still a lot of other things he could do, and if he died, he wasn't ever going to do those, either.
In short, it had scared the shit out of him, so now, he was a bit more willing to 'get with the program' as Josiah would say. He never had been sure what, exactly, 'the program' was, but if it meant to stop fighting things he couldn't do anything about, and making the best of those he could, well, it was time to think about doing that, he supposed.
It was early in the afternoon and he was bored. He'd given up on the idea of having a TV to watch since the Potted Plant continued to ignore him. He'd read that morning's USA Today from end to end, including the recipes and national weather, and had taken a couple of naps. He still slept a lot, and wasn't sure if that was because he was hurt or because he was bored. Now, he was expecting Buck, who would be sneaking out of work 2 or 3 hours early, so he was surprised when Ezra showed up first.
Leave it to Ezra... he knocked on the open door before he entered.
"Come on in, Ez."
"Greetings, Mr. Dunne.... I trust we are feeling better?"
"Well, I am, Ez. Don't know about you."
Ezra grinned and held up the biggest envelope JD had ever seen. The thing had to be three feet long and two feet wide. He handed it to him, and JD could feel it was a card. A big card.
"Everyone in the building signed it," Ezra said.
JD was struggling with the envelope because of its size and the fact he was lying flat on his back, so Ezra took it and opened it for him.
JD could see the signatures and personal notations along with the printed message. He couldn't help but smile. "This is really cool," he said, touched at how many names were on it.
Ezra looked around for some place to put the card where JD could see it, but there wasn't one, so he left it on the bed within JD's reach so he could look at it later.. He looked suddenly solemn. "JD, we're doing our best to catch whoever did this to you. It's one of our top priorities."
"But?.." JD had sensed the unspoken word in Ezra's tone.
"But we have run out of leads. Everyone in the building where the shots were fired checked out. A few have police records, but all of them have alibis. They were all in another office with other people at the time. A few people heard the shots, but most of them didn't realize what they were, and the ones who did don't remember seeing anything unusual."
JD wasn't happy to hear that, but said, "Thanks, Ez. I know you guys are doing your best."
"How are you doing?" Ezra asked, and it wasn't just a casual question. He really wanted to know.
JD felt another flare of anger. There was so much he wanted to say. Like how some guy... an ortho-something had been there and taken measurements for the leg braces he would probably need, and for the wheelchair that would be customized just for him, and to determine what size walker and crutches he should have for when - and if - he ever got that far. All of it had seemed surreal somehow, like it had to be happening to someone else, and he felt like he needed to talk about it, but at the same time, he didn't know what to say. So he answered Ezra's question the easy way. "I'm doing okay."
Ezra nodded and then held up a package in a plain brown wrapper, which he handed over. "If you dare tell anyone that it was I who procured these, I will deny knowing you."
JD was better able to manage the small package. As the wrapper came away, a sizeable stack of comic books tumbled out - the latest installments of some of his favorites. "Ez, I wouldn't have thought you'd even know where to get a comic book," JD laughed.
"A gentleman of the world knows where to acquire anything Mr. Dunne." He cleared his throat and then muttered, "Besides, that particular issue . . . ," he indicated the comic book at the top of the stack, " . . . is a limited edition cover. I didn't think you'd want to miss out."
JD looked at him incredulously as the truth dawned on him. "Ezra, you read these things!"
"Mr. Dunne, should you ever tell anyone that, those words will be your last."
"Your secret is safe with me," JD looked at Ezra in his designer clothes and tried to imagine how out of place he would look in a comic book store. "At least for now."
Someone else knocked on the door, but when JD turned he didn't see anyone.
"Come in," he said anyway, noting that Ezra was looking at the door, too, so obviously someone was there. He didn't hear any footsteps, although he sensed someone was approaching the bed.
Suddenly a hand appeared in front of his face. "Mark Desmond," a voice said.
JD hesitantly took the proffered hand and tried to turn his head to see who it belonged to.
The disembodied voice spoke, "Down here!"
JD raised the head of his bed, even though he wasn't supposed to do that without someone in there, like a nurse. As he did, Mark wheeled his chair into a position where JD could see him. "Sorry about that," he grinned. JD recognized him. He'd seen him wheeling around the cafeteria, or the parking garage at the federal building. He remembered the chair more than he did the man, though, he was ashamed to admit.
Ezra greeted Mark and then excused himself, because he had to get back to work. That left JD alone with his new visitor, and JD felt awkward. He'd never talked to this guy, and he had to be honest with himself, he probably never would have talked to him. Because he was too . . . different. How quickly things can change, he thought.
"I thought I'd drop by to see how you were doing. I hope you don't mind," Mark said. He was only about Vin's age, JD noticed for the first time. He'd never really looked at him before, even though he must have seen him a hundred times or more.
"No. I don't mind," JD said. But seeing Mark in his wheelchair scared him. He knew that could be him soon, and that fact was easier to deal with as long as he didn't think about the future.
"I was where you are six years ago. This is the worst part. It gives you too much time to think."
"I know," JD whispered.
Mark continued matter-of-factly. "After this comes the hard work, when you get transferred to the rehab center, and learn all over again how to take care of yourself... It's hard and frustrating and there will be times when you will wonder if it's worth it."
JD was avoiding looking Mark in the eye. He just couldn't do it. "So, is it?" he said softly.
Mark seemed to be thinking his answer over, but when he spoke he said, "Is this the first time since you got hurt that you've seen someone in a wheelchair?"
His perceptiveness made JD uncomfortable, but he nodded. "Yeah."
"Kinda weird, isn't it?"
JD was taken aback by his bluntness, but responded honestly. "Yeah, it is."
"I think people see someone in a wheelchair, and in the back of their minds they are thinking 'There but for the grace of God go I...' and now, here you are, and it is you, so what are you supposed to think now, y'know?"
JD felt his cheeks flush, because that was pretty much exactly what he had been thinking - Mark had just put it into words.
He was relieved when Mark quickly continued, "Anyway, I thought you might have some questions. I'll do my best to answer them... if not now, then later." He handed JD a card with his work and home phone number on it.
JD took the card and was going to thank him, but his next words popped out of his mouth before his brain could catch up with them. "What happened to you?" he asked.
He was about to apologize for his nosiness when Mark answered.
"Old story. Young, stupid kid with too much to drink, driving too damn fast on a rainy night."
"What happened to him? The driver?"
Mark snorted. "You're looking at him."
"Oh," JD said, embarrassed to have asked.
Mark patted the grips on his chair. "High price to pay for being an idiot . . . but there were three other kids in my car and a family in the car I hit... we all could have been killed, but none of us were. I always figured it was probably a fair trade off." He seemed to sense JD's discomfort as he added "And, I do get all those good parking spots now." He winked and laughed, briefly lightening the mood, before he added, "I guess it's a little different with you, though, huh?"
JD nodded. "Someone shot me."
Mark smiled, "Yeah, the whole building knows that. Team 7 is out for blood on this one." He glanced up at the ceiling and changed the subject. "Nice pictures. Wish I'd thought of that when I was lying flat on my back."
JD smiled. "Vin Tanner did that."
"Long-haired guy? The sharpshooter?"
"Yeah," JD said, surprised Mark knew the others on the team by name.
"My wife thinks he's a hunk," Mark laughed.
"Wife?" JD said, surprised.
"Becky Allison. The weapons locker custodian."
"She's your wife?" JD said, and then realized he sounded taken aback, and was even more embarrassed to realize that he was surprised that Mark had a wife, especially since Becky was about 7 months pregnant, which meant....
Mark seemed to know what he was thinking. "Yeah. I got a wife. Gonna have a kid soon, too... Everything isn't over for you, JD. You might think that now, but so did I six years ago. I'm not going to tell you this isn't going to slow you down in some ways, but you're the only one who can let it stop you."
JD wasn't sure what to say.
"Geez, listen to me. I sound like those damn therapists," Mark laughed. "I better get out of here before I start asking you to 'share your pain.'"
JD snorted. A psychologist had been to see him the day before and had used that exact phrase.
Mark held out his hand. "See you around, man, okay?"
JD shook his hand and nodded. "Yeah, sure."
Mark spun around and headed for the door.
"Mark?" JD called after him.
Mark swung his chair back to face JD with an easy, graceful movement. JD wondered if he'd ever handle one that well.
"Yeah?" Mark said.
"Thanks." JD wasn't sure what he was thanking him for. Maybe it was just for being so... normal.
Mark seemed to understand. "Any time, JD. You only have to call."
+ + + + + + +
Buck arrived a few minutes ahead of the physical therapist who had been working with JD since he got out of ICU. She was yet another in the team of what seemed like dozens of people caring for JD. He remembered her, though, even though he was beginning to lose track of who was who. Her name was Lydia, a lovely Latina with delicate features and a radiant smile. She had been coming in the morning, but now she wanted to teach Buck how to do the exercises that would keep the muscles and joints in JD's legs as healthy as possible. This way, they could do the routine therapy at home after he was discharged.
Buck was unsure of himself at first. He'd certainly touched JD before - an arm around his shoulder, a reassuring pat now and then, or an affection cuff on the back of the head - but this was different, and awkward somehow. He knew JD didn't want to be seen as vulnerable and helpless, so this wasn't going to be easy for either of them.
Lydia was great, though. She explained things in simple terms that they could both understand, and openly addressed Buck's discomfort by making a joke. "If he gets fresh with you, kick him," she joked with JD.
Buck picked up the comment, "Honey, I can show you a thing or two about gettin' fresh, if you'd only give me the chance."
She winked at him. "I might have to take you up on that, Mr. Wilmington."
"Don't mind me," JD huffed. "I'm just here for the scenery." He did think it was kind of funny that Lydia seemed to like Buck, even though she saw right through his line of bullshit. The two of them seemed relaxed with each other, so JD wasn't as uncomfortable as he thought he'd be having Buck do the exercises with him. Buck was stronger than Lydia, too, and it was easier for him to do all the bending, lifting, pushing and pulling. Not that any of that mattered. JD could barely feel what they were doing, anyway.
Dr. Morgan interrupted the session with her daily visit. She had JD's latest test results and this time there was a smile on her face. She tapped on the brace that encased his torso. "Another week and you'll be rid of this," she told him. "And I think tomorrow, we can try getting you out of bed for short periods." She checked his incision, which was re-healing nicely according to her, although to JD it was still sore as hell. They'd left a drain in it after the second surgery and she told him they'd be removing that and the staples in the next day or so. "We'll remove the catheter, too," she said casually, "but that might not work out the first time, so be prepared for that."
JD felt his face go crimson. Geez, did she have to talk about that in front of everyone in the room? He wanted to ask her what she meant, but discussing it was just too humiliating. Unfortunately, she continued to explain to him that his bladder would have to readjust gradually to not having it there. Maybe that would happen right away, or maybe there would be a problem and they'd have to put it back.
JD promptly nodded that he understood. Anything to get her to stop talking about it. But she went on to discuss the possible issues in gruesome detail until finally JD couldn't take it anymore. "Can we please talk about this later?"
Morgan stopped short, and then looked sheepishly at Buck and Lydia. "I'm sorry, JD. I know this is an invasion of your privacy... but since Buck will be your primary care giver, it's easier if you and he both know what to expect."
JD cringed inwardly at the term 'care giver.' He knew Dr. Morgan didn't mean anything by it, but the words were like a punch in the gut. He didn't want Buck - or anyone - to have to be his 'care giver.' He wanted to take care of himself, like he had been doing since he was 10.
She brushed his hair back. "Besides, you'll probably do just fine. You still have most of the nerve function in your lower torso. You're very lucky."
JD felt a surge of emotion shoot through him. Lucky? Did she just call him LUCKY? Getting away with a flesh wound is 'lucky'. Being told that an inch further and he would have been paralyzed from the waist down is 'lucky'. Lying in a bed having to rely on a catheter to pee, and folks to keep his leg muscles toned while he learned to live with the prospect of never walking again was not-fucking-LUCKY!
JD closed his eyes and nodded. "Sure...lucky." He didn't say anything more because he knew if he did, he'd cry.
Buck playfully punched him on the jaw. "You ain't listening to the good part, kid," he joked. "Doc's sayin' you can get out of here soon, ain't ya' doc?"
Morgan nodded. "Another week, no more than two."
JD looked at Buck. He heard the words, but couldn't think that far ahead. The future was still too uncertain, too strange. And what was he going to do when he did go home? Let Buck or someone else babysit him all day, every day? What kind of life was that, for either of them?
No life at all. In fact, right now, it sounded more like a prison sentence.
+ + + + + + +
Without the other guys, JD was sure he would have gone insane lying in that hospital bed, but between the six of them, he was never alone for very long. Josiah would come and read to him, stuff that was interesting and that he'd probably never have read himself. Ezra brought him all kinds of good stuff, including a tiny mobile hotspot so that he was able to get Netflix on his iPad. Nathan kept up with all the medical stuff, and sometimes, JD found it easier to ask him questions than the nurses or Dr. Morgan. Chris was always business- like, but JD could see in his eyes that he cared, and he knew from the other guys that the team leader was pushing through a flexible change in JD's job description so he could go back to work at the same pay grade, in the same office.
Vin... well, Vin was just Vin. He probably enjoyed the sharpshooter's visits the most, because Vin didn't treat him any differently than he ever had. He wasn't careful to avoid words like "walk" and "run" in front of him, and when he'd helped him get out of bed a couple of times, he hadn't acted like JD was going to break if he was too rough. Vin just said what needed to be said, and did what needed to be done, like he always had.
And then there was Buck. His life, like JD's, was about to completely change, but apart from a few occasional nervous tells during their physical therapy sessions, he was still the sweet, endearing, upbeat big brother JD knew and loved. So why couldn't he shake the concern that Buck was heading for a reality check much the same as JD had experienced? And if Buck did...would it change things?
Mark Desmond came to see him a few times, too. Mark never gave him pep talks or told him everything would be okay, which kind of worried JD, until he figured out that Mark was doing it in an indirect sort of way, just by telling him about his life. JD found out he'd finished college, and was going to grad school at night. He'd lived in his own apartment until he'd met Becky. He drove his own car, was an avid athlete, and loved to talk about the Broncos and his three dogs. He helped just by being such a normal guy.
As Dr. Morgan had predicted, three weeks to the day after he'd been shot, JD was released from the confining body brace. All the staples, stitches, tubes and wires had been removed and he felt like he'd been paroled from prison when he was asked if he wanted to take a shower and change into his own clothes.
He had to endure the indignity of being helped by an attendant into the waterproof chair that was used for the shower, but after the nurse covered the little still-healing hole left by the surgical drain with a waterproof bandage, she showed him how to get into the stall and work the moveable shower head, and then left him to figure the rest out on his own. An attendant stood outside in case he needed help, but JD was elated to discover that he was able to handle everything by himself. That was due in large part to the fact that the bathroom was specially equipped for his use, though. He didn't know what was going to happen when he got home.
Buck had brought him one of his baggy tee-shirts and some new sweat pants that were a size larger than he usually wore so they wouldn't bind anywhere. Underwear was knit boxers and a pair of socks. He slipped on the T-shirt with no problem, but the rest proved to be a frustrating exercise in futility.
More than ever before, it had hit him how different it was not to have normal sensation or movement in his legs. He felt like a marionette who'd had a few of his strings cut. Repositioning his legs required him to do it manually, which he quickly discovered was not always as easy as it sounded.
It suddenly became much harder for him to deny the reality of his situation, and he found himself on the verge of tears again. Damn, he was just getting too fucking emotional. It was getting on his own nerves, so Lord knows how other folk were seeing him.
Luckily, the attendant came to his rescue without him having to ask for help. He was a big guy named Larry who looked like a linebacker, but he was casual and soft-spoken. He gently took the remaining clothing from JD and said, "Let's see if we can find an easier way to do this." He slipped the briefs and sweatpants on as far as JD's knees and let him do the rest. As he was putting the socks on him, he said, "You know, they will teach you how to do this yourself. A few days from now it'll be a piece of cake."
JD was scheduled to go to the therapy gym, so as soon as he was dressed, Larry brought in a regular wheelchair. JD was daunted by the amount of coordination and effort required to get him into the thing. Larry was strong, but not having the support of his legs underneath him, he felt like dead weight and was petrified he was going to fall or be dropped. Once in the chair, he had to position his feet manually so that they were on the footrest.
When that was accomplished, he sat back hot and tired, and couldn't help wondering if he was ever going to get used to this.
An uneasy feeling came over JD as he was wheeled though the hallways. This would be the first time for real rehabilitation therapy, and he was about to confront the fears he had been pushing aside. What if he blew it? What if he couldn't handle this?
He had a new therapist here, a guy named Keith McMichael. After openly addressing his fear of being dropped and telling him that was a normal reaction, Keith expertly got him out of the chair and eased him onto an exercise mat on the floor. While mindful of the freshly healed incision on his left side, Keith lowered him onto his back so that he was lying flat, and then proceeded with the first lesson, teaching him how to roll over. JD felt like a damned baby as he was shown how to roll onto his right side then back again. He was still too sore to roll onto his left side or all the way onto his belly, but Keith assured him it would be easy to learn once he got the knack of swinging his legs one over the other. Keith was nice, but JD still hated what they were doing, and he had to suppress an urge to be surly and uncooperative. Fighting it would only drag things out.
While he had him on the mat, Keith did the leg exercises Lydia and Buck had been doing with him, but instead of giving him technical explanations and constant reassurance, they had talked about sports. Getting JD's mind off what he was doing had helped the time go by faster.
Buck stayed out of sight and watched JD struggle through that first session. When they were done, and it was time to get JD back into the chair, the therapist instructed him on how to do it himself. JD listened carefully and watched as the therapist demonstrated the technique, and then wanted to try it himself. The therapist advised against it, thinking it might put a strain on the incision, but JD promised to ask for help if he felt it pulling.
JD was determined, but the surgeries had weakened him and he had lost a lot of upper body strength after almost a month in bed. Buck could see it was intensely difficult for him to get enough leverage to seat himself in the chair, especially since his legs were more of a hindrance than a help.
Being JD, though, he refused to give up, even after the therapist told him he could try it again next time. Buck's instinct was to rush in and just pick him up off the floor, but that would only have made JD angrier than he already was. So, he held back and watched the boy's frustration as he struggled to get himself into that damn chair. It took such an enormous amount of effort that JD was sweating like he'd run a couple of miles by the time he finally made it.
Once seated JD had to straighten himself out so he'd be comfortable and then position his feet, but once that was done, he relaxed with a sigh and a small, but genuine grin graced his youthful face.
The therapist tossed him a towel to wipe the sweat off. "Nice job," he told him. "It'll be a little easier when you get your braces. They'll stabilize your legs."
JD's smile faded, and Buck knew what he was thinking - that maybe this is what it was going to be like for the rest of his life - everything a struggle, and the simple things he had taken for granted before would forever be a constant reminder that he was "different" now.
+ + + + + + +
JD had wheeled himself to the common area after a morning therapy session. He'd become pretty good at pushing the chair, even though it was a big, awkward generic piece of hospital equipment. He hadn't gotten his own yet, but he would. Soon. He would be discharged in a couple of days to the rehab center where he'd learn to use his own chair, and where they would attempt to get him on his feet.
His right hand absently eased itself down the length of his thigh to his knee and a bit below it. He could feel the metal framework and Velcro fastenings of the leg brace, even though they really weren't obviously visible underneath his sweats, at least not until the point where they emerged from the bottom of his pants and attached to his shoes. Right now, he was just wearing them so the orthotist could make sure they fit and weren't chafing him anywhere. He wouldn't be able to tell that without having JD wear them for extended periods, since JD could barely tell they were there. Keith had demonstrated to him how to shift his weight to lock the braces into position to hold his legs straight, but because of his incision, he wasn't able to wear the safety belt that he'd seen Keith use with other patients, so, hadn't had a chance to actually try it. Eventually, he'd be able to balance on them well enough to use a walker, then maybe crutches. Best case scenario was that eventually he'd be rid of them, but no one was actively encouraging him to believe that might happen. JD didn't care. He'd already decided that if there was a chance, no matter how small, he would work his butt off to make it happen. For now, though, he had to be happy with just being on his feet. At least he'd be able to take a piss standing up.
He spotted his room mate a few feet away. He'd snuck a peek at the guy a few times, but he'd always flicked off the TV and pretended to be asleep. Screw him. He wouldn't talk to the asshole now if they paid him. The guy just sat there like the potted plant that he was, covered with a blanket even though it wasn't cold. Probably so he could hide the remote to the TV under it. Maybe he was brain-dead or something. JD didn't really give a shit anymore.
On the opposite side of the common area, another patient who was in far worse shape than he was sat talking with a woman who might have been his wife or girlfriend. JD thought the guy might be a quadriplegic. He didn't move anything but his head. The woman was crying, and the guy had closed his eyes. He didn't want to look at her. He either didn't want her to see her tears, or didn't want her to see his own
JD sure as hell understood that.
He swallowed a lump in his throat. They had told him he would probably be able to be with a woman... but the truth was, he'd been afraid to find out if he could or not. Looking at the couple, he realized it was probably selfish of him to even be thinking of that, but the thoughts came to him unbidden.
He didn't have much experience with girls, at least, not dating them. He'd been younger than most of his classmates, and although some of the girls he'd gone to school with had thought he was ' cute,' just like the females who worked in the federal building and drooled after his teammates, it was usually puppy-dog cute, not wanna-date-him cute. He'd taken a freshman to his senior prom, and even she was a month older than he was.
Vin had fixed him up with the niece of his friend, Nettie Wells, and on their first 'date' they'd gone to some kind of party that her neo-hippie artist friends were having. That wasn't JD's kind of crowd to begin with, and when they'd found out he was with the ATF, they hadn't believed him at first because JD was younger than most of them, and looked even younger than he was. Then, someone had asked him if he'd killed any babies lately. There were more "jokes" made at his expense and it would have been an uncomfortable situation even if he'd known Casey well, which he didn't.
He enjoyed her company when they weren't around her friends, and he'd called her and they'd gone out a few times, but it wasn't anything serious yet. He wondered what she'd think of him now.
He lowered his head and his hair flopped forward into his face. He didn't make an effort to brush it away. He thought about his mom, and wondered what she must have gone through when she knew she was dying. She'd never let him see her defeat, only her determination. He just couldn't be as strong as she was.
sorry, Mom, but this is just too hard.
+ + + + + + +
Buck was hurrying to finish up some paperwork before heading to the hospital. He was grateful to Chris for allowing him to cut out early most days, but he still had to keep up with his work. He had trouble concentrating sometimes, though. His thoughts kept drifting back to JD. He was worried about the kid. Not his physical well-being - Dr. Morgan had assured them that with proper exercise and nutrition, JD should stay as healthy as anyone else. But because JD seemed to be shutting himself off. He had always been an extroverted, happy kid. Now, he was quiet much of the time, as if maybe he thought if he didn't make a sound, no one would notice him, or what had happened to him.
From inside his office, Chris noticed his friend was zoning out. He knew Buck was concerned about JD. He, too, was worried about what the future had in store for the boy. He'd gotten AD Travis to push through the job description change, so when JD was well enough, he'd be back with Team Seven. But not doing field work. Not doing what he really loved, although Travis had said - without making any promises - that he would look into adapting a surveillance van so JD could continue at a post in which the team found him invaluable.
"Buck, why don't we go grab something to eat?" Chris asked a few minutes later, needing a break from the paperwork.
"Sure," Buck agreed, his wandering mind anxious to be elsewhere.
Once they were on the road Chris looked over at his friend.
"How do you think he'll handle returning to work?" Chris asked, aware Buck would know he meant JD.
Buck shook his head. "I can't answer that. I like to think JD can handle just about anything thrown at him, but this..." Buck had found himself wondering how independent JD would be. The owner's association at the condominium complex where the two of them lived had been good about making the modifications to their unit. JD didn't know about that yet, because Buck hadn't found a good moment to bring it up, but they'd gutted the bathroom in JD's room and remodeled it according to ADA standards. The government and JD's insurance would reimburse them for the work eventually, but for now, the owner's association had footed the bill for the basic stuff. Josiah and Vin had put in the finishing touches, re-tiling, painting, installing cabinets, etc. They'd get the kitchen done eventually, too, but that wasn't a priority since Buck did most of the cooking, anyway, when they didn't eat take-out.
Chris heard the concern in his friend's voice. "He's still got it hanging over his head that we don't know who did this to him, or why. That has to be hard."
Buck nodded. "I know. I wish it had been me instead of him, Chris," Buck said softly, and Chris knew he meant it.
"I just wish we had more to go on . . . I tell you, when we catch up with that motherfucker . . . ," Chris's voice trailed off. It was frustrating them no end that they had no leads other than what Vin thought he'd seen. Anita Vaughan's partner, Dennis Bulai, was the point for the DEA and the chief investigator, but he'd come up with nothing. It was as if the shooter had done the deed and then disappeared off the face of the earth, taking all of his DNA and forensic evidence with him.
He changed the subject. "Vin thinks if he'd moved just a little faster, things might have worked out differently. Can't get him to understand that JD could have been dead instead of Schaeffer. Hell, he could have been dead if that bullet had hit him an inch to the right."
Buck looked at him, his eyes full of pain. "Why, with all those people in the room, did it have to be JD, Chris? He's so young...."
Chris shook his head sadly. "Ain't no answer to that, either, Buck."
They had pulled up to the restaurant, and were about to get out of the Ram when Chris's cell phone rang. Buck watched Chris's face as he listened to the caller, and knew from his expression that the news wasn't good.
"Agent Dunne is still in the hospital," Chris was saying. "Yeah... almost a month now..."
There was a pause while Chris listened to the caller. "I'll have to talk to him..... Yeah.... it could be significant... I'm not at the office right now, so how about I give you a call back in a couple of hours?"
Chris frowned as he clicked off the cell phone. "An FBI agent was killed in Albuquerque three days ago."
Buck looked at him questioningly.
"He was hit by a car riding his bike, and an eye-witness is claiming that the car swerved into him." Chris continued.
Buck knew there was more. "What else?"
"They were checking out his computer to see if there were any leads... you know, someone with a grudge against him or who had made threats."
"They found out he had transmitted several files on the Glorietta incident to JD and Agent Vaughan... The three of them apparently exchanged several e-mails, with this guy answering questions those two were asking about."
Much of what had happened at Glorietta was not available to the general public, even under the Freedom of Information Act, but JD, and Anita Vaughan, too, would have had clearance to access it.
"Coincidence?" Buck asked, though his expression suggested anything but.
Chris's expression matched Buck's. He shook his head. "I don't believe in coincidences."
Buck didn't either. As much as he hated dredging up that dark time in his past, Buck knew he'd have to find out what the connection was.
+ + + + + + +
JD was clearly unnerved upon hearing of the death of the FBI agent in Albuquerque. He had never met the man personally, but he'd been a big help to him and Anita when they were working on the Glorietta simulation.
"So, what, exactly, was it that you were doing?" Buck wanted to know. JD had already admitted that he and Anita had been using agency resources on their little project, even though it wasn't official business for either of them. They hadn't even been teenagers when the incident had occurred, so it was long before either of them had become federal agents.
"We were working on a computer simulation to try to piece together everything that happened there so it could be presented in a visual format."
Buck frowned. "Why?"
"You've read the reports, Buck. They contradict each other. The FBI version is different from the DEA version and both of those are different from the ATF version and none of them agree with what the New Mexico State Police report says."
Buck bristled. "I was there, JD. I wrote the goddamned ATF report."
JD hung his head and Buck was immediately sorry he'd snapped at him, and said so. "It just ain't something I like to remember," he said softly.
"I know," JD said sympathetically. "That was one of the reasons I wanted to do it, Buck. I thought you might want to know all that really went down that day."
"What do you mean?"
JD shrugged. "I was studying the report one day... the diagrams of who was supposed to be where. Vin was lookin' over my shoulder and he noticed one of the sharpshooter's was in the wrong position... that if the diagram was right, there was no way he would have had a direct line of fire to the target. So, I looked into it and I realized that the reports didn't all agree on where - or who - that sharpshooter was. I don't think anyone had noticed it before Vin pointed it out.
"Anyway, I happened to mention it to Anita in the cafeteria one day, and that's when she told me that Agent Bulai had been there, too, that he knew you from back then, so she agreed with me it would be interesting to try to reconstruct the events from the reports."
Buck's interest was piqued. "How far did you get with it?"
JD shrugged. "We were still collecting the information. We never really got started on it. Out of the blue, we got a cease and desist order from some gal named Walker telling us we were no longer cleared to access the files."
"Chanda Walker?" Buck frowned. Unlike other agents who had struggled to put Glorietta behind them, Walker had used it to make a name for herself. She was now so high up the food chain in the FBI that she answered directly to the Director himself. Word was that she had some serious political aspirations.
"Yeah, that's her," JD said. Apparently, the kid had no idea who she was, but knowing she was involved bothered Buck. The woman's record was cleaner than boiled bleach, though.
He decided it might be time to dig deeper to find out what possible connection there could be, and he wasn't looking forward to that. The memories of Glorietta had faded with time, but like a sore that wouldn't heal, there were things that had happened there that would linger in his mind forever, causing him to ask himself over and over again what he could have done differently.
And he was asking himself now - what did any of it have to do with JD?
+ + + + + + +
During his hospital stay, JD had grown accustomed to being awakened out of a sound sleep for any number of reasons, most of them dumb. A nurse would come in and take his vitals when the shift changed at midnight, so that always woke him up, and someone would come in every four hours or so and have him change positions. He wasn't on intravenous pain meds anymore, but sometimes he needed something to sleep, so then they'd have to check on him to make sure he was okay.
He was used to nurses coming in and poking and prodding him at all hours, but when he was startled out of a sound sleep by a nurse he didn't recognize, he was instinctively wary. He was used to the staff by that time, but this guy was short and skinny and had a beard and JD was sure he'd never seen him before. He noted that he carried a small athletic bag, and even in his semi-alert state, he was certain he'd never seen the other nurses lugging their personal belongings around with them.
The nurse was preparing a syringe, and JD's intuition began screaming at him that something wasn't right. This guy had the wrong patient or something, but since he was probably new, he didn't want to question him openly. Under his blankets, he fingered the "call" button hoping to summon Peggy, who should have been the nurse on duty. She'd know what was going on.
"What's that for?" he asked obviously startling the nurse who must have thought he was still asleep.
The nurse cleared his throat. "Just some medication the doctor ordered," he answered. Something about his voice didn't sound right - it was gravelly, forced.
"Dr. Morgan?" JD frowned. The doc was pretty good about telling him before they did anything to him, and she hadn't said anything about him getting any more shots. "What is it?"
"Just a mild sedative," the nurse replied.
"I don't need a sedative. I was asleep for cryin' out loud," he complained.
"Shut up!" the nurse snapped, and grabbed his wrist. His half-asleep brain quickly became alert.
JD yanked his hand free, but he knew he was in trouble when the syringe was jabbed into his shoulder without the injection site being prepped, first. "Oww! Wh...what're you doing?!" he gasped as he felt something cold enter his arm.
In almost that same instant, the curtain separating him from his roommate flew back.
"Denver PD! Stay right where you are!" JD's room mate barked at the nurse.
JD briefly wondered if he was still asleep and dreaming. The guy in the next bed was standing on his own two feet, with a gun aimed at the nurse and . . . saying he was cop?
"Get away from him! Back off... slow and easy..." the room mate ordered.
JD's heart was racing in his chest. Part of it was that he was scared and confused, but he was starting to feel kind of sick and woozy, too, and he wondered what drug he'd just been given.
The nurse backed away from him... but as he was doing so, Peggy entered the room and flicked on the lights.
"What's going on...?"
She got no further when the first nurse grabbed her around the neck to use as a shield. JD blinked in confusion as the man's face seemed to twist to one side, as if it were made of rubber. What the hell? But before that could fully register, the fake nurse reached into the bag he still held and pulled out something about the size and shape of a lemon. JD's muddled brain thought it looked like a grenade, and in slow-motion horror, he realized that was exactly what it was.
The attacker dropped it on the floor, pushed Peggy forwards, and ran.
JD stared at the small object in utter disbelief for about half a second and then panic took over and he began a frantic attempt to pull himself over the guardrail on the bed and get as far away from the thing as he could. To his horror, he realized that his legs weren't the only thing that wouldn't work. His arms suddenly felt like rubber, and as if they had concrete blocks tied to them. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion.
Peggy reacted quickly, unlatching the guardrail on JD's bed and trying to lift him up. She wasn't strong enough, though, and knowing she would not be able to get him out of the room, she flung herself on top of him to shield him from the blast.
The police officer stood horror-stricken, staring at the grenade, but his hesitation lasted only a moment. He snatched it up and threw it into the bathroom, and then slammed the steel door shut an instant before a deafening explosion blew it outward, ripping the buckled metal from its hinges. The surrounding wall crumbled, the ceiling cracked, and debris suddenly seemed to be raining down from all directions.
JD was petrified, but his body refused to react to his terror. He tried to scream, but all that came out was a garbled grunt, while everything around him was going black and fuzzy. He didn't think he'd been hurt by the grenade, but he could feel his consciousness rapidly fading.
The dust began to settle while around them all hell broke loose. The fire alarms went off and there was mass confusion among the hospital staff, none of whom knew what the hell had just happened.
He could feel Peggy's heart pounding wildly, but as she got up, her first thought was for him. "JD, are you okay?" she asked breathlessly, seeing the terror in JD's eyes.
His body was trembling and he had broken out in a cold sweat. He didn't answer her, and she knew he was in trouble when his eyes rolled back.
"JD?" she patted his hand. "Come on, honey, talk to me."
The police officer had been knocked to the floor by the blast and slowly got to his feet. He was clearly injured and seemed dazed, but managed to say, "Drugs... he... that nurse... gave him something..."
Peggy checked JD's pupils. They were normal sized, but his eyes weren't focusing. "JD!" she yelled to get his attention as she took his pulse manually. It was rapid and weak, but she wasn't sure if some of his other symptoms weren't caused by fear, so she continued trying to get a response out of him.
In the meantime, the police officer found the syringe under the bed and handed it to her.
More debris fell from the ceiling and Peggy knew she had to get JD out of there. Two other staff members ran into the room, still confused as to what had happened.
Peggy didn't have time to explain. "He's been drugged!" she called to them. "Get an ER doctor up here!"
They wheeled JD into another room further down the hall, and Peggy uncovered him to check for injuries from the blast.
JD knew he had been moved, but was having trouble remembering why. He knew it was something really bad, but his brain just wouldn't work to get a handle on it.
He tried to speak, but his tongue felt like it was three times bigger than his mouth. The last thing he was aware of was Peggy pulling back his blankets. He wished she wouldn't do that... he was so cold....
+ + + + + + +
Buck raced to the hospital, running stop lights and ignoring one-way street signs to get there as quickly as possible. He had been fast asleep with the call came at around 10:30. It was his first good rest in a long time and it had taken his sleep-addled mind a few moments to process that Jimmy Buffett's 'Margaritaville' was his cell phone ringing. He dressed in record time, and when he arrived the scene was utter chaos. The hallway outside of JD's room had a gaping cavity where the bathroom had been. Yellow "crime scene" tape cordoned off the entire hallway, and patients were being hastily transported to other parts of the hospital. JD's debris-littered room however, was empty.
He looked around frantically for a familiar face - anyone who might know something. He finally made eye contact with one of the floor nurses, who recognized him and rushed over with a police lieutenant.
"Where's JD?" Buck said, his voice tense with fear.
"There's a trauma team with him right now trying to get him stabilized."
Buck looked in horror at the blown out wall. "How bad was he hurt?" His voice cracked as he asked.
"The blast didn't injure him at all, but..." she looked at the lieutenant, "I'll let him explain."
"JD was injected with something by someone posing as a nurse."
Buck knew the PD had a 24-hour guard on JD, but for safety reasons he hadn't known who or where the officer was. Only the nursing staff had been aware of the officer's identity. " Where the hell was your guy when all this went down?" he asked accusingly.
The detective had anticipated that question and answered calmly, "Like I said, it was someone posing as a nurse. We've had a man in the next bed the whole time. The TV in the room is hooked up to a surveillance camera so he could watch JD without him knowing it. Unfortunately, he didn't figure out the nurse was an impostor until JD was injected with whatever it was he gave him. When the officer tried to take him into custody, he used a real nurse as a hostage and then tossed a grenade at my man."
Buck's face blanched. "Grenade?"
The lieutenant nodded. "At least, we think that's what it was. The officer tossed it into the bathroom just before it blew." He waved his hand in the direction of the damage, and then made a point to add, "He probably saved the boy's life."
The nurse continued, "The officer and the nurse sustained some minor injuries. JD didn't appear to be hurt, but he lost consciousness . . . We found the syringe and are having the residue analyzed, but we suspect it may have been insulin. It could have killed him and not left a readily identifiable trace. Until we know for sure, though, we're giving JD a drug that counteracts narcotics, and he's getting glucose to raise his blood sugar . . . "
"I wanna see him," Buck hissed.
"As soon as..."
"NOW!" Buck snapped. "I want to see JD, NOW!"
"Take it easy, Bucklin," a soft voice said behind him. Buck spun around to find Vin there.
Buck hadn't realized anyone had notified the others until it hit him that an explosive had been detonated in a public building. Even if JD hadn't been involved, the ATF would still have been called in. He suspected the others would be arriving shortly.
Buck's tone softened. "I gotta see him, Vin," he said. "I gotta know he's okay."
Vin looked plaintively at the nurse who took Buck's arm. "Come on then, I'll take you to him. Only one of you, though."
"No problem, ma'am," Vin said. "The rest of us are gonna be out here workin'... Go on, Buck. I'll tell Chris."
+ + + + + + +
Buck was relieved to find JD conscious. He had an IV again, but despite the oxygen mask over his face, he was making gasping, choking sounds like he couldn't breathe. He was sitting upright, and Dr. Serafini, who had treated him the day he was shot, was there with him, listening to his chest through JD's tee-shirt.
While all this was going on, a detective was questioning the kid, asking him what he saw, what he remembered, and he kept at him even though JD didn't seem able to get any words out.
Serafini removed the mask from the boy's sweat-dampened face and spoke directly to him. "JD, you're hyperventilating . . . Your lungs and your airway are fine, you just have to calm down a little, you understand? Try holding your breath for a few seconds at a time."
JD nodded and did as he was told, and after a minute or so, his breathing settled into a more normal pattern. He turned his head and saw Buck standing in the doorway.
Buck had never experienced anything like the look in the kid's eyes. He saw fear and the intense emotional pain of knowing he wasn't safe, even here. There was vulnerability in his eyes, his expression - more pronounced than ever before. The kid was keeping it together, but Buck knew he was badly shaken by what had happened.
The detective resumed his questioning. "Can you tell me what the perp looked like?"
Wearily, JD rolled his head along the pillow propped behind him and looked at the man. "There was . . . this guy . . . he had a grenade..."
"I need a description," the detective snapped. "Was this man tall, short, fat, thin..."
"It was dark . . . " JD began.
He kept trying to answer, but faltered when he didn't seem able to pull his thoughts together. "I'm sorry...I'm trying, really I am..."
The detective however, was relentless, and kept asking him the same questions over and over again, and was clearly becoming annoyed that JD couldn't give him anything but vague, disjointed answers.
Finally, his temper flared. "Look, kid, someone just blew up half the floor of this hospital, and I need your cooperation if we're going to find him before he comes back and blows you up along with the rest of it!"
JD's head snapped up at that last comment, the look on his face betraying that he was terrified by that possibility
Having heard enough, Buck stepped in front of the detective. "Get out," he said through clenched teeth.
The man turned away from Buck, effectively dismissing him. "I'm not finished questioning him."
"Oh, yes, you are." Buck whipped out his badge and held it close to the detective's face, forcing the man to look at it. "I'm a federal agent and I'm taking this witness into protective custody."
"You can't do that!"
Buck got right in the guy's face. Like most people, the detective was several inches shorter than the big agent. "Yes, I can. Now, get out."
The detective slammed his notebook closed and left in a huff, muttering a comment about 'fucking Feds' as he did so.
Buck composed himself, walked toward JD and calmly sat down on the edge of the bed.
JD seemed unable to do anything but look at him, fighting back the emotional turmoil of the past few weeks that Buck sensed had finally been brought to the boiling point.
He reached out and wrapped his arms around the boy, and JD leaned in and returned the embrace, clinging to Buck as tightly as he could. Tears ran down JD's face, and quickly became sobs that wracked his small body.
Buck gently stroked his hair, JD's anguish tearing at his heart as the kid trembled in his arms. "Shhhh, JD," he whispered soothingly. "It's over. You're safe with me."
JD buried his head in Buck's shoulder. He was crying now, and nothing - not his pride or his shame - could hold back the flood of despair that had been threatening to break free for weeks. "What did I do wrong, Buck?" he sobbed. "Jeezus, everything is so screwed up . . . ."
Aw, kid, this ain't your fault. None of this is your fault . . . .
"Ain't nothin' you did, JD . . . ," Buck reassured him. He began to gently rub JD's back, trying to calm him.
He looked at Dr. Serafini, who nodded at him and then quietly stepped out of the room leaving the two men alone.
Buck raised the head of the bed further so he could rest his back against it and then lifted one leg onto the mattress. He leaned back, still holding JD, whose tight grip on him didn't ease up.
The kid kept crying. "That's it, JD," he whispered. "Just let all of it out."
Dr. Serafini returned and maneuvering toward the IV pole, he injected something into the IV. JD turned quickly to see what he was doing, his eyes wild with suspicion and fear. "What's that?"
"It's okay, JD," Serafini said. "It's only a sedative..."
"NO!" JD wailed, and then stunned both Buck and the doctor by ripping the IV line out of his arm.
Buck tried not to panic as Serafini quickly moved to put pressure on the bleeding vein. "Aw, geez, JD, now why'd you go and do that for?"
JD didn't seem able to stop crying. He probably really needed the sedative, but Buck and the doctor seemed to come to a silent agreement, and Serafini patted the kid's hand. "Okay, son, no drugs. Just try to settle down, okay? You' re going to have to drink some juice . . . think you can do that?"
JD nodded and took a shaky breath. "Apple, please," he sniffed.
After JD's arm stopped bleeding, Serafini placed a bandage on the wound and left them alone again.
JD quickly wore himself out. A nurse brought the juice - three containers of it - and Buck made sure he drank it.
JD looked tiredly up at Buck. "I couldn't move, Buck. There was a fucking live grenade right next to me...and I couldn't move. How shit is that?"
Buck had no answer for him.
Several minutes later, the boy was asleep in his arms.
Buck's heart was heavy. He hated to see the kid feeling so helpless, and couldn't understand why anyone would want to hurt JD. He was only a boy - a good-natured, sweet kid who could never hurt anyone in the way he'd been hurt.
"You rest easy, little brother," he said as he relaxed back against the bed and kept JD close to him. "Buck ain't gonna let nothing else happen to you."
While he had said the words sincerely, he hoped it was a promise he could keep.
+ + + + + + +
Chris came in after things had settled down outside.
Buck put a finger to his lips cautioning Chris not to make any loud noises that would awaken JD from his restless sleep. The questioning look on Chris's face reminded Buck he was halfway on JD's bed with the kid in his arms.
"He was shook up pretty bad, Chris," he said by way of an explanation.
"Can't say I blame him," Chris remarked, and then before Buck could suggest it added, "From now on, until we catch this creep, one of us stays with him at all times. Four-hour shifts, 'round the clock."
"The others will agree to that?" Buck asked.
"Already have." He looked down at the sleeping boy. What the hell could you have done to deserve this, JD?
"He ain't gonna like bein' babysat," Buck chuckled softly.
"He'll handle us doing it better than someone he doesn't know, and there ain't no way we can let this happen to him again."
Buck had to agree with that. "Any leads?"
"Well, a grenade isn't something you can get at Wal-Mart. The others are combing the debris now looking for fragments. If we can find enough pieces, it might give us something to go on . . . The FBI is going to go over the surveillance tapes." He reached out and put his hand on JD's shoulder. His touch was gentle, but his voice was ice cold. "We'll find him..."
Buck nodded that he understood. Chris Larabee would never let this go. None of them would.
"Short," JD muttered groggily.
Buck looked down at him. "What's that JD?"
"He was short . . . the nurse . . . and skinny. An' he had a beard . . . an' a funny voice."
So JD had gotten a look at the guy. "That's good, JD," Chris assured the groggy youngster. "We'll let the cops know."
JD peered up at his hero, nodded, and drifted back to sleep.
"DEA has loaned Danny Bulai to the FBI," Chris continued, aware that Buck knew the DEA agent personally. "This isn't within their normal jurisdiction, but he feels he has a stake in this after what happened to his partner," Chris referred to Anita Vaughn, the young agent whose death they had been investigating the day JD was shot.
Buck nodded, and thought back to the last time he had worked with Bulai. The DEA, FBI, ATF, NIS... the whole federal alphabet soup - had cornered Eddie James Mauzy, a fugitive on the FBI's most wanted list, at his secluded hideout in the Jemez Mountains of New Mexico. Mauzy was under suspicion for trafficking in virtually every type of contraband there was - including human beings. The siege had gone on for days, even after it was learned that Mauzy was holding 17 illegals hostage - all but two of them women and children. The order had come from higher up to cut off the electricity and water thinking that would weaken Mauzy's resolve. It had been the first of many bad calls.
It was mid-August and temperatures had soared to almost 100 degrees. Mauzy kept the hostages confined to a 12 foot square room without food or water. A Red Cross team had shown up and literally begged the federal agents to back off before someone died, but only the ATF team leader - Buck Wilmington - was willing to do that, and he wasn't in charge. The others refused to back down, claiming it would be a show of weakness.
While the different agencies engaged in a pecker contest, a three-year-old boy died from heat and dehydration. Mauzy had put the baby's body on display to taunt them, and after that, all hell broke loose. An FBI sharpshooter had opened fire intending to take Mauzy down, but he'd missed. He'd fucking missed - and they would never know why.
Someone - it was never determined who - ordered the ATF and FBI to storm the building. Some of the agents had balked because of the children inside, the names 'Waco' and 'Ruby Ridge' still branded in their minds. Wilmington had steadfastly refused to follow the order and directed his team to stand down. But, others went ahead with a full-blown assault, and when the smoke cleared, two federal agents - including the FBI sharpshooter - Mauzy, and all 17 hostages were dead.
Buck almost quit the ATF after Glorietta. Bulai had quit the Bureau, and moved to the DEA.
Buck had always been tormented by the thought that he should have done something . . . anything . . . to stop what went down that day. He'd received counseling afterwards, and logically he knew that he'd been powerless to act. But the sight of those 17 body bags - some of them so small - had never left him completely.
"Buck, do you think what's happened to JD and the others has anything to do with Glorietta?"
Buck frowned. "I don't see how, Chris. JD told me he was 10 when that happened. Anita couldn't have been much older."
Chris nodded, but in the back of his mind he was thinking that this was too much like a coincidence, and he didn't like coincidences.
+ + + + + + +
Buck had dozed off himself when JD awoke with a start and began struggling violently against Buck's restraining arms. "Whoa, there, son!" Buck said calmly. He didn't think JD was completely awake, because the kid looked at him, terrified.
"Buck! We gotta get outa here. He's gonna... He's coming after me... He's... He's...."
Buck grabbed his shoulders and shook him gently. "Take it easy JD. You're havin' a nightmare... C'mon now.... wake up all the way..."
JD blinked at him, and seemed to realize where he was, but then he said, "I gotta get outa here!" and tossed the blankets back.
Then, he sat there with a perplexed, frightened look on his face when his legs refused to move.
Buck slid off the bed and stood beside him. "You got hurt, JD, remember?" he said softly, trying to keep the emotion out of his voice as he stroked the boy's thick, dark hair.
JD seemed to come fully alert then, but just sat there, staring at his legs. After an uncomfortable silence, he said, "I can't walk."
Buck's voice was choked. "No, kid."
JD laughed softly, without humor. "I was kinda hoping I had dreamed that part, too."
Buck hesitated a few seconds, unsure what to say next and finally deciding on, "You okay, kid?"
JD nodded. "I need the bathroom."
There was a urinal in the stand beside the bed, but Buck knew JD hated using one. He pushed his wheelchair next to the bed and then lifted him into it.
He let JD wheel himself to the bathroom. Buck wasn't sure how he managed in there, but he'd been doing it on his own for a couple of weeks, so he didn't offer to help him.
After a few minutes, when he didn't come out, Buck thought about going in after him, but decided to give him a little more time. Then, heard retching sounds coming from the other side of the door.
"JD?" he tapped the door lightly. "You okay?"
Clearly the kid wasn't. He sounded like he was puking his guts out. Buck summoned the nurse and then opened the door and found JD sitting on the floor with his head hanging over the commode, his useless legs curled up in a tangle underneath him.
There wasn't anything he could do except wait it out while JD heaved up everything in his stomach.
Finally, it stopped, and Buck helped him back into the chair. The nurse had arrived by then, and she got him some water to rinse his mouth out and then felt his forehead and took his pulse and blood pressure.
"I don't think you have a fever... but just in case...." she produced a thermometer and put it in his mouth.
JD knew this nurse, but she wasn't a regular. He remembered what had happened earlier. "Where's Peggy? Is she okay?" He looked at Buck. "She protected me from the blast, Buck, can you believe that? She put herself between me and a grenade."
All Buck could do was smile and nod. So many emotions assaulted him at once; the horror of what they had gone through, appreciation and gratitude to Peggy, and pride in JD for recognizing the significance of what she'd done.
"Just a few scratches, but, they sent her home for a couple of days," the nurse replied.
JD was glad to hear that. He knew that the blast probably wouldn't have killed him, not after the cop threw the grenade into the bathroom, but Peggy hadn't known that when she threw herself on top of him.
The nurse took the thermometer out of his mouth. "98.6... right on the money," she smiled. "You want some ginger ale?" she asked him.
JD knew that if he refused fluids, he'd get another IV, so he said yes. Besides, a cold drink sounded good, and the ginger ale would settle his stomach. "What time is it?" he asked Buck.
Buck checked his watch. "About 4 am." Almost six hours had passed since the explosion.
"You should go home and get some sleep, Buck."
"I ain't leavin' you, kid."
The way Buck said it left no room for argument, even if JD had wanted to argue, which he didn't. Truth was, he had just barfed his guts out because he was scared to death. No point in kidding himself. He'd thought about how close he had come to being killed and it had been like a punch in the gut. The nausea came from out of nowhere and just overwhelmed him. He was still shaking and so no, he didn't want Buck to leave. He didn't want to be alone.
Buck helped the kid get settled again and when the nurse brought the ginger ale, he followed her out into the hallway. "Are you sure he's okay?" he asked her.
She shook her head slightly. "We'll keep an eye on him to be sure, but the vomiting was probably a stress reaction. He's got to be feeling pretty frightened by what happened, even if he's not showing it on the outside."
Buck nodded. "Yeah, poor kid."
The nurse glanced towards JD's room. "He seems awfully young for your kind of work."
Buck had to agree with that. "Yeah... maybe he's too young... but then, I don't suppose you ever get old enough to handle someone tryin' to kill you."
+ + + + + + +
While they still had no real leads as to who had tried to kill JD, it had been two weeks since the attempt and the time had passed uneventfully. JD was moved to another floor and registered under a name picked at random from the Denver phone book. An undercover cop had been checked into a hospital on the other side of town under JD's name as bait, but so far, no one had taken it.
One of his six teammates, plus an officer from the Denver PD were with JD 24-7, and he wasn't allowed any visitors who might be recognized and linked to him.
Keith McMichael, the therapist, had continued to drive him without mercy, working with him on maneuvering a wheelchair and on building his upper body strength. The latter consisted mostly of arm exercises, since the incision on his side precluded anything too strenuous. That would come later. In the past few days, JD had begun to feel faint pinprick sensations in his legs, but it was sporadic and he wasn't sure he wasn't just imagining it. However, he was now able to move his right foot, and not just wiggle a couple of toes. Everyone agreed that was a good sign, and no one could forget the smile on JD's face when it happened, and how seeing that grin brought them a glimpse of the old JD.
He'd asked to have his computer brought in and continued his work on the Glorietta simulation with the information he'd obtained before he'd been denied access. The night before, he'd discovered something interesting that he wanted to go over with Vin after his morning therapy session, but those plans had been momentarily forgotten when he arrived at the gym to discover that his wheelchair had been delivered.
It wasn't an ugly, clunky thing like the hospital version. It was small and sleek, black leather with a black and chrome frame. It didn't take up much more room than a regular office chair, and it folded small enough, and was light enough, that he could get into a car and pull it in after him without anyone's help. But the fact remained that it was his chair - concrete proof that he was no longer the person he used to be - and seeing it for the first time was an uncomfortable experience.
The session was spent allowing him to get used to how it handled. He discovered that because there were no armrests to get in the way, and because it was smaller and lighter, it was much easier to push and maneuver than the bulky hospital wheelchairs. It fit through a doorway more easily, and without the armrests, he was able to wheel it close enough to a desk to be able to work. Because it was custom made for him, there was nothing to adjust. Everything was in the right place, and it was comfortable and easy to use.
But it was still a wheelchair.
Vin was more impressed with it than he was. When he got back to his room, the young sharpshooter had to try it out for himself. Settling himself into the narrow seat he began spinning in circles and making it look easy. "Watch this..." he said, and then leaned back and balanced the chair on just the two larger back wheels.
Despite his lack of enthusiasm for the chair, JD was impressed by the stunt. "Where'd you learn to do that?" he laughed.
"Tore up both my ankles once when I was a Ranger," Vin explained. "Had to use one of these for a couple of weeks... It's a lot easier without casts," he laughed. His mirth was short-lived, however, as he overbalanced and the chair went over backwards. Vin's martial-arts training kicked in and he instinctively threw his arms out at his sides to absorb the impact.
Embarrassed but unhurt, he got up quickly and righted the chair. "I meant to do that."
"Oh yeah, right." JD laughed. "Dumb-ass."
"I did!" Vin said seriously, then laughed too.
JD opened his laptop. "Hey, Vin... I want to show you something I noticed last night with this Glorietta program..."
Vin sat back down in the wheelchair and pulled up close to JD's bed so he could see the screen.
JD activated the simulation program. He clicked a couple of buttons and one of the human shapes on the screen changed color from black to red. "According to Buck's report, this is Alan Ross... he's the agent that was killed... Now... supposedly, according to the FBI, Mauzy shot him in the chest... but look at this..."
A couple more clicks and a schematic of the crime scene appeared on the screen. "Mauzy's body was found here...." JD indicated the living room of Mauzy's house. "...And Ross was found here...." He marked a spot at the rear of the home. "This..." he indicated a break in the wall of the house, "...is the only window facing that direction...."
Vin studied the diagram and immediately understood what JD was pointing out. "Mauzy didn't have a clear line of fire from that position," he frowned.
"Interesting, isn't it?" JD said. "The problem with this scenario is that the FBI report doesn't agree with the one Buck wrote. The FBI report has Ross over here..." He indicated a spot not too far from the one in the ATF report, but the slight difference in angle would have given Mauzy a clear shot.
"You think Buck made a mistake?"
JD shrugged. He hated to think that, but the entire experience had to have been an intensely emotional one for all concerned, and he had to concede that an error was possible. But, something else was bothering him. "That's not all... look at this..." The screen displayed a gruesome picture of the young agent lying dead on the ground, eyes staring blankly skyward. "Notice that he's lying face- up?"
Vin nodded "So?"
"So in the crime scene diagram... " JD called that image up in a separate window. "...Ross's head is closer to the house than his feet." The sharpshooter frowned and JD pointed again at the picture of the fallen agent. "Vin, look at that wound...."
Vin studied the grisly photo. Ross was lying in a pool of his own blood, but there was only a small stain on the front of his shirt. "It looks like an entry wound..." Vin suddenly understood what was bothering JD. "So he spun around 180 degrees before he fell?"
"Is that possible?"
Vin nodded. "Yeah, it's possible...but it looks like the shot got him dead center in the chest... It's more likely he would have been thrown backwards with his head away from the house...Maybe the diagram is wrong?"
JD shook his head. He went back to the dead agent's photo. In the upper left hand corner was an angular shaded area. "This shadow here... only something with 90-degree angles would cast a shadow like that."
"You mean, like a building?"
Vin clicked back to the crime scene diagram. "And the only building in the area was Mauzy's house..." He looked at JD and raised an eyebrow. "So assuming Ross did get thrown backwards by the impact, then Mauzy didn't fire the fatal shot...." He let the implication of that sink in a moment. "Wow . . . friendly fire?"
"More like shot point blank by another agent."
As much as he hated to, Vin had to agree with that conclusion.
"I need to see the autopsy report," JD said calmly, locking eyes with Vin. "The ballistics report would tell us a lot more."
Vin nodded. "I'll see if I can get it for you."
"Be careful," JD added. "Someone might not want us to see it."
"What do you mean?"
"Todd Schaeffer... the guy who was killed the day we got shot?"
"I didn't know him, but Anita did. He was training in forensics, and she had asked him for copies of the Glorietta autopsies."
Vin cocked his head. "I don't understand."
JD sighed. "Me either, but everything about this stinks, and I've got a feeling we've barely scratched the surface." He watched Tanner turn to leave. "Vin..."
The sharpshooter looked back. "Yeah?"
"Just be careful, okay?"
+ + + + + + +
JD's transfer to the rehab center required that arrangements be made for him to have round-the-clock protection there, including an evaluation of the layout of the place to ensure that there wasn't a repeat of the incident at the hospital.
JD was pleased about his imminent release, but he'd be kidding himself if he didn't admit to being apprehensive about the rehab center. He figured that maybe he was afraid to find out how much he couldn't do. It didn't help ease his anxiety any to know that someone he didn't even know possibly still wanted him dead, and he was pretty much helpless to defend himself.
Vin sat nearby watching "American Shooter" on God knew what cable channel while JD packed up his stuff. "You know, you could give me a hand with this," JD said.
Vin snorted. "Yeah, I reckon I could." He picked up a pair of JD's sweats and without taking his eyes off his program, he lobbed them in the general direction of the bag JD was packing, and then went back to watching the TV.
JD smiled to himself. It was Vin's way of saying 'Pack your own damn stuff' just like he would have before. Nothing had changed as far as Vin was concerned. If he'd really needed help, Vin would have given it to him, but he didn't, and Vin knew it.
He was getting pretty good at using the chair and could even get himself into and out of it with no problem now, although he only practiced it when the nurses weren't around because they didn't want him doing it when he was alone for fear he'd fall. He'd never been outside the hospital grounds in it though.
What was that going to be like? He remembered a kid in high school in a wheelchair. If you said 'the kid with the wheelchair' everyone knew who you meant, but JD had never bothered to find out the kid's actual name. It had almost been as if that kid was the wheelchair. 'It was the same with Mark Desmond. Until he'd gotten to know him, Mark had always been the 'guy with the wheelchair" who had the special parking place in the Federal Building garage. Is that how folk would refer to him, now? 'The kid with the wheelchair,' instead of 'Dunne from Team Seven?' JD already hated that idea, and as he mulled it over, he totally missed someone walking into his room.
Buck entered as he was zipping up his duffel bag and interrupted JD's thoughts.
"Ready to go?" Buck asked cheerfully, noticing the mixture of emotions swirling in JD's eyes. Buck knew how much JD was looking forward to his release, and how uncertain he was about everything else in his life, no matter how much he tried to hide it.
"You bet," JD smiled and then grabbed the remote and turned off Vin's program. "Time to go do some real work, Texas." Vin had been staying with him from 4-8 am, and then he'd go to work afterwards. JD felt bad about that until he found out that Chris had chalked up the odd hours the others spent with him as "surveillance" so that Vin got off work at noon. Ezra was happy to stay with him from midnight until 4 am because it meant he didn't have to be at the office until after lunch, and still got out at 5:00. Josiah usually took the 8am to noon shift, but Buck was here now because he wanted to be there that morning to take him to the center.
Vin stretched lazily. "I'll stop by and check out that new place after work. Maybe, if you're a good boy, I'll stop at McDonald's and bring you a Happy Meal." He ruffled JD's hair and then quickly dodged a punch as he headed out the door.
JD had the duffle bag as well as a cardboard box with his other stuff, and both of them suddenly realized they should have asked Vin to carry something. The duffle bag was too big for JD to rest on his lap, and the box would slide off unless he held onto it, which he couldn't do unless Buck pushed the chair. The duffle bag had shoulder straps on it and the only solution was for Buck to hoist it onto his back and either push JD or carry the box.
The older agent sensed that it was important to JD to leave the hospital under his own power, so he picked everything up and simply said "Lead the way..."
JD had to run a gauntlet of hospital personnel saying good-bye to him and wishing him good luck. He good-naturedly endured handshakes, hugs and even a few kisses.
The rehab center had sent a van for JD. Buck saw the pained look on the kid's face as the driver lowered the lift for him.
The driver seemed to notice JD was uneasy. "This your first time using one of these?" he asked.
JD gave a slight nod in reply. He didn't want to ride in the damn van. Why couldn't Buck take him?
It was an effort to pay attention as he was instructed on how to use the lift, and when JD felt it move, he wondered aloud what would happen if he just rolled off the end of it. The driver assured him it was designed so that couldn't happen, but JD's active imagination already had him thinking 'there's always a first time,' and picturing himself and his chair shooting off into traffic. Once he was inside the van, he was shown how to secure the chair for the trip.
The rehab center was only a few blocks from the hospital, and JD sat silently most of the way, while pondering if he was going to have to go through this hassle every time he went somewhere. The driver must have been a damned psychic, because as JD was getting out of the van, he said, "Your chair will fold up small enough to fit into a regular car. You'll be driving yourself soon."
"Drive?" JD frowned. "I can drive?" Even as he said the words, Mark came into his mind. He had just assumed Mark's wife Becky drove them both to work.
"Oh sure.... Hand controls. Piece of cake."
JD didn't even know they made cars like that, and his interest was piqued. Buck seemed to know what he was thinking and as he grabbed JD's stuff out of the van he laughed and said, "Hell, JD, I guess there just ain't no way to keep you off the streets."
JD filled out the necessary forms at Admitting and was given a fistful of appointment cards before he was shown to his room. He had another MRI and a couple of other tests scheduled, a 3-hour evaluation session with the therapy team, and somewhere in between he was to see the staff psychologist. He protested strongly that he didn't need a shrink, but, deep down, he knew he needed some kind of help to deal with what had happened to him. Half the time he still wanted to cry and most of the other half, he fantasized about what he wanted to do to the guy responsible, thoughts that were so dark and ugly that sometimes he scared himself. Dr. Morgan said he had "issues," which JD figured was a polite way of saying he was so scared and so pissed off it still made him physically sick sometimes. The Doc wasn't wrong.
Except for the guardrails on the bed, and the modified bathroom, the bedroom didn't seem so much like a hospital but more like a hotel room. For some reason that cheered him up a little.
Buck helped him stow his stuff where he could reach it and an attendant brought him a gown to change into for the tests and told him to remove everything else.
He did okay with his tee-shirt, but pants, even the pull-on ones, were still a struggle. He shifted himself onto the bed and let Buck pull his sweats off. He undid the Velcro fasteners on the leg braces, and then Buck pulled those off, too.
Buck didn't seem to mind helping him, but it was frustrating to be so helpless. Twenty years old, and I can't get my fuckin' pants off without help. He hoped that learning to dress himself would be one of his first lessons.
Because JD couldn't feel if they were pinching or rubbing, the orthotist explained to Buck where to check for pressure sores from the braces, and JD had to patiently endure more of Buck's fussing. At first, he'd hated it, but then, he came to realize that a pissy attitude only made the situation more uncomfortable for both of them. Buck actually seemed perfectly fine with doing stuff like that for him. JD wasn't sure he understood why, but if this was how things had to be, he was glad Buck was there for him. Being hurt had made him feel the loss of his mother more keenly than he had since her death, and he couldn't imagine what it would have been like not to have Buck and the other guys there to fill the void she'd left behind.
"What's gonna happen? After this? When I get outa here?"
Buck picked JD's braces off the bed and set them out of the way. "You're gonna come home, and then, when you feel up to it, you're gonna go back to work. What did ya think?"
JD shrugged. "I dunno. Everything is just so... different... now."
Buck was quiet for a moment as he chose his words. "Different don't mean 'over,' JD. Maybe you won't ever get back the life you had, but you still got one, and most of it is ahead of you."
JD snorted derisively. "If that asshole doesn't come back and kill me, first."
Buck looked at him sternly. "That ain't gonna happen, JD. There ain't one of us who won't take him out in a heartbeat if he tries to get to you again."
"But what if he does something . . . like . . . you know . . . like Oklahoma City?"
Buck winced. The ATF had been the targets of that horrific act of domestic terrorism, and it would be a lie to tell JD it could never happen again. "JD, there ain't no way to stop something like that. It's a risk and it's part of the job. But you gotta understand, this guy, whoever he is, whatever bug he has up his butt, it ain't you. You were just in a bad place at a bad time. Hell, he almost killed Vin . . . and he did kill that DEA gal and the FBI kid. What did any of you do to him?"
JD wrinkled his forehead and raised himself up on one elbow. Buck's remark had been rhetorical, but something about it bothered him. "Buck, has anyone checked to see if there's a link to Glorietta in this somehow?"
"We thought about that, but just don't see a connection. Vin's the only one who's been with any government agency for more than three years, and even he was still a kid when that happened. What beef could anyone have with all of you that stems from that?"
"Well, it's the only thing we had in common, that we were all working on that simulation."
Buck knew about Vaughan, JD, Vin and the agent in Albuquerque. "What about Schaeffer?" he asked about the young FBI agent that had been killed the day JD was shot.
JD told him about Todd's intention to get copies of the autopsy reports for him and Anita.
Buck frowned. JD had been digging deeper into Glorietta than he'd thought. "What was he looking for?"
JD shrugged, not ready to tell Buck what he suspected, at least until Vin could get his hands on Alan Ross's autopsy findings. "He never got started on it as far as I know."
Buck hadn't known about Schaeffer's involvement. He was beginning not to like this coincidence, either.
JD shifted his legs so they swung over the edge of the bed, happy to see that unlike his bed at the hospital, his feet almost touched the floor. He concentrated on moving his toes. It was strange watching them move and not being able to feel it. "I think maybe someone should check it out, don't you?"
The attendant returned before Buck could answer him, but something about JD's comment had jogged his mind. Maybe there was a connection. The question was, where did they begin to look for it?
+ + + + + + +
JD's therapists needed to know exactly what he was dealing with so they could design a program specifically for him. That included assessing the extent of the damage, how much muscle mass he'd lost, what function he had left, and his mental attitude. By the time the tests were finished every muscle in his body had been poked, prodded or tested in some way, and the session with the psychologist had been emotionally draining.
JD was exhausted, and he had a headache. His shoulders and back were sore from pushing the chair - he supposed it was part of the program that he was supposed to get wherever he could on his own in this place.
The guys had wanted to stop by after work to check the place out, but JD knew Buck had told them to hold off. He probably should have resented Buck speaking for him like that, but the man was right, he needed some time to unwind and get used to the new surroundings.
Back in his room, Buck noticed JD attempting to relieve some of the soreness in his shoulders. He clamped a big hand on the back of the younger man's neck and began to massage it gently. "Tired, kid?"
JD didn't see any point in denying it. "Yeah."
Buck had been with him the entire day, and would probably stay until the time he usually left, which was midnight, when Ezra would show up. He had to be tired, too, JD realized. "Thanks, Buck," he said softly.
"For what, kid?"
"For everything. For agreeing to take on my therapy, and helping me do stuff. For just... being here." JD felt his cheeks flush slightly. He wasn't used to talking this way to Buck. Mostly, they teased each other and joked around, and the serious moments between them were always a little awkward.
Buck wasn't sure what to say, so he settled for, "I don't mind, kid."
He continued to knead the tight muscles in JD's neck and shoulders, until he noticed the boy relax. "After supper, you go to bed, hear?"
"Ain't hungry," JD said. That was pretty much not true, but the patients here ate in a dining hall, not in their rooms, and lunch had been... unnerving, to say the least. There were people here who were a lot worse off than he was. At least he could feed himself. A couple of the other patients had come over to his table to say hi, and JD hadn't known what to say to them.
I don't want to be here. I don't want to be one of you.
"Want me to call Vin and have him make good on that Happy Meal he promised you?" Buck joked.
JD looked up at him, relieved. "Would you?"
"Sure, kid... why don't you lie down for a bit while we wait on him?"
Ordinarily, JD would have bristled at being fussed over, but, the idea just sounded too good. Buck pushed him close to the bed and then bent down so JD could put his arms around his neck. They'd shown them at the hospital the easiest way for Buck to move him without putting too much strain on his own back. Pushing up from his knees, he straightened himself up and lifted JD at the same time. It wasn't difficult, because JD was so small, but Buck still took deliberate care to make sure he had a good grip on him. JD's legs couldn't support any of his weight without the braces. Even with them, he couldn't stand by himself.
"Roll over and I'll rub your back some more," Buck said once JD was lying down.
JD had pretty much mastered the trick to rolling over, but it was still an awkward process. Buck had to fight back his instinct to help him. Poor kid, even something so simple was hard for him to do right now.
He helped JD out of his tee-shirt and then fished through his duffel bag for the lotion they'd used at the hospital. He'd never actually done this for JD, but he'd seen the nurses and therapists do it. Touching the kid no longer felt odd to him, but JD still wasn't completely comfortable with it. Buck knew he appreciated the massage, but he didn't say a word the whole time. It wasn't right having JD so quiet like he was most of the time now.
"You wanna talk, JD?" he asked.
"Anything that's bothering you?"
JD snorted. "Where would you like me to start, Buck?"
Direct always worked best with JD. "How about that little gal that came over and talked to you at lunch? You didn't have two words for her."
JD remembered the girl. Her name was Sandy. She was about the same age he was, with long blond hair and big brown eyes, but what he had noticed most about her was that her legs were shriveled and thin, like two matchsticks. He didn't tell Buck that, though. He shrugged and said, "Guess I didn't feel much like talkin'."
"It couldn't hurt you to make some new friends here," Buck pointed out.
"I don't need any new friends. I got friends," JD said, with an edge in his voice that told Buck it might be best to drop the subject for now.
JD fell asleep in a matter of minutes and looking at him, a lump caught in Buck's throat. Asleep, the boy looked so peaceful... so perfect and whole. Buck wanted to hear him laugh again, see him smiling all the time, the way he used to.
There was a folded blanket at the foot of the bed and Buck used it to cover him. The kid was strong. Buck knew that. He'd held himself together when his mom had died and left him an emancipated minor and on his own at an age when most kids were deciding who to take to the prom. His grades and the fact he had a college degree had made him eligible for the ATF, but JD had to convince Chris Larabee to let him join team Seven. He'd persisted with the tenacity of a little pit bull even after Chris had told him point blank to go away, that he wasn't interested in a having a 'child prodigy' on his team. Since then, he'd proven that he could pull his own weight even though he was so very, very young.
He brushed a stray lock of hair back from JD's face. Kid needed a haircut worse than ever. You can do this, JD. I wish to God you didn't have to, but I know you can.
+ + + + + + +
JD knew he was going to hate the rehab center when they woke him up before the crack of dawn.
In the real world, Chris expected them to put in an 8-hour day, but if they weren't working a bust, he was pretty lax about what time they had to be at work. He and Buck usually tried to make it in by 9:00 a.m. so they could leave by 5:00. Allowing 20 minutes to shower, shave and dress, 20 minutes to drive downtown, which included a 5 minute stop at the drive-through at McDonald's or Dunkin Donuts, and an extra 5 minutes, just in case, JD never got up before 8:15 at home. In the hospital, they'd awakened him around 7, but he'd gone back to sleep again after breakfast.
He was definitely not a morning person, and Vin made it worse by being bright-eyed and cheery. "Rise an' shine," the sharpshooter grinned as JD forced himself to sit up.
"Bite me," JD groaned, pushing his hair back out of his face. He looked out the window. There were still stars out for Chrissake. "What time is it?"
"Six in the a.m., Squirt. Yup, there really are two six o'clocks in a day."
JD fell back on his pillow. Six a.m. . . . Who's dumb idea was that?
"Want some coffee?" Vin asked, holding up a Styrofoam cup. JD spotted a coffee maker on a small table in the corner.
"Where did that come from?"
"Ezra brought it last night. They said it was okay."
JD had slept through Ezra's shift. He usually did, which was unfortunate. Ezra got on the other guys' nerves sometimes, but JD liked him. He peered warily at Vin, though. "Did you make it?" Vin's coffee tasted a lot like dirt . . . hot, thick, dirt.
"No, Ezra did."
JD brightened. "Okay, I'll have some... I gotta go take care of some business first though," he nodded towards the bathroom.
Vin shoved the wheelchair up alongside the bed and then stuck his head out the door before ducking back into the room. "No one comin'" he smiled conspiratorially.
JD had learned from Mark how to balance his upper body holding onto one wheel while reaching behind his back and grabbing the opposite wheel. It was tricky, but once he had the mechanics figured out, he was able to flip himself sideways into the seat. It really looked a lot more dangerous than it was, and the nurses at the hospital went ballistic when they caught him at it. So did Buck. Vin, on the other hand, appreciated gymnastic skill when he saw it.
JD hopped into the chair and was about to feel very pleased with himself when a female voice boomed from the doorway. "Don't you ever do that again, young man!"
"Oops," Vin said sheepishly.
A matronly woman in colorful scrubs tried to push her way into the room. Suddenly all business, Vin blocked her path, positioning himself between her and JD, which was kind of funny, because she was actually bigger than Vin and looked like she could toss him across the room and make him go splat against the wall . . . if she had to. She sized him up with annoyance and said, "Who the hell are you?"
Vin flipped out his badge. "Agent Tanner. Now can I see your ID, ma'am?" he said evenly.
The nurse remembered reading about JD's shooting and wondered what the paper hadn't said. She knew there had to be a reason why JD had twenty-four hour protection, so her manner became slightly more sympathetic as she fished her staff ID badge out of her pocket.
"There's no excuse for shenanigans that could get him hurt," she scolded, when Vin handed it back to her. She turned to JD. "You shouldn't be getting out of bed without someone to help you."
"I was just goin' to the bathroom. Besides, Vin is here," JD pointed out.
"Yeah, I woulda peeled yer face up off the floor."
Both men thought that was funny. The nurse didn't. She gripped the chair and started pushing JD towards the bathroom.
JD got a panicked look on his face when he realized she was going in there with him. "I don't need any help!" he said quickly.
"Are you sure?"
JD was embarrassed. "Maybe a little gettin' dressed . . . but not . . . in there."
Vin came to his rescue. "I can help him if he needs it."
The nurse looked uncertain, but it was important that JD do as much as he could for himself. She introduced herself as 'Blanch' as she strapped an alarm bracelet on his arm and explained that it would activate if he fell. Then, she warned him again about attempting any more acrobatics with the wheelchair.
"Breakfast is at 7:00," she told him. "Have yourself cleaned up and dressed by then because you aren't allowed to skip it."
"Aren't allowed?" JD bristled. "What is this, the Army?"
He hadn't been planning to take a shower yet, but she turned the water on and piled a stack of towels in his lap. "Center rules," she said. "You don't like it, take it up with the management." Then, finally, she left him alone.
JD had pretty much figured out how to get his clothes off. It was getting them back on that was a hassle, and as he undressed, he realized that his earlier memory of getting up and out the door in twenty minutes was just that, a memory. It now took him at least that long just to get showered, and the shower stall here had an extra wide door and a bench he could slide himself onto. He didn't know what he was going to do at home, where there was a tub in the way. He discovered that he also had to dry off completely before he got dressed, because sitting in the chair, the air didn't circulate through his clothing, and if he didn't, he'd feel damp and sticky for half the morning.
But, whenever it seemed that his life just kept coming up with ways to get more complicated, he'd remember those first couple of weeks in the hospital, when the nurses had to do everything for him, and he tried to comfort himself with the thought that things could be a whole lot worse. It didn't always work, but lately, he was finding it a little more difficult to feel sorry for himself. He supposed he was going through what his psychologist at the hospital had said would be the acceptance phase of his recovery, when he would get a clue that this was how it was and no amount of wishing or pretending it wasn't so would change that. Seeing some of the other patients at the center had been a kick in the ass, too. He would likely be able to lead a fairly independent life, and he knew many of them would trade places with him in a heartbeat.
So, maybe he was accepting it. He didn't have to like the mess he was in, but maybe it really wasn't the end of the world.
+ + + + + + +
Vin felt bad for JD. Blanch wasn't really trying to be mean to him, but JD's life was restricted enough as it was without having more rules slapped on him. He felt bad that JD even had to be in this place. It kind of creeped him out, and he only had to be there 4 hours a day.
JD didn't seem upset though. When he came out of the bathroom with nothing but a towel across his lap, he looked around to make sure Blanch was nowhere in sight and then said, "Man, was she a bitch, or what?"
"I think she likes you," Vin teased, and handed JD some coffee.
JD took a sip and smiled. It was one of those gourmet blends, grown in Hawaii. Expensive as hell, but Ezra knew he liked it. "Buck naked and drinking expensive coffee . . . life don't get any better than this." Despite his attempt at a joke, JD's smile slowly faded.
He picked up his watch, and discovered he only had 15 minutes to get dressed, so he started rummaging through his closet looking for clothes. Buck had taken most of his stuff home to wash it when he'd left the hospital, but he managed to find a clean set of underwear, some sweats and his Celtics tee-shirt. The pants were blue and the shirt was green, but hey, he wasn't exactly going to a fashion show.
He got the shirt on okay, but he knew he couldn't do the rest by himself. He'd tried it once and had only succeeded in getting a painful charlie horse in his back. He was about to tell Vin to call Blanch back when Vin took his socks from him and then knelt down in front of the chair and started to put them on his feet like it was something he did every day.
"You know," Vin said as he worked on the socks, "Chris and Buck have been checking into your idea of there maybe being a link between us and those other agents that were killed."
It took a moment for JD to realize that Vin was discussing work, just as calm as you please, while he helped him dress. When he understood that, his second reaction was to be pleased that he'd been taken seriously by the senior team members.
"They find anything?"
"Nope, not yet, but Chris agrees that the fact we were all looking at the files on Glorietta might mean something."
"I know it means something," JD said. "I just can't figure out what."
"Problem is, now he's had a ' cease and desist' order from that Chanda Walker person."
"She's FBI, how can she even do that?"
Vin shrugged. "It was the FBI's case. The files are technically theirs. I think she's afraid that digging that stuff up is going to just look bad for the bureau. And for her. She was there, you know."
JD's interest was piqued. "She was?"
"Yeah she was one of the FBI team leaders. She's moved pretty high up since then, though. She's got the clout to cover the FBI's ass and she's using it." Vin finished pulling the socks on and looked up. "Wanna hear my idea?"
JD nodded. "Sure."
"I'm wondering if that computer simulation would have shown something the other investigators missed. Something someone doesn't want anyone to know about."
"It would help if we could see Alan Ross's autopsy report," JD pondered. Vin had been trying to obtain it from the FBI and kept coming up against a brick wall. He'd finally resorted to calling the New Mexico State Police to see if he could find out who had done the autopsy. He'd then personally called the ME and asked him for a copy of the report. The ME had told him he'd have to clear it with the FBI.
Vin picked up one of JD's shoes, with the leg brace attached, and JD felt his face turn red. He didn't know why the braces embarrassed him, but, they did.
"How do these go on?" Vin said casually. Then, he curiously poked at the release that unlocked the knee joint, causing the brace to fold in half so that the top of it hit him in the face. It had to have hurt, but JD couldn't help but laugh.
Vin glared at him.
JD kept laughing, but answered, "Just get the shoe on, then the rest kinda fits where it's supposed to."
Vin eyed the device suspiciously. "I think it hates me."
"Nah," JD assured. He grinned. "It hardly knows you."
With a soft huff, Vin slipped JD's shoes on and fastened them while JD secured the Velcro on the braces.
The obvious thing would have been for him to put his underwear on first, but JD had figured out that it was easier to stuff his boxers into his sweatpants and pull them both on at once. Getting them over his shoes wasn't easy, but he could do it, and get them all the way up to mid-thigh before he needed help.
Again, before he could ask for it, Vin said, "What do I do now?"
Realizing that Vin wasn't embarrassed by any of this made JD less self-conscious. "Lock the braces straight and then help me stand up."
Vin frowned. "Are you supposed to be doin' that?"
JD grinned. "No."
Vin grinned back. He managed to get JD on his feet with no problem, and only then realized that JD wasn't able to balance himself in an upright position. "Put your arms around my neck," Vin suggested.
JD stared at the Texan. "I'll pass thanks. With the luck I'm having, the building'll collapse and they'll dig us out stuck like that."
Despite it being of no help, Vin chuckled at the comment. However keeping JD on his feet took a lot more effort than Vin had anticipated.
JD seemed oblivious to the precarious hold Vin had on him and went about the business of pulling his pants the rest of the way up.
He had just finished when Blanch burst into the room.
"What are you doing?!" she sounded so much like Vin's Army drill sergeant that he half-expected her to command him drop and give her fifty push-ups.
"Shit, busted!" Vin whispered to JD.
"Put him down!" she ordered.
Vin started to ease JD back into the chair, but JD had put a towel on it before he'd gotten out of the shower, and it was still there, and damp, and he really didn't want to sit on it.
"Wait..." He reached down to grab the towel and the unexpected shift in his weight threw Vin off balance.
Both of them crashed to the floor in a heap. JD landed on his side, but Vin rolled to keep from falling on top of him and his forehead connected solidly with the bed frame.
That had to hurt, too, but Vin didn't seem to notice. He sat up quickly and looked at JD with a stricken expression. "Geez, JD, I'm sorry . . . I . . ."
JD wasn't upset, though. For one thing, he realized that his side hardly hurt any more. For another, this was one of those things that usually got him lots of tender concern from the nurses . . . .
But Blanch was just staring down at the two of them with her hands on her ample hips. "Are you hurt?"
JD sat up. "Uh, no... I don't think so..."
They all looked when two attendants came to the door. Blanch raised a hand. "False alarm, I've got this, thanks." As she spoke, she reached over and pressed something on JD's new safety bracelet. "Well, at least we know that works."
Blanch then shoved his chair over to him and locked the brake.
She bent down to look at Vin, who had a nasty knot on his head, and pushing his hair back, gave it a quick glance. "You'll live," she told him. Then, addressing both of them, she lectured, "This is what happens when you don't listen!" Her voice softened only a bit when she asked JD, "Can you get into that chair without killing yourself?"
"Yes, ma'am," JD replied meekly. Any other response seemed potentially hazardous.
"Then go get some breakfast. You have a therapy session at 8:00." And without expending a single ounce of sympathy, she left.
JD pulled himself up into the chair with Vin's help. "Well, that was fun," he snorted.
Vin rubbed his sore head. "Don't tell Buck I dropped ya', he'll kill me."
JD laughed softly. "Yeah, he would."
Vin looked stricken with guilt. "I'm really sorry, JD... I just didn't know..."
JD waved a hand at him. "Dude, it's okay, really. Don't worry about it."
Vin looked at the door through which Blanch had just exited. "She'll tell him."
JD agreed. "Maybe it'll rain and she'll melt."
+ + + + + + +
JD's new therapy program was going to be a lot more work than the stretching and flexibility exercises he'd done at the hospital. He'd have to work to retain the muscle mass and range of motion in the muscles he couldn't use, and to train the ones he could use to work harder and do much more than before. It would involve weight training to increase his upper body strength and a cardiovascular program to build up his stamina. Health-wise, he was pretty much recovered from the shooting. The incision had closed completely, and his biggest source of discomfort now was the soreness in his arms and shoulders from moving the chair, and the headaches he would periodically develop as a result of muscle tension and having to look up at everyone. He still tired easily and knew he didn't yet have the endurance to make it through a full day at work.
And he did want to return to work, he had decided. Maybe he wouldn't ever qualify for full agent status now, but Chris had convinced him that he could still be part of the team and not just the batboy. For one thing, his computer skills exceeded what anyone else on the team possessed, and his knowledge of electronics and surveillance equipment were beyond that of many senior agents. Like Buck kept telling him, he could do this.
His new therapist was Jack Detweiler. He was older than Josiah and upon their first meeting had explained that he had been doing this job for almost 40 years. JD took that as a hint that he wasn't supposed to question any of his methods. Jack didn't seem very friendly, but JD couldn't hide his excitement when, five days after he arrived at the center, Jack took him over to a set of parallel bars and told him he wanted to see how much movement he could manage standing up, so that they could work from there.
JD thought that could mean only one thing - that this guy, who had been doing this for 40 years, thought it was possible he would walk again.
At the hospital, JD had seen the therapists use a belt to support the patients, and because of his incision, that had been one reason he hadn't gotten to his feet yet. Jack, however, strapped a harness around his chest and shoulders. It was attached to a cable that in turn was connected to an overhead support. There was no way he could hit the floor, even if his legs buckled, although Jack pointed out that one of the first things he would have to learn was how to fall without getting hurt.
Jack asked him how tall he was and then adjusted the bars to the appropriate height. One end of the bars sloped down to the level of the chair. Jack had JD lock the braces in place and then stood back and let him use the inclined bars to pull himself to a standing position. As he did, Jack took up the slack on the cable that supported his weight. At the hospital, they'd had him stand while strapped to a support to improve his circulation and JD knew he could stand if he had something sturdy to hold onto. He felt a surge of triumph as he pulled himself upright.
Jack tapped his forearm lightly. "Relax a little bit," he told him. "The braces will hold you up. I know you can't feel it, but you gotta trust that they will."
Uncertainly, JD gradually eased his death grip on the parallel bars, and to his great relief, he didn't collapse.
Jack smacked the side of his hip lightly, and began to explain. "You've got control of these muscles. That's half the battle right there. Now, try moving your right foot forward..."
JD looked down at his feet, willing the right one to move. But nothing happened. He looked at Jack. "I can't," he said softly.
"That's because..." Jack touched the front of his thigh, "you want to use these muscles to swing your leg forward, and they don't work anymore."
"Duh," JD snorted.
Jack ignored his sarcasm and pointed to a chart on the wall that showed a human figure with the muscles exposed. He smacked his hand against the figure's belly. "Here," he said, "are the muscles you need to learn to use. He traced his finger from the pelvis to the thighbone. "Normally, you use these to flex your body at the hip joint, but, you can learn to use them to pull your legs forward. Try it."
JD understood the mechanics. It was basic freshman physics involving simple levers. He closed his eyes and concentrated, but despite Jack's encouragement, his feet just stayed where they were and after a few minutes, his arms started to feel the strain of holding him up.
And he wanted to cry again.
Jack smacked him on the shoulder. "We got a lot of work to do, kid, but you're in good shape. You'll do okay."
"I don't want to do 'okay'," JD snapped. "I want to fucking walk!"
Jack acknowledged him with a simple nod, and eased him back into the chair. "You're going to be doing some work with the chair, too. Get you used to maneuvering around obstacles, getting in and out of a car, and learning how to push it so you don't work so hard . . ."
JD had tuned him out. He didn't want to hear it. He didn't want to learn to do those things. He didn't want to be in a wheelchair.
While Jack talked, JD sat there blinking his eyes to keep the tears back. He stared down at the legs that wouldn't do anything he told them to anymore, and wished he could just go back to the safety of his room, where he could take care of himself, and not feel so fucking defective.
Josiah had the morning "watch" and was standing discretely out of the way in a corner of the room. He recognized the boy's distress, even though the therapist didn't seem to notice it. He wasn't sure if he should interfere or not. He didn't like seeing JD upset, but helping him to avoid confronting his situation wasn't going to help him, either.
With the utmost restraint, he held back as the therapist bent down to JD's eye-level. "You aren't listening to a damn thing I'm saying, are you, son?" There was no real anger in his voice, but Josiah thought the man was being a little tough on the kid, especially for the first day.
Almost as if reading his thoughts, Jack straightened up and said, "You think I'm tough on you, wait until you meet Sergeant Sandoval."
JD looked up. "Sergeant?"
"Your OT. Think of him as your ' personal trainer' . . . except that if you give him attitude, he just might push your little ass out a window."
Josiah was thinking, Just let him try it when a man with a crew cut and wearing a tank top that revealed a massively muscled upper torso rolled in. He pulled a clipboard from a pocket on the side of his wheelchair. "You John Dunne?" he said.
"Yeah," JD sighed, his head still hanging dejectedly.
"I'm Max Sandoval... Look at me when I talk to you."
JD turned his eyes up and peered from beneath the bangs that had fallen over his eyes. Sandoval chucked the clipboard under JD's chin and raised his head. "Look 'em straight in the eye, John. Everyone. That way, they look down at you, but they can't look down on you. Understand?"
JD shuddered inwardly. Oh great, this guy is gonna give me some kind of bullshit 'personal worth' lecture. Tell me to be fucking proud I'm in this chair.
He didn't answer the man.
JD was seriously out of shape from lying in the hospital for so long, and Sandoval demonstrated a regimen of exercises that to Josiah seemed brutally tough, so JD must have figured them to be next to impossible. They learned that Sandoval was an ex-marine, left paralyzed by a helicopter accident. His spinal cord injury was more severe than JD's was, and having informed the boy of that, he stated bluntly that JD was not going to get any sympathy from him. He would teach him daily living skills such as dressing, maneuvering his wheelchair and eventually driving, so that he could once again be independent and return to work.
JD sat in sullen silence as Sandoval explained the regimen to him. When the big Marine was finished, he looked JD over and said, "You want us to just leave you alone, kid?"
"Yes!" JD snapped, not sure who he was angry at.
"Tough. That ain't gonna happen." He pointed to some foam pads on the floor. "Get on the mats. Let's see what you can do."
JD's anger brimmed over. "Fuck you," his voice cracked.
Sandoval remained calm. "Thanks for the offer, but I'm spoken for." He raised his eyebrows. "Aww, you gonna cry like a little girl now? Poor little Johnny can't walk, so let's all feel sorry for him. That what you want?"
"Go to hell! Just, lemme alone!" JD choked back a sob.
"I don't get paid to leave you alone, and as for Hell, I've been there, and didn't care for it. Now, you wheel your carcass over to those mats, or I'll pick you up outa that chair, throw you over my shoulder, and carry you over there."
JD stared incredulously at Sandoval's wheelchair. The man's legs were clearly useless, but his biceps were almost as big around as JD's waist... He was pretty sure this guy actually could drag him bodily to the mats. Josiah would kick his ass if he tried, but that would just be embarrassing.
He composed himself and looked Sandoval in the eye. "JD," he said softly. "My name's JD... Show me what to do..."
+ + + + + + +
By the end of the first week, JD had learned to dress himself, which was even more of an ego boost than expected. The only assistance he required in the mornings was someone to make sure he got up at 6 a.m. and Vin was always more than happy to do that, damn his ass anyway. He still hated getting up early, but being able to do all the rest for himself made him feel more in control of his life.
Working with Jack and Max, he'd learned how to tumble if he fell and how to crawl without using his legs. The latter exercise had been humiliating at first, but Max insisted on it, telling him that everything they taught him was for a purpose, and that he never knew when he'd need the added mobility that new skill gave him. Max was also teaching him how to do everyday chores like cooking, laundry and vacuuming . . . as if he ever did any of those things at home, anyway. Buck actually liked doing laundry, but they rarely cooked, and only cleaned when absolutely necessary.
While encouraged by his progress, he mostly tried not to think of how much easier doing those things had been before. He still became frustrated and upset easily, but he was working through some of the anger with his shrink. As much as he hated them, he had to admit the counseling sessions were helping.
He'd also progressed to where he could take a few steps supported by a walker. He wasn't sure he'd use that skill outside the rehab center though. He associated walkers with old people, and he felt like a little old man using one. He supposed that was one of those circumstances where McMichael had predicted he'd prefer using the wheelchair. The fact he could do it, though, gave him both hope and incentive to keep trying so that he could eventually graduate to arm canes.
In his free time, he and Vin continued to work on the Glorietta simulation, plotting the sequence of events from both the written reports and videotape evidence. There was still a lot of work to be done, but it wasn't like he had anything else to do. He needed to spend as much time as he could on it because he was being released soon. Once he went back to work, the task it would be relegated to whatever time was left between work, therapy, and generally going through life at a slower pace than before.
Nathan was his bodyguard from noon until Chris showed up after work. That was usually around 4:30 or 5:00, so JD was pleased, but surprised to see the team leader when he showed up one afternoon at around 4:00. JD had just finished his afternoon therapy session and was taking a break in his room before supper, watching Six Million Dollar Man on the Retro Channel. He thought how cool it would be if he could have a bioengineered body - although he wouldn't want any of his parts cut off to get it. Nathan was sitting near the door working a crossword puzzle, but was instantly alert when Chris walked in.
"Nathan, JD and I need a few minutes alone."
Nathan looked at him curiously, but said. "I'll see you tomorrow, JD," and then left him alone with the older man.
JD's heart leaped up into his throat. He knew what Chris was going to say. He was going to tell him that they hadn't been able to make a place for him. That he'd have to find somewhere else to work when he got out of there.
He sighed. "It's okay, Chris, I kinda figured there'd be issues, but thanks, I really appreciate that you tried."
Team Seven's leader looked bemused for a moment or two until the penny dropped. "Kid, what have I told you about second-guessing why I want to talk to you?" he half-scolded.
JD looked genuinely surprised, and then repentant. "Uh, not . . .to?" He noted Chris's raised eyebrow. "Sorry."
Chris allowed a small smile. "Forgiven." He walked toward JD, stood in front of him, and made eye contact. "JD, I wanted to tell you what is going on face-to-face. We've had what could be a break in the case, thanks to you."
"Me?" JD tried not to sound too pleased with himself, not until he knew where this was going.
"Something you said to Vin about there maybe being a connection to Glorietta . . ."
Chris's next question surprised him. " Tell me what you remember about it."
The question surprised JD. He had only been 10 years old at the time. He remembered watching live coverage on CNN as federal agents stormed Mauzy's mountain hideout. One ATF agent shouted above the chaos that there were children inside, and footage of that same agent coming to blows with a guy in an FBI jacket was played over and over by CNN. He now knew the FBI agent was Danny Bulai, Anita Vaughan's partner, and that the ATF agent was Buck. JD never forgot that scene, and, although he had never told Chris or any of the others, it was because of that incident that he had decided at the very tender age of 10 that he wanted to be an ATF agent. It was also why he had been so persistent about being a part of Team 7. He imagined some people had seen Buck as a rebel refusing to obey orders, but JD saw a man willing to stand up against something he thought was wrong, even if it cost him his career.
He didn't tell Chris any of this, though. He nodded and said, "I saw it on TV when I was in 8th grade."
"I understand that you and Vin have been trying to get the autopsy report on Alan Ross, the agent who was killed."
JD was unsure how to answer that, but opted for the truth. "Yes."
"Can I ask why?"
JD knew Larabee was a man who liked to cut to the chase and then ask questions to fill in the blanks if necessary, so JD was succinct. "I don't think Mauzy killed him like the reports say. I think he was killed by friendly fire, or," he looked Chris in the eye, "he was murdered by another agent."
He expected a reaction from Chris, but the senior agent rubbed his chin thoughtfully and nodded. "No one was actually sure at what point Ross went down, and he wasn't found until after the shooting had stopped. They called for a medevac chopper, but he was already dead. He took a slug to the chest and when a paramedic performed CPR, his ribs just collapsed like they were made of cheap plastic. The slug in him was too badly damaged to determine if it was fired from a specific gun."
JD's eyes widened. "What? There's nothing about that in the report."
"I know." Chris momentarily averted his eyes, something JD had never, ever seen him do.
"There was a cover-up," the boy said simply.
Chris nodded. "More than one of our guys went off the deep end that day after seeing all those dead kids inside the house.... " Chris's voice softened and he swallowed hard and cleared his throat before he continued. "There was a Congressional inquiry into the incident, and during the testimony, Buck was completely discredited."
JD was shocked. "He was what? How . . . WHY?"
"He was the only one to openly refuse the order to move in, and in the video it looks like he stopped Danny Bulai, too. Bulai later claimed Buck threatened to shoot him, but that isn't what happened. Bulai was in a bad place emotionally. He'd just lost a child - leukemia. He was going to turn on our own agents to keep those kids from being hurt, and Buck stopped him."
JD found that hard to believe. "But I thought they were friends . . . Why would he lie?"
Chris shrugged. "Because it's possible that he had already killed Ross, and Buck's testimony would raise that suspicion. At the hearings, he said the whole incident would come back to bite us all in the ass, one day when we had someone we cared about to lose. He was forced out of the Bureau because he was judged to be mentally unstable. Buck doesn't know that - he thinks he resigned. I have no idea how he managed to end up in the DEA."
JD pondered the revelation for a few moments before his eyes widened. "Do you think he's behind this?!"
Chris looked him in the eye. "I didn't at first, but then I found out today that no one has seen him in since the explosion at the hospital. Supposedly, he's undercover, but that just seems a little too convenient. If it is him, you and Vin are still in danger."
+ + + + + + +
Chris usually stood off to the side keeping watch as JD had supper with the other patients. He'd discarded the habit of an evening meal after Sarah died. Coming home to an empty house had never done much for his appetite. But aside from that, JD's counselor had gently suggested that the kid might benefit from socializing with the other patients, something he didn't do when Vin was with him at breakfast and Nathan was there at lunchtime.
After the unsettling conversation between them, though, Chris thought maybe he'd join the kid at his table. He knew JD wasn't as strong or tough as he liked the world to think he was. Hell, he was just a boy, a thought that had haunted Chris ever since the shooting. It was true that younger men than JD had been shot at countless times before. When Josiah was JD's age, he was with the Peace Corps in a war-torn country in Africa - a noncombatant but still in grave peril. As a 19-year-old Army medic, Nathan saw action in the Middle East . Vin was an Army Ranger at JD's age, and couldn't even tell anyone what he had been doing. But Chris Larabee hadn't put any of those young men in the line of fire by allowing them to become Federal agents at 18.
JD tried to hide his frustration, anger, sadness and fear from everyone but Buck, who saw right through him. He tried to pretend everything was fine when Chris sensed that what he desperately wanted was to be reassured that everything would be okay.
But right now, he couldn't even give him that.
Worse, Chris's gut told him that their best suspect, Danny Bulai, wasn't behind the attack on JD, Vin and the other young agents. He'd known Bulai before Glorietta, and he was a good man. The bloody incident at Glorietta, following on the heels of his child's death - and the subsequent cover-up - was bound to have affected him, causing him to say things he should have kept to himself. God knew, Chris himself had been there, done that. However, as long as they didn't know where Bulai was, he couldn't take any chances. He could have this all wrong, but even if he was right, it only meant that Vin and JD were still targets of someone whose motives thus far were a mystery.
Chris knew Vin was scared, too. He did a better job of hiding his feelings than JD did, but Chris had an inexplicable link to the young Texan, right from the first day they met, and he often knew what Vin was feeling without Vin having to say it.
Chris promised himself that if either of them came to harm, he'd hunt down the person responsible no matter what it took, but he also feared it could be an empty vow. He hadn't been able to do it with Sarah and Adam, although not for lack of trying. His obsession with finding their killer had almost destroyed him and nearly cost him his job - and after all was said and done, he'd failed. Their killer was still at large.
The dining room tables were laid out to accommodate wheelchairs, and the regular chairs were lined up against one wall. Chris grabbed one and went to JD's table. He knew there'd be room. They'd had to persuade a couple of the other patients to eat with JD, because the first couple of days he was there, the kid was determined to sit by himself and sulk. Anyone who had tried to talk to him met with sullen silence. The last few nights, though, he'd been joined by a blond-haired girl and a couple of others. The girl had already seated herself at the table.
"Chris...?" JD looked up, surprised to see him sitting down beside him.
"Mind if I join you?"
"Oh heck no! Chris, this is Sandy," he introduced the blond girl. "Sandy this is my boss, Chris Larabee." Chris already knew the girl's name. The entire team knew the names of anyone and everyone who might come into contact with JD. He extended his hand in greeting.
"Hi," Sandy smiled, and then said, "Gee, he's as cute as Vin and Nathan."
"Sandy thinks the ATF only hires cute guys," JD explained.
Chris looked at him. "Well, I thought you were kinda cute when I hired you," he teased.
Chris remembered the first time he interviewed JD. He was fresh out of college, even though he had only just turned 18, a little snip of a kid who might have been short on height but not on attitude. He knew what he wanted, and he wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer, even after Chris told him to his face that he wasn't the type for this kind of work. Buck had been the one to get Chris to relent. His old friend had taken the time to read JD's resume, whereas Chris had made a snap judgment based on the fact that JD barely looked old enough to cross the street by himself, let alone carry a gun and a badge.
He'd been wrong. He'd be the first to admit that. And now, he couldn't envision Team 7 without JD.
He felt a bit out of place as the two young people discussed a video he'd never seen by a rock band he'd never heard of. Sandy had the same ebullient personality that JD did, so he probably wouldn't have been able to get a word in edgewise, anyway. Sandy's condition was congenital, so she wasn't having the adjustment problems that JD was experiencing. She spent a few weeks each year at the center to maintain her strength and mobility. She was bright and outgoing, and she talked to JD about the stuff kids normally talked about, which he seemed to welcome.
Chris noticed, though, that the boy was hardly touching his food. He'd lost weight despite the weeks of inactivity, and his doctor was pretty sure his lack of appetite was due to stress rather than any physical cause. Chris knew the news about Bulai had only added to the kid's anxiety.
"You need to eat, JD," he said, pointing to the untouched food.
"I know," JD sighed. "Just not hungry."
"Want to order a pizza or something later, after Buck gets here?"
The boy seemed to perk up at the suggestion, and at the fact that Chris was offering to hang around a little longer. "That would be great, Chris . . . ." He turned to Sandy. "You could have some with us . . . ."
Sandy laughed. "The person you should invite is your girlfriend, JD."
JD gave her a pained look. "Don't have one."
"Vin told me you did."
JD figured Vin must mean Casey Wells. "Vin needs to mind his own damn business."
Sandy laughed and said, "You're probably right. He's still cute, though."
JJD snorted. "Why don't you ask him why he doesn't have a girlfriend?"
The conversation was interrupted when the intercom blared and jolted everyone. The voice was calm, but strained. "Attention all staff personnel, Code Baker. Repeat. Code Baker."
Chris looked around, trying to understand what was going on. JD's OT, Max Sandoval, flung his napkin down and said "SHIT!" as other members of the staff began immediately to escort patients from the dining room.
"What's going on, Chris?" JD asked nervously and then looked expectantly at Sandy.
The girl frowned. "I don't know what a Code Baker is," she shrugged.
By that time, Sandoval had almost reached them. "Larabee!" he barked, and then motioned with his head for Chris to come to him. Chris didn't think to question the man. He got up and walked quickly over to him, bending down because he suspected Sandoval didn't want JD to overhear.
"Code Baker is bomb threat," the ex-sergeant explained. "Get those kids out of here."
Chris didn't have to be told twice. He returned to the table. "Let's go," he grabbed JD's wheelchair and then turned to Sandy. "You, too."
"What is it, Chris?" JD turned his head up to look at him
Chris saw no point in lying to the boy. "Bomb threat."
JD tried to turn around, panic evident on his face. "Chris, could he...what if he came back?" his voice quavered.
"He'll have to come through me." Chris whipped out his cell phone to alert the team. They'd be called anyway, so he figured he might as well give them a heads up, but at that hour, most of them would be headed for home in rush hour traffic, so no telling when they'd get there.
It was raining and chilly outside. JD was wearing only a thin tee-shirt and it pissed Chris off when the kid started shivering from the cold. Sandy had a jacket with her and offered it to him, but it was pink, and JD apparently figured hypothermia was an acceptable fate rather than wear it.
Chris knew he could be of help inside the building, searching for the bomb - if there was one - but it would mean leaving the kid out in the open, unprotected. So like most of the rehab center staff, he had to stand back and watch as the SWAT team arrived, followed by the bomb squad. Sandoval knew the situation concerning JD. He still had a soldier's instincts, and he joined them and without a word positioned himself in front of JD so that the kid was sandwiched protectively between him and Chris.
Nobody said anything. JD's eyes shifted nervously from one spot to another. The kid was scared and Chris didn't blame him. The bomb threat might have been some cruel coincidence but JD clearly didn't think so.
The waiting was the worst. Patients were gradually being moved into nearby office buildings, but JD's long hair was already damp and clinging to his forehead from the drizzling rain. Chris could feel water dripping uncomfortably down the back of his own shirt.
His cell phone rang and he picked it up, expecting it to be one of the guys from the team. "Larabee. . . ." an odd voice spoke his name. It sounded fake - artificial somehow.
The line was then silent, but he could hear someone breathing. "Who is this?" he snapped.
"Red tee-shirt . . . grey pants . . . black hair . . ."
"What the hell are you talking ab . . ." It suddenly hit him that JD was wearing a red tee-shirt... and grey sweatpants...
"Sitting right next to a pretty blond girl . . . ."
"FUCK!" Chris threw the phone down. He grabbed JD under the arms and picked him up out of the chair. He clutched him close to his body and as he dropped to the pavement he rolled so the kid was under him.
Chris looked up at Sandoval, "There's no bomb! He wanted us outside, in the open!"
"Son of a... Sandy! Get out of here... as fast as you can!" Sandoval ordered, then slid from his chair and added his own body as a shield.
JD had a lawman's instincts - he knew without being told what was happening. But at that moment, he wasn't a lawman. Right now, after two attempts on his life, weeks of pain, and an equal amount of time out of the field, he was a frightened, vulnerable kid, and he shivered beneath Chris, his hands clasped protectively over his head. "Don't let him get me, Chris," he whispered. "Please don't let him get me...I really don't want to die..."
"It's okay, JD, it's okay," Chris said in the voice he had used when Adam had awakened from a nightmare. Except JD's nightmare was real, and right then, apart from softly spoken words, there wasn't a damn thing he could do to reassure the kid otherwise.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra was the first one to arrive at the rehab facility, and surmised the situation when he saw Chris on the ground with JD. He edged his way along the wall of the nearest building until he reached them. He was wearing body armor and as he eased down beside them, he removed his Kevlar vest and handed it to Chris.
Chris looked up at him. "Get an armored vehicle over here to pick us up," he ordered. "When Vin gets here, make sure he stays out of the open, even if you have to sit on him."
With a sharp nod, Ezra sprinted back to the group of assorted law enforcement personnel gathered at the front entrance of the rehab center. Chris tucked the Kevlar vest under him, and between Chris and Sandoval, they managed to get it on JD. The kid didn't protest. He knew he could be shot again.
Although it seemed much longer, it was only a few minutes before the SWAT team's armored communications van rolled up in front of them. Buck was inside, and Chris handed JD up to him before climbing in himself. Sandoval declined to get into the van, knowing that he wasn't a target, or maybe not afraid of being one.
Buck held JD close to him. The boy was shivering, from a combination of cold and fear, but he didn't say a word. Buck pulled off his jacket and wrapped it around JD's shoulders. "You okay, kid?" he asked.
JD closed his eyes and nodded. He spoke through chattering teeth. "Yeah. Do you think he's still out there, Buck?"
Buck looked at Chris, who nodded. "Yeah, JD, he probably is."
"Why is he doing this?" JD asked.
Buck shook his head. "Because he's crazy, kid."
Buck looked at Chris. "We're gonna get this sonofabitch. Chopper reports that they spotted a man on the roof of the rehab center. Josiah's with the SWAT team sharpshooter in the building across the street trying to see if they can get a clear shot from there."
Chris nodded. He wished Vin was there, but the ATF sharpshooter hadn't arrived yet. He knew Vin wouldn't hesitate to take this guy out.
"If he's on the roof, then there's probably no bomb in the building," JD observed.
Buck looked at Chris. "You know, he's right... Either that's not him on the roof, or he's pulling our leg."
"Or both," Chris said. He didn't see how the guy could have slipped into the building with a bomb. There was a guard posted at the front entrance and the other doors could only be opened from the inside. They had seen to that when they'd checked to make sure JD would be safe there.
"Then, the reason for the bomb threat was just to flush us out," Buck said as the armored vehicle rolled to a stop.
"Yeah, goddamit," Chris hissed. It wasn't like they'd had a choice. He couldn't have insisted JD stay in the building and take a chance the threat was real. He hated being toyed with this way.
The SWAT team leader, Fred Rodriguez, pulled open the door of the van and began to brief Chris on the situation. " The person on the roof turned out to be FBI," he said calmly. " An agent Bulai . . ."
"CRAP!" Chris hissed. "Where is he!?"
Rodriguez was puzzled by Chris's outburst. "I don't know . . . he flashed his ID and Chanda Walker vouched for him . . . What's . . . "
"He's probably our perp," Chris cut him off. He jumped out of the truck and then turned to help Buck with JD.
Rodriguez immediately got on his comm to his team, telling them to find and detain Bulai.
"It's okay," Buck waved Chris off. "I got him." Just as he started to loop his arm under JD's legs the kid looked at him imploringly. Buck knew he didn't want to be carried, not in front of all the law enforcement people gathered there, but there wasn't a wheelchair nearby.
Rodriguez caught the look in the boy's eyes. "Maybe it'd be better if he stayed here for the time being," he said.
JD looked up, grateful for the reprieve. "I'll be okay, Buck. You guys should be with the bomb squad."
That was the truth, but knowing - and not knowing - what they did about Bulai, Chris didn't trust anyone with JD, not even Rodriguez. As far as Chris was concerned, everyone was under suspicion. "Stay here with him, Buck," he ordered. "If anyone comes near him that you don't know . . . I don't care who it is . . .shoot 'em."
Buck nodded. The order was neither given nor taken lightly.
Chris just wished Vin would show up so he could be sure he was safe, too.
JD repositioned himself so that his legs were hanging over the van's rear bumper. He wasn't happy about the situation, but this was how it was going to be, wasn't it? If he was lucky - really lucky - he'd get to watch the action from the sidelines. It was more likely that in the future, the guys would just leave him at the office when any action went down.
He wiped a tear away with the heel of his hand. He hated the guy who had done this to him. It just wasn't fucking fair . . . The bad guy was out there, giving law enforcement the runaround . . . literally . . ., while Agent JD Dunne, ATF Team Seven, couldn't 'run around' if he wanted to . . . and maybe never would again. Where was the justice in that?
JD felt Buck's reassuring hand on his shoulder and immediately composed himself. He was not going to cry in front of a fucking macho SWAT team. But when Ezra appeared suddenly from behind the van's open door, he jumped.
So did Buck, who went for his piece.
Ezra was followed by Vin, and both men casually raised their hands in surrender.
"Whoa there, Bucklin, it's the good guys," Vin said calmly, considering that he had a Glock pointed his way. Buck eyed the pair and then holstered his gun.
"Sorry, Ez," JD sniffed. He fingered the Kevlar vest. "Want your armor back?"
"Hardly," Ezra snorted. "I can scarcely imagine what fashion statement whoever designed those things was attempting to suggest."
"Maybe it was 'don't get killed?'" JD laughed softly.
Vin sat down beside JD. He, too, wore Kevlar under his leather jacket, and JD knew he was armed. Vin always had at least two weapons on him at any given time. He had often wondered if it was just because he liked them, or if it was because something in his past had left him a little paranoid. He'd decided it was a little bit of both, and considering the present circumstances, he supposed a little paranoia was a good thing.
"You guys go, we'll be okay," Vin assured the two older agents. He knew they were needed to work with the SWAT team.
"You don't give the orders," Buck said with an uncharacteristic bite to his voice.
Vin reached into his jacket and pulled his Sig Sauer from its holster. He checked to make sure it was loaded and then handed the weapon to JD. Then, he pulled his Glock from the holster on his hip. "We don't need a babysitter, Buck," he said softly.
JD inspected the weapon he'd been given with a trained eye and then held it at the ready. Buck knew he was being overly cautious. Vin was a dead shot and JD wasn't bad with a gun either. The SWAT van was bullet-proof.
"Chris doesn't want you out in the open," Buck told Vin.
"That's why I'm stayin' here with JD," Vin said. "I ain't stupid, Buck. I know that guy could be out there. I don't want to get killed and I don't want JD to get killed . . . We'll stay put."
Buck and the others often kidded Vin and JD about their youth, and, admittedly, were sometimes overprotective of their two youngest. But both of the young men understood when the concern of the others was well-founded, and this was one of those times. Buck knew he could trust their word to stay where they were. Plus, the armored van was probably the safest possible location.
Buck gave both Vin and JD a reassuring clap on the shoulder, then nodded to Ezra. The two senior agents left to join the rest of the team.
"Thanks," JD said, raising his weapon slightly so that Vin would know he was talking about the gun.
Vin nodded, but he didn't say anything. He swung his legs back and forth casually and his posture was relaxed, but his eyes flitted about nervously. Finally, without looking at his friend, he said softly. "You scared, JD?"
JD looked at him, ready to deny it until he saw Vin's expression. The sharpshooter was scared, too. "Yeah."
"I don't reckon I like bein' a target," Vin said.
"I hear ya," JD said. He watched Vin's legs swinging back and forth. Funny thing was, he was doing the same thing, in his head, just that the message wasn't getting to his legs. His feet twitched a bit, but that was all.
Vin reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a bag of M&Ms, and then ripped it open with his teeth. He held the bag towards JD, knowing he didn't have to ask if the younger agent wanted some. JD cupped his left hand and Vin filled it with candy. JD tossed the entire handful into his mouth at once, chewing it a few times before he grinned, multi-colored specks of candy and chocolate oozing between his teeth.
"That's disgustin', JD," Vin said.
"Some people have to eat them one color at a time . . . I mean, how anal is that?" JD mumbled.
Vin awkwardly picked the brown ones from his handful - it wasn't easy with a weapon in his hand. "Well, the point is, I still have some to eat and you scarfed all of..." His voice trailed off. Something had grabbed his attention.
JD was instantly alert. "What is it?" He looked in the direction of Vin's gaze and then he saw it, too - just barely visible were two pieces of pipe taped together with duct tape and somehow fastened to the back of the blue mail box that was up against the wall beside the rehab center's front entrance. "SHIT!"
The box was 100 feet from where he and Vin were sitting, but they had no way of knowing how powerful the device was.
Vin didn't hesitate. He pulled JD into the vehicle and shut the armored doors.
"That should have been one of the first places they looked," JD said, a mixture of annoyance and disbelief in his voice.
Vin turned to him and frowned. "Yeah . . . it should have been . . . ." Realization dawned on both of them. "I' m bettin' that wasn't there a few minutes ago," Vin said.
He whipped out his phone to call Chris, but JD quickly clamped his hand over it.
"It might have a remote detonator," he said.
"Shit, you' re right . . . ."
Vin quickly pushed his way forward towards the driver's seat, keeping low so that no one could see him through the windows. They were darkened, anyway, but he wasn't taking a chance. He hoped to find the keys in the ignition, but they weren't there.
"Godammit!" he hissed. " Looks like we' re stuck here for a while."
JD managed to lean back against the passenger seat. "Crap," he muttered. Then he added, "This guy has some other agenda now."
Vin looked at him. "How so?"
"At first maybe this had something to do with Glorietta, but now, I think it's personal."
"But you and I don't even know this Bulai character," Vin pointed out.
"No, but Chris and Buck do. Face it, Vin, both you and I, and likely half of Denver law enforcement know they act like our big brothers," JD laughed softly. "And this guy missed taking us out the first time, so now it's eating at him. He's not going to quit until we get him or he gets us . . . ."
+ + + + + + +
Rodriguez had discovered the suspicious device behind the mail box and had brought holy hell down on his men for not spotting it. Chris and Buck, upon returning from a fruitless search of the surrounding buildings for Agent Bulai, were mystified - they didn't know how they had missed it, either.
The PD bomb squad showed up to disarm the device while the ATF agents entered the building. Vin saw everything going down, but wasn't able to get anyone's attention from the van. He thought about leaning on the horn, but that would reveal that there was someone in the vehicle, which might not be a good idea.
He and JD would just have to wait things out for a few more minutes.
+ + + + + + +
When the senior agents arrived in JD's room, everything was as JD had left it - except his computer was gone.
"SHIT!" Buck snapped, angry that someone had taken advantage of the situation to rip the kid off.
"He was here," Chris said. "He wanted the Glorietta simulation."
Buck shook his head. "That's not possible. There's no way he could have gotten through the police barricades . . ."
"He's carrying a badge, Buck."
"He didn't get it, though," Ezra said as he joined them.
"What?" Chris turned to him.
"JD uploads all of the Glorietta files to a cloud drive. They aren't on his hard drive, not even back-ups."
Chris had to acknowledge the kid's foresight in protecting his work. Obviously, whoever had taken the computer was afraid that JD was going to find something if he went ahead with the simulation. He couldn't risk that JD and Vin would be put in jeopardy because of it, though.
"Let's do one more sweep of the building before we bring them back in. I don't like it that he was here and we can't find him . . ." Chris said.
Buck agreed. "This whole scenario stinks like week-old garbage on a summer's day."
Chris's comm activated. It was Rodriguez. "Looks like this device is nothing but some plastic pipes and duct tape," he said.
Chris was not reassured. "It might have been put there as a distraction . . . "We' re doing another sweep."
He got no argument from Rodriguez, who ordered his team in to assist.
+ + + + + + +
Vin was checking under the seats to see if the keys were there when a woman wearing an FBI jacket and flashing a badge opened the door. Vin recognized her - it was Chanda Walker, the area's assistant FBI director.
She had the keys to the vehicle.
To a vehicle that belonged to the Denver PD SWAT team . . .
Vin leaned closer to her as she started the vehicle. "I need to see that badge again," he said calmly.
She reached into her vest pocket. Vin thought she was pulling out her badge, but in the next instant she had whipped out a taser. In his awkward position, with most of his body behind the seats, Vin had no chance to defend himself as the taser was pushed up against his neck. He felt a brief, blinding flash of pain and collapsed on the floor of the van, unable to move.
"What? HEY!" was all JD had a chance to say. He knew something was wrong, but he didn't know what. He tried to pull Vin back to where he was sitting, and at the same time thought about drawing his weapon, but he honestly didn't know what the hell was going on. He recalled a lecture from Buck about 'never showing his hand too soon,' and tucked the Sig behind him, instead. He couldn't see the driver clearly, but he had seen the letters "FBI" across the back of her jacket and he'd seen her flash a badge. What had she done to Vin . . . and why?
The woman had already put the van in gear and was speeding down the street. There were bystanders everywhere. There was no way to get off a shot without the risk of hitting an innocent civilian.
"Throw his gun under the dashboard," the driver commanded.
JD tried to grab Vin's weapon, but couldn't get to it easily. The sharpshooter was conscious, but his muscles were locked in a spasm forced by the taser, his eyes full of pain, confusion, and fear. JD wasn't fast enough, and to his horror, the driver put the taser to Vin's temple and the sharpshooter's body convulsed painfully as the electrical charge ripped through his skull.
"Hey! Please...I'm trying!" Finally, JD located the Glock and did as instructed. The Sig was still tucked out of sight behind him.
"And your cell phones."
When he tossed just Vin's phone onto the floorboards, the woman shouted, "YOURS, TOO!"
"I DON'T HAVE ONE!" JD shouted back.
The taser was whipped out again, and this time she applied it to the side of Vin's chest where the Kevlar vest didn't cover. His eyes rolled back in his head and his body jerked convulsively.
"I SWEAR, I DON'T HAVE ONE!" JD pleaded. "I left it in my room . . . . PLEASE!"
Fortunately, the driver seemed to accept that and didn't use the taser again.
With great effort, JD pulled Vin into his arms, and with strength borne of sheer panic, he managed to move both of them out of arm's reach of the driver.
"Who are you? Why are you doing this?" he demanded.
"Shut up, kid. You shouldn't have stuck your nose where it didn't belong."
JD could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and tried to tell himself there was no way this bitch was a real FBI agent.
But then, he caught a glimpse of her in the rearview mirror, and a distant memory flashed through his mind. The nurse at the hospital who had tried to kill him . . . . The way his face had twisted oddly to one side and how his voice had sounded forced. It had been a disguise! It wasn't a short, skinny man - it was a woman trying to look and sound like a man . . .
Suddenly, everything fell into place. "You won't get away with this, Walker," JD said angrily. "You have to be fucking insane to even think you will."
"Kid, I don't have anything . . . anything . . . left to lose. You and your friends saw to that."
JD's jaw dropped when he realized what she meant. "You killed Agent Ross at Glorietta . . . and you did it on purpose so you could lead the assault on Mauzy and be a big hero . . . ."
Walker didn't answer.
Vin's body stiffened in JD's arms as another spasm wracked his muscles. "Vin needs help," he said, even though he doubted it would do much good. "Let him go. You can keep me for a hostage."
"SHUT THE FUCK UP!" Walker barked.
She was pulling onto the Interstate. He wondered how many miles she'd be able to put between them and the crime scene before it was discovered that the SWAT van was gone. It could be even longer before anyone figured out what had happened.
Just minutes after getting on the interstate, though, she pulled off at an exit that lead to a secluded residential neighborhood.
That was definitely not good - it was not a place where anyone would even think to look for them.
JD tried to reassure himself with the thought that Walker had woefully miscalculated how important he and Vin were to the other members of Team Seven. Chris and Buck would know instantly that Vin wouldn't just drive off in the van. . . unless he was under duress . . . and wouldn't waste time speculating. Hell no. They, at least, would be looking for them in a matter of minutes.
Of course, that wouldn't matter if they were already dead.
They were heading for a densely forested area riddled with canyons. Even though it wasn't technically a wilderness area, if Walker dumped them out there, it could be weeks before anyone found their bodies
Vin gasped and tried to speak, but was unable to. JD held him closer. He could feel Vin's heart beating erratically, but there wasn't anything he could do for him at the moment.
"Take it easy, Vin," he tried to sound calm.
Vin still couldn't move, and depending on the setting of the taser, it could be several minutes before he'd be able to.
For now, all JD could do was wait. He looked over at the dashboard and saw the speedometer was approaching 90 mph. He knew that state troopers wouldn't think to pull a marked unit over, even if it was speeding, so there was no chance of that until a BOLO went out on them . . . and Lord knew when that might happen. He'd have to wait until Walker slowed down, or stopped. If he shot her now, he'd get all three of them killed.
Trying to attract as little attention as possible, he reached behind him and his fingers wrapped around the butt of the Sig.
He'd never killed anyone before. He'd never killed anything before . . .
+ + + + + + +
Back at the rehab center, Buck and Chris were joined by Ezra, Nathan and Josiah. They concluded there was no longer a threat inside the facility, so they returned to the van, anxious to get Vin and JD safely inside.
They arrived where the van had been parked to discover it was gone. Everyone had been concentrating so hard on the fake bomb that no one noticed it being moved.
Rodriguez immediately ordered an APB put out on the vehicle. Frowning, he quickly scanned the area, making sure that all of his men were accounted for. "God damn it!" he kicked a nearby trash can.
Buck desperately tried to cling to the hope that Vin and JD had just wandered off somewhere, but his gut told him differently. His voice cracked with emotion when he looked at his anxious teammates and spoke. "He's got them, doesn't he?"
Chris paced impatiently as they waited for the SWAT van's tracking device to be activated remotely.
"What the fuck is taking so long!" His patience only went so far.
"Got it!" Rodriguez declared. "They aren't far from here, but . . . ." He frowned.
"What? What is it?" Buck demanded.
"They're off the main road . . . . It's going to be hard to spot them."
"Get your chopper out there," Buck ordered, even though he had no authority to do that.
Rodriguez was unfazed. "They' re already on their way, but that area is full of dense woodland. It's going to be hard to spot them from the air, too."
"Right, let's move," Chris told his team. "We aren't going to find them standing here!"
+ + + + + + +
JD tried to think, but he was scared, confused, and struggling to focus. He knew he was going to have to shoot Walker, but didn't know if he should do it as soon as she stopped the car, or wait until she actually came for them. He had the advantage of her not knowing he had a gun, so he was going to shoot first, no matter what. Just because he didn't want to take a life didn't mean he was afraid to take her life. She was going to kill them. He had no choice. When he understood that, he stopped being afraid and decided he'd blow her head off as soon as she pulled off the road.
He felt something inside of him go cold and brittle at that thought, but he was the one making the decisions now . . . .
Vin jerked violently in his arms, and then again. He was convulsing - no doubt from being tasered in the head. Tasers weren't supposed to be strong enough to kill someone, but people died all the time after being tased, and he suspected that Walker had somehow altered the taser to deliver a more powerful jolt than it normally would have. JD felt helpless, and panic welled up inside him.
"VIN!" he cried out, shaking him and holding him close, trying to snap him out of the seizure. It did no good.
He was aware that Walker was pulling the car onto a dirt road and he looked around frantically trying to get his bearings. He didn't see anything but trees in any direction, and the road ahead led deeper into the woods. Suddenly, there was a large house in a clearing, and she pulled into the open garage.
Vin was still seizing and JD couldn't let him go. He tried to hold onto him with one arm while bringing the gun to bear on his target with the other, but he wasn't fast enough. Walker got out of the van.
He expected her to come around to the back doors, and anticipated her weapon would be drawn. He had no choice, he had to let go of Vin.
He had turned his body almost 90 degrees because he couldn't swing his legs around fast enough. It was awkward and uncomfortable, but he didn't have time to think about it. He heard the latch on the door release. Apprehensively, he raised his gun and aimed at the truck's door.
And then, he heard a gunshot, and a soft thud.
"Fuck you, you sonofabitch!" he heard Walker's voice cry out.
"You aren't going to do this, Chanda," an unfamiliar voice replied. "You killed Anita, you' re not killing those boys."
"Show yourself, you double-crossing motherfucker," Walker screeched. Her voice was rough, and gaspy. JD was pretty sure she was the one who had been shot, but he took no chances, and kept the Sig aimed at the door.
Thankfully, Vin's convulsions had subsided and he now lay still.
Using the fingers of his free hand, JD reached for the sharpshooter's neck to check for a pulse. It was there, but it was faint, and alarmingly irregular.
"Shit!" JD cursed.
"How . . . did you . . . know?" Walker gasped from outside the truck.
The voice answered. "It couldn't have been anyone else. You are the only one who could have made those shots that killed Agent Schaeffer and hit Dunne and Tanner. Three for three . . . not bad, but not quite perfect. Just like when you tried you seize your 15 minutes of fame by killing Mauzy at Glorietta."
"Ross shouldn't have tried to stop me!" She coughed, and the sound was wet and gurgly.
The bitch is dying, JD thought.
"Mauzy was surrendering. Ross was trying to tell you that. You didn't want to hear it, so you killed him, too."
"You'll never prove that!" Walker wheezed.
"No, but those kids might have, and then you'd have been exposed for the dirty cop and murdering whore that you are."
Two more shots, almost simultaneously made JD jump. Then, everything was silent.
Fuck! To know what was going on, he'd have to open the back of the van. Vin had mercifully stopped seizing, so he was able to lie him down on the floor. With painstaking caution, he opened the back door a fraction of an inch and peeked through the crack.
He couldn't see anyone. He suspected Walker and whoever else was out there might have shot each other, because there was no movement outside, only silence.
He pulled back inside and then made his way to the front of the vehicle, trying to get to Vin's phone. He silently thanked the therapists who had taught him how to crawl without using his legs, because he would have had a much more difficult time had it not been for that. Unfortunately, he couldn't get past the seats, and the phone was just out of reach.
He struggled to get back to Vin, who lay pale and still, while he looked around the van for something he could snag the phone with. There was nothing.
Vin now seemed too still after the violent seizure he had endured. JD checked for a pulse and his own heart skipped a beat when he felt nothing.
Panic returned and almost overwhelmed him. He didn't know who had shot Chanda Walker or what the shooter's intentions were. He didn't even know if that person knew that he and Vin were in the van. He took a chance and called out for help.
But there was no response.
He put his weapon down. He had no choice - Vin needed help, and he needed it quickly.
JD was trained in CPR, but he was uncertain how he was going to do it if he couldn't get on his knees. He knew there were CPR classes for disabled people, but he'd never dreamed he'd ever have to take one. Still, if they could train disabled people to do it, then it had to be possible . . .
The young agent frantically maneuvered his legs until he was in a position to do chest compressions. He couldn't do the periodic rescue breathing because there was just no room, but he knew Vin's blood would still have oxygen - he just needed to keep it circulating.
To the beat of the BeeGee's 'Stayin' Alive' he started the compressions. The song had the correct rhythm, despite its ironic title.
JD couldn't believe this was happening. In the back of his mind, he remembered that CPR wouldn't restart Vin's heart if it had truly stopped, but he also knew that just because he couldn't feel a pulse didn't mean there wasn't one. Vin's life was literally in his hands, and he wasn't in the best shape after weeks of inactivity. He was sweating, and tiring quickly, but he knew he couldn't stop. Vin's color was still reasonably good. His features were pale and shocky looking, but his lips and fingernails weren't blue, which were telltale signs he wasn't getting enough oxygen. There was still a chance, and that thought injected a fresh surge of energy and determination into JD's flagging muscles.
Please find us, Buck, he prayed. Please God, don't let Vin die.
+ + + + + + +
Chris drove as fast as he dared while Buck watched for any sign of a turn off from the main road. They almost sped past the small break in the trees when Buck shouted, "There! There!" and pointed to it.
As they turned onto the barely visible path through the dense forest, the GPS locator indicated the SWAT van was in front of them, somewhere, but from the main road, they would never have seen it. The trail they were on seemed to be leading nowhere, but Chris suddenly spotted the corner of a roof in the distance. He stepped on the gas and the vehicle accelerated.
Josiah, Ezra and Nathan were following close behind. There was no way he'd lose them, because there was nowhere to go but the narrow, bumpy dirt road.
"Easy, Chris," Buck warned as he braced himself against a jolt when the SUV hit a deep pothole. He was just as eager to get to Vin and JD as Chris was, but he didn't want them to end up on foot because Chris had trashed the vehicle.
"I've got a bad feeling. . ." Chris muttered.
Buck didn't question Chris's premonitions. They were usually right.
"There!" Buck spotted the black-and-white markings of the SWAT van through the greenery, barely discernible inside the house's large garage.
"I see it."
Chris stopped far enough away so as not to alert anyone in the house of their presence. He and Buck jumped out and swiftly and silently made their way to the van.
The other three agents pulled up behind him and immediately followed their lead.
Josiah spotted a body lying against a tree. "Over here!" he whispered as loud as he dared. They were not sure the area was secure.
"Danny Bulai," Buck identified the dead man, and his heart dared to hope that Vin had somehow taken him out before he got to JD.
Where were they, though?
Chris motioned Josiah and Ezra towards the house, which showed no sign of any life inside. All of the blinds were open, so no one was trying to hide.
Nathan went to Bulai, but there was nothing he could do. He'd been shot in the throat, and had likely drowned in his own blood.
"VIN!" Chris dared to call out.
No answer. He shouted the sharpshooter's name again.
Inside the van, JD looked up sharply on hearing the voice he was waiting for. Without missing a beat of his CPR he cried out, but to his dismay his voice had little volume. "In . . . here..." came his gaspy reply from the van.
Buck flung the door open to find JD performing CPR on Vin. The boy was dripping sweat, his long hair plastered to his head from the effort. He'd clearly been at it awhile.
"He's . . . been . . . tasered . . ." the boy wheezed. "Heart . . . fibril . . . lating . . ."
"Nathan, get over here!" Buck yelled
Chris was right behind Buck and crawled in next to Vin, shouting his name and trying to get a response from him. He got on his comm and called for a medevac.
Nathan was there in an instant, and immediately sized up the situation. He squeezed his large frame into the back of the van. He quickly gave Vin two deep breaths, and then gently nudged JD aside, taking over for him. "I got him, JD."
JD gratefully gave up his spot. He didn't think he could have kept the CPR up too much longer. He pushed his way to Buck, who grabbed onto him, and helped him out. Without thinking, JD put his feet on the ground.
For a brief instant, both of them stood there stunned as JD stood alone.
It didn't last long, and when JD tried to take a step, his legs wouldn't cooperate, but he'd stood - by himself.
Buck picked him up before he could fall. "I got ya, kid" he assured him, and then carried him to the front seat of the van. Vin's gun and phone were still tucked under the dashboard. JD picked them up and looked at them without speaking.
"Bulai is dead," Buck assured the kid.
JD blinked and appeared dazed as he processed Buck's words. "Bulai? He's here?"
Buck thought JD was disoriented, which worried him, but he didn't want to let it show. "Yeah, you know, the guy who kidnapped you?" he joked.
Wearily, JD shook his head. "It wasn't him. It was Assistant Director Walker. I think Bulai stopped her from killing us."
"Chanda?" Buck frowned.
"Yeah . . . It was her Buck. It was her the whole time." He could tell Buck had a hard time accepting that. Buck never liked to think badly of women. JD looked down at Vin's things, pulled them against his chest and added softly, "I hope the bitch goes straight to hell."
"Where is she?" Buck frowned.
"Bulai shot her . . . . Then I think she shot him. She must be out there in the woods somewhere."
Buck relayed that information to Ezra and Josiah. It took them only seconds to find Walker's body in some bushes.
Paramedics were soon on the scene, having followed behind Team Seven along with several other law enforcement vehicles.
JD sat and watched in stunned silence as Vin's shirt was ripped away and defibrillator pads were placed on his chest.
"Clear!" the medic yelled as the machine buzzed and he pressed the button.
Vin arched off the floor of the van then fell back hard. The medic moved in to check for a pulse. The machine indicated he had one but he was still in arrhythmia.
The paddles were used a second time. The medic checked again, and then shouted, "We have to move him now!"
Everyone hustled to get Vin onto a gurney and quickly loaded into an ambulance. Chris climbed into the ambulance's front seat as Nathan joined the medic in the back.
As the vehicle sped away running full lights and sirens, another paramedic approached JD.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
JD clearly wasn't - he was pale and shaking from exhaustion and stress, but replied, "I' m not hurt."
The paramedic took his vitals and wrapped him in a blanket, which JD pulled tight around himself.
Buck hovered nearby, his concern evident.
"He needs to go to the hospital to be checked out," the paramedic said.
"NO! No hospital!" JD protested.
Buck hugged him close. "We're going there anyway, right?"
JD looked at Buck. Vin. He nodded. "Right."
"I'll stay with you," he reassured. "Been a tough day. We just need to make sure you' re okay."
JD looked up at the paramedic, his long hair almost covering his eyes. "Is Vin dead?" he asked.
"No," she said calmly, and Buck knew she didn't want to get his hopes up about Vin's condition. "His heartbeat stabilized after the second jolt."
"So . . . he'll be okay?"
The paramedic looked at Buck, then back at JD. "I don't know," she said honestly. "What happened to him?"
"A taser . . .," JD replied hesitantly. He pointed an accusing finger in the direction of Chanda Walker's lifeless body. "She . . . that bitch . . . zapped him three times. It had to be set pretty high. Vin was paralyzed by it."
The paramedic nodded and then got on her comm to relay that information to the ambulance that had already left with Vin.
"Do we need another bus, or do you want to take him yourself?" she asked Buck.
"I'll see he gets there," Buck said.
"His vitals are fine, but he could probably use some fluids. I'm going to start an IV, just as a precaution."
Great. JD didn't protest. He was too exhausted.
"I can't believe it was her," Buck said of Walker as the paramedic worked.
"We had the wrong guy . . . girl . . . perp," JD said. "But I don't understand why Bulai came after her." He didn't want to think about what would have happened if he hadn't.
"I think he knew all along she was the one who shot you, and Vin and Schaeffer. That's why he went off the grid, to hunt her down."
"But why? Why not just tell us what he knew?"
Buck shrugged. "Like I told you before, she's at the top of the food chain. He probably figured if she got tipped off, she'd find a way to cover her tracks like she did after Glorietta."
"Whatever the reason, it's over," Ezra said, joining them. He put a hand on JD's shoulder. "Let's get you to the hospital."
The young agent brightened as Josiah lifted him easily. "Buck, did you see?" JD asked. "I stood up!"
Buck smiled, "Yeah, kid, I saw."
"I'm gonna walk again," he said, although his enthusiasm was muted by his concern for his friend. Vin had to be okay. He just had to be . . .
+ + + + + + +
Chris paced the hospital waiting room anxiously. "How the hell did Vin end up having a heart attack?" he demanded of no one in particular. "Tasers aren't supposed to do that."
"My guess is that she somehow modified it," Nathan replied. "Thank God JD was there and knew what to do."
Chris stopped pacing as that realization struck him. Vin would be dead if it wasn't for their youngest team member. "Yeah."
The sharpshooter still wasn't out of the woods, but he had a fighting chance.
The waiting room doors burst open and the rest of the team entered. JD was in a hospital wheelchair, and hooked up to an IV on a pole. He also wore a band on his wrist that indicated he had been processed through ER admitting. Chris suspected that was where he was actually supposed to be, but he didn't press the issue. He sat down so the boy didn't have to look up at him. He figured he deserved that much.
"How is he?" Josiah inquired about Vin.
"It's not good," Nathan admitted. "But Vin's young and strong and healthy so that's in his favor."
Chris nodded and glanced at the metal doors. He really hated this part. The uncertainty. The helplessness. He leaned his head back just as the doors opened again.
"Anyone here for a Vin Tanner?"
The doctor looked at the assembled group. "All of you?" He obviously hadn't been prepared for six imposing men to confront him. He introduced himself as Dr. Simon Colter, and then continued, "We've stabilized him. The arrhythmia has been dealt with, but there is some bruising to his heart and he has several fractured ribs from the CPR. We're also going to have to monitor his neurological function . . . I have never dealt with anyone who was tasered in the head before, so we have to play it by ear for now."
"Will there be permanent damage?" Nathan asked cautiously.
"There's no way to know that yet," Dr. Colter replied honestly.
"Can we see him?" Chris asked.
"As soon as they get him up to CCU," Colter replied. "But don't try to hold a conversation with him. He's been pretty heavily sedated." He looked down at JD and noticed the wristband. "Are you supposed to be in the ER?" he asked.
"Uh yeah, sorta," JD replied. "I just had to know Vin was okay. I mean, I tried my best, but I was scared he was going to . . . " JD had to stop before his voice cracked.
Dr. Colter looked confused.
"He's the one who did the CPR," Nathan explained.
"Well, you saved his life," Colter said. He clapped JD on the shoulder. "You did a good job."
When the doctor had left, Chris moved closer to JD and patted him on the knee. For a brief instant, JD thought he actually felt it but then figured it was just wishful thinking.
"He's right. You did good, kid."
"I thought I was going to have to kill her," JD said quietly. He still wasn't sure he could have done that.
Chris didn't seem to have any doubts, though. "You would have done what was needed, JD."
JD nodded. Deep down, he knew Chris was right. If he'd had to kill that bitch to protect Vin - and himself - he would have done it. He was just glad it hadn't come to that.
"We need to get you back to the ER before they notice you' re gone," Buck said, grabbing on the handles of JD's wheelchair.
JD nodded. He was tired, sore and drained, but Vin was going to be okay.
Team Seven was a little scraped and slightly dented, but it wasn't broken.
+ + + + + + +
Vin spent two weeks in the hospital while his heart recovered from the abuse it had been subjected to, and while undergoing neurological testing to assess if any damage had been caused by the taser. JD had also broken five of his ribs doing CPR and even upon his release, he was still bruised and sore. He wasn't fully recovered, and still suffered from dizziness and balance issues. He was undergoing physical therapy as an outpatient at the rehab center, from which JD was soon going to be discharged.
The center had a large therapy pool and Vin would be arriving shortly to begin his hydrotherapy sessions. JD had discovered that with the water and a life jacket holding him up, he was able to use the limited mobility in his feet to propel himself along while standing on his own. He was getting better at it every day, and was getting better and better at using a walker to get around. He kept feeling pinprick sensations in his legs, as if they had fallen asleep. The sensation was unpleasant at times, but beat the hell out of not being able to feel anything.
JD was already in the pool when Vin arrived for his first session. He wore sweat pants and a tee shirt over his swim trunks and sat beside the pool to take them off. JD was shocked to see that his chest was covered in fading bruises and that the burn scars left by the taser were still very noticeable.
A therapy assistant took Vin by the arm to lead him down the ramp into the warm water, cautioning him to use the hand rails. It bothered JD to see Vin's slow, unsteady gait, but he figured Vin wouldn't want any sympathy, so he splashed water in Vin's direction.
"No horseplay, now," the assistant cautioned him.
There were several therapy balls floating in the pool. Vin grabbed one and lobbed it at JD's head. There was nothing wrong with his aim.
"What did I just say? Just two seconds ago?" the assistant scolded.
"We'll be good, we promise," Vin grinned.
Vin had exercises to go through. JD joined him, even though he had already finished his actual therapy session. He just enjoyed being in the pool where he could move around without the confines of his wheelchair, or braces or walker, so he often stayed in the pool if it wasn't too crowded.
"You look like a little old man," he joked at Vin's stiff, awkward movements.
"Yeah, well, I still feel like someone took a sledge hammer to my chest. Damn, you're strong for such a little shit."
They were both ignoring the elephant in the room - the trauma of being kidnapped by a crazy woman, and the fact that Vin would likely have died if JD hadn't been there. But, that was fine with both of them for now.
"You're comin' back to work next week," Vin said.
That was news to JD. "Seriously?"
"Yep. They want you to finish the Glorietta simulation so they can set the record straight. The FBI records were doctored by Chanda Walker, so, they're takin' another look at the conflictin' reports from the other folks who were there - includin' Buck's."
"How come no one told me any of this?"
"Just found out this mornin' - because I overheard Chris talkin' to AD Travis." Vin winked. He was staying at the ranch again, JD knew.
"Wow, it's going to be weird going back . . . you know . . ."
"Reckon it'll be hard the first day or two," Vin agreed. "But then folks'll get used to it." And by 'it' JD knew he meant seeing him in a wheelchair.
"And if they don't," JD said, "Screw 'em."
Vin held up his hand for a high five. JD returned the gesture, and suddenly realized he was walking through the water without even thinking about it. He grinned to himself, and somehow, he just knew everything was going to be okay.
ONE YEAR LATER
Vin scanned the players as he crouched behind Buck. As the quarterback for the ATF team, it was his responsibility to know where everyone was. The ball was snapped back to him and while Josiah and Nathan ran interference, he spotted the only open player on his team. The ball spiraled perfectly into JD’s waiting hands, and the young agent ran towards the goal and spiked the ball after scoring a touchdown.
"WHOOO!!!" Vin whooped and ran down the field, grabbing JD in a bear hug and swinging him around.
The opposing FBI team tried to look upset, but the game really was all in fun. The inter-agency competition was just one of the events at a field day that was being held in honor of Agent Danny Bulai, with all proceeds from the entry fees going to purchase toys and games for the pediatric oncology unit at Denver Children’s.
All of the participants were aware of Bulai’s sacrifice, but none more so than Team Seven.
As the older team members watched their two youngest cavorting on the field and generally acting like the kids they were, none of them could help but think how different their team would now be had Bulai not been there for them. They were alive because he’d made the ultimate sacrifice.
JD still walked with an obvious limp, and needed plastic braces to stabilize his ankles, but he was still improving every day, and looked to be headed towards a full recovery from what could have been a devastating injury. Vin was fine – he’d suffered no permanent damage from Chanda Walker’s brutal assault.
Buck’s testimony had been exonerated and the record set straight about what had happened at Glorietta, and even though it had resulted in relatives of the people killed that day filing a lawsuit, no one was happier than JD that he’d been able to clear Buck’s name.
A year ago, none of them would have dared hope for any miracles, but two of them were now walking towards the food, healthy, happy and whole.
It was not the way of any of them to go all mushy over that fact, though.
Ezra eyed the two young agents with mock disapproval. "Now that these barbaric festivities have concluded, may we eat?"
Chris passed everyone a plastic cup of beer. Buck raised his in a toast. "To Danny," he said.
"To Danny," the others echoed.
Feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you to my dear friend Judy Freudenthal, who did much of the original research for this story before she passed away unexpectedly. I miss you, Judy!