Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em...damnit!
Characters: JD, Cannon Character
Ratings/Warnings: The usual, with possible angst ;o)
Summary: When Assistant Director Travis takes a sabbatical, the acting AD makes startling changes.
My thanks to Blackraptor for keeping our stories warm and cozy.
In the outer office of AD Orin Travis, his PA, Alice glanced up at Chris Larabee, who was waiting to see the AD. The ATF Team Seven Commander had been summoned to an informal meeting over a week ago, but a heavy and lively caseload took priority and this was the first opportunity for him to keep the appointment. A buzzer sounded and Alice smiled at Chris.
"You can go in now, Special Agent Larabee."
Chris stood, nodded his thanks to the woman, and knocked on the door before walking into Orin's office. Travis greeted Chris, and was in the company of another man who was unknown to Chris. With a quick round of handshakes, Larabee was invited to sit. He glanced around at the sparsely decorated shelves.
"Is this place getting a make-over, Judge?" Chris didn't spot the other man's eyebrows rise at the use of familiarity with a senior officer.
Orin smiled. "A temporary restructure, Chris." He gestured to the man sitting next to him; who was younger than Travis, and several inches shorter. "This is Chief Financial Officer Marshall Walter Bryce. Marshall is stepping up as Acting Assistant Director while I take a six-week sabbatical."
Chief Bryce nodded. "Good to meet you, Agent Larabee. I've heard a lot about you, and your team. I look forward to us working together."
Larabee quickly glanced at the man before tossing a concerned look at Travis. "Is everything alright, Judge?"
Orin nodded. "Evie and I are celebrating our Ruby Wedding Anniversary. As a thank you to her for putting up with me for so long, I'm taking her on a cruise. We fly to San Pedro to meet the ship, to sail from there across the Pacific to as far as New Zealand, and then back."
Chris leaned forward and shook Travis's hand. "Congratulations, Orin. I'm sure you and Evie will have a wonderful time."
The Judge chuckled. "We better had for what it's costing me. While I'm away, you'll be in the excellent hands of Chief Bryce." Orin stood, prompting the other two men to do likewise. "You were the last Team Leader to be told, Chris. Marshall will be shadowing me for five days, and then he takes over as of next Monday." He gestured to the door, and put a hand on Chris's shoulder.
"Let me walk you out."
When they reached the outer office door, Travis spoke. "A word of warning. Bryce is not as easy-going as me. Very much 'by the book', and, coming from the finance department, is always looking for ways to make viable cutbacks. I've warned him to keep his hands off my teams, but..." Orin sighed. "The director likes him, and he has powerful connections."
Chris offered an understanding nod. "I'll keep my guys in line, Judge."
"Please do. I've heard Bryce never bends on a decision once it's made. I do not want to come back and spend weeks digging you boys out of a fix."
For the first two weeks of AD Travis's vacation, the ATF field agents saw very little of Acting Assistant Director Bryce, bar for the Team Leaders who attended the scheduled weekly briefings with him. They found the man to be a no-nonsense, no-other-opinions-required, boss and, coupled with the fact he had already dismissed several secretaries and a few IT staff for no other reason than to save money, were not overly impressed with his method of leadership.
One night, Team Seven left The Saloon after celebrating the successful conclusion of a mundane case. The majority of evidence was more about technical research and data than actual fieldwork, so JD was feeling particularly good about this specific wrap-up. His grin practically lit up their corner table when Ezra raised a glass to their very own technical whiz kid. On the way home, JD swore to Buck that he even saw Chris crack a smile.
On entering the CDC, Buck flicked on the lights while JD separated their mail. He put Buck's on the hall table, and carried his own in. With thoughts of warm milk and a cozy bed, Buck entered the kitchen, filled a jug with milk, placed it in the microwave and switched it on.
"Warm milk, Kid?" The brunet frowned at the lack of reply and peered around the kitchen door and back into the living room. JD was standing there reading correspondence. Buck wasn't sure if it was simply the lighting, but JD looked as white as a sheet.
"JD, everything okay?"
JD jolted out of his daze and quickly folded the papers. He hurried past Buck and went into his bedroom. "Kinda tired. See you in the morning, Buck."
All Buck could do was stare after the boy. "What the hell was that all about?"
Next morning, Buck found a note from JD to say he had already left for work. As Buck prepared coffee, he vowed to find out what was going on as soon as he met up with the kid. That was providing JD even went to work. Something about all this made Buck suddenly feel very uneasy.
Very uneasy indeed.
Not many things caught out Chris Larabee, but finding JD waiting for him in his office so early in the morning actually did. He set his shoulder bag down on the desk and looked at the young agent. The boy looked pale. Black scoops nestled under tired, bloodshot eyes.
"Hey, JD? Couldn't sleep?"
A fragile Dunne stood. "Is it 'cause I talk too much? I mean, I totally get that, but I can tone it down, I swear. It's not the work, is it? You must know I do all I can, but...I'm sure there's room for improvement...just tell me how, and I'll do it, only...please, Chris, just give me a chance to..."
Chris stood mesmerized as JD babbled. He raised his hand. "Whoa! JD, what the hell are you talking about?"
A little taken aback, JD fumbled in his jeans pocket and produced the crumpled letter that had him so worked up right then, and all the previous night. He handed it to Chris, who read it.
Uneasy with the silence, JD gestured toward the correspondence. His voice came out gruff from a mix of tiredness and emotion. "It says 'effective immediately'...what did I do wrong, Chris?"
Larabee looked up, and his eyes flashed with anger. "When did you get this?"
"Y...yesterday. It was in the mail when we, uh Buck and me, got home." JD battled with the rising emotion.
"Intelligence Research Specialist? I...I mean, I know that's part of what I do but, it's not who I am. I'm a field agent...in training...aren't I? Why did you change your mind?"
Chris's gaze softened. "I didn't. Calm down Kid. I don't give a shit what this memo says, you're not going anywhere. Go get a cup of coffee and relax for a while. Go on - I'll sort this out."
JD visibly relaxed and offered a weak smile. "Thanks, Chris." He turned to leave, and looked back. "For what it's worth, it means a whole lot to me that you didn't authorize this."
Larabee watched JD go and had to physically restrain himself from screwing the paper up. He picked up the phone. "Hi Alice, is Bryce in? Yeah, thanks. Bryce? I don't know what your game is, but no one sends a directive to a member of my team without going through me. JD is my tech, and a field agent in training assigned to me. Travis set it up, and then appointed myself and Buck as JD's mentors. Team Seven have put our lives on the line for this bureau more times than I care to recall, and even as young as he is, JD's been right there with us taking the hits. No one jerks us around this way. We deserve more respect than being subjected to this bullshit!"
Fearful of how he might respond right then to whatever explanation AAD Bryce tried to offer, Chris slammed down the handset before the man could reply. Chris knew he would pay for that, but right now, he was so mad he couldn't trust himself not to tell the jumped up little pipsqueak a few home truths.
Vin Tanner appeared from nowhere, and Chris was surprised for the second time that morning, and it was still early. The sharpshooter eyed the man. "You look almost as wound up as the kid. You two been fightin'?"
Chris pushed JD's letter toward Vin. "Worse." He watched as Vin's naturally tanned features paled.
"This is bullshit, right?"
Tanner whistled. "Man, no wonder JD's as coiled as a watch spring."
Chris nodded. "Could you go check on him? Kid's had a rough night."
"No shit!" Vin commented as he exited the office.
He found JD in the break room, seated on a chair with his knees up and hugged to his chest. "Hey, Kid. Any coffee left?"
Slowly looking up from the patch on the floor holding his attention, JD shook his head. "Haven't made any." He watched as his teammate checked that the machine was set up, and seeing that it was, Vin switched it on.
"Well, we can't start our day without caffeine." He dug into his jacket pocket and pulled out two candy bars. "Or sugar," he winked, and handed one to JD; but the boy shook his head. "You're turnin' down chocolate?"
JD tried to speak, but that darned lump from earlier was back in his throat. Vin could see the youth was struggling and put a hand on one of the tucked up knees.
"I saw the memo. Don't sweat it, Kid, you know Chris doesn't take shit from anyone, even Actin' ADs."
JD's huge hazel eyes locked onto Vin's blue gaze. "I'm worried, Vin. What if Chris can't fix this?"
Vin couldn't answer that, so said the only thing he knew he could promise. "One way or another, it'll be fixed. We're a team, right?"
Vin stood up to pour coffee. He looked back at JD. "Not just a team, Kid - family."
Buck stalked into the bullpen. He nodded to Josiah and Nathan, who had recently arrived, and then glanced around. Spotting Chris in his office, Buck walked in.
Chris looked up. "Hey, Buck. I thought I heard you knock."
Buck frowned, glanced at the open door, and then back at Chris. "I didn't knock."
Larabee made a face. "Y-e-a-h." He stood. "How's JD doing?" the blond asked. He assumed JD had already told Buck what was wrong.
The tall man eyed his friend. "You tell me."
Chris couldn't hide his surprise. 'Damn, I'm losing it. Got caught out again.' He pushed the crumpled memo across his desk toward Buck who picked it up and read it. The anger in the brunet's features was startling.
"What the hell is this?" Shaking the letter, Buck stepped nearer to his long-time friend. "Have you lost your freakin' mind? Why did you send him this?"
"Do you see my name on it?"
Buck moved closer to Chris. "There's no name on it, but it states he's to be transferred out of this team and to Research." He poked Chris in the chest. "Only you authorize team transfers."
Chris sighed. "I thought so, too." He looked at Buck. "Pard, if you feel you need to hit me, go ahead, but I would think looking out for the kid would be a better use of your time right now." He saw realization hit Buck and pointed. "Break room. Vin's in there, too. Tell them we have a briefing in ten minutes."
Ezra entered the bullpen, and had to steady his Starbuck's Latte as Buck brushed past him on his way to the break room. The undercover specialist noted Chris standing in the doorway to his office and directed his comment to him.
"Something I said?"
Chris gestured for the southerner to follow him and the pair walked over to Nathan and Josiah. "We have developments on an ongoing case to discuss so I only want to talk about this once." He then proceeded to fill the three men in on the morning's events.
From his seat, JD looked up to see Buck walk briskly into the break room. "Buck..." His throat tightened. A mix of misery and guilt caused his voice to sound strained. JD's gaze followed the man as Buck joined him and squatted next to the chair JD was sitting on.
"Why didn't you come to me?" Buck tried not to sound hurt.
"It wasn't like that," JD said, softly. "I thought Chris was kicking me off the team. I needed to speak to him face to face. If I'd told you, you'd've been all over him before I'd even had the chance to talk."
Buck went to protest, then smiled and nodded. "Okay, point taken." He glanced up at Vin, who was leaning against the counter while sipping his coffee. The Texan offered an understanding nod.
Buck's expression softened and the young agent offered a coy smile. "Looks like the directive might be from Bryce."
The brunet stood and exchanged worried looks with Vin as he did so. "This Bryce is something else, huh?"
"He ain't all that if he thought he could bypass Chris," Vin pointed out.
Buck nodded and looked back at JD. "Kid, if this guy tries to take you from us, then he's gonna need to replace my ass, too."
Horrified, JD uncurled himself and stood. "Buck...no!"
"That goes double," Vin concurred, his voice soft, but resolute.
JD's head dropped as the boy took in the enormity of what these men had just declared. He reached out and gave each man's arm a quick squeeze. "I really appreciate what you're saying," JD choked out, "but I could never let you do that."
They all looked when Chris popped his head around the door.
"Briefing in one minute."
The three agents moved to follow. Vin glanced at Buck, who nodded in return. "'Preciate the gesture, Kid, but as far as this shit goes, my mind's already made up."
Buck draped an arm around JD's shoulders and gave a squeeze. "It's a done deal, Kid."
Acting Assistant Director Marshall Walter Bryce paced his office. He had been made aware of many things about Larabee and his bunch of misfits; and even took the trouble to carry out his own research. He couldn't deny that they were the most successful team by far, and understood that Travis allowed them a lot of leeway due to the nature and risk of their assignments. However, Travis was no longer here. The shots were his to call now, and Larabee would simply have to accept that actuality.
Within hours of his appointment, Bryce deduced where budget cuts could be made in the Bureau. One that jumped from the paperwork was that Dunne was an agent in training, and also a highly skilled technician, capable of much more than the average IT colleague. Securing this new position would not only ensure JD performed as per his technician duties with Team Seven, but that his knowledge and proficiency could be tapped daily to also assist other teams.
In addition, the boy was very young. There was plenty of time for him to become a full field agent. Right now, Bryce plan was to shelve the young agent's training, and put Dunne's technical abilities to better use; and Larabee would be wise not to debate that fact. Bryce pressed his intercom button when it buzzed.
>"Sir, Agent Fawkes has called to inform us that Agent Dunne has not yet reported to him for duty."<
"I see, thank you, Alice. Please contact Special Agent Larabee and tell him to report to my office."
Within minutes he had a reply when Alice knocked and entered his office. "Sir, Special Agent Larabee is currently unavailable as he is taking a team briefing."
Bryce nodded. "Thank you."
"Anything else, Sir?"
"No...oh, wait, yes. In which room is the briefing being held?"
"There's evidence that this guy has businesses tucked away under several names. It's gonna take me a while to trace them all, but I'll get there."
In the briefing room on floor eleven, Larabee nodded. "Okay, JD, we'll leave that with you. Ezra, when are you next..." He looked up when the conference room door opened and Marshall Bryce walked in. Seeing JD go pale, Chris quickly got to his feet and walked to meet the man.
"Bryce; we're in a briefing..."
"I can see that, Agent Larabee," Bryce intoned. His attention turned to JD. "Agent Dunne..."
JD stood, sharply. "Yessir?"
"Agent Fawkes was expecting you in IRS an hour ago. Go and clear your desk and report there without delay."
Hoping no one could see him shaking, the young agent glanced anxiously around at his teammates.
Chris was now in front of the Acting AD. He spoke in a low voice. "I thought I made it clear, Bryce, JD is my agent and a valuable member of this team."
"I don't doubt his value. I know of his work, of all your work, and JD's expertise, while still available to you, will offer other units the benefit of his technical skills." He noted a folder in JD's trembling hands and walked toward the boy. "Fawkes is waiting for you. Time to go, JD." He offered his hand to take the folder. JD just stared at him, his brain struggling to process that this was truly happening.
"Hand it over, son," Bryce insisted.
With a hard gulp, JD placed the outstretched folder into the waiting hand.
Bryce nodded. "Good lad. Now, off you go."
Buck stood, quickly followed by Vin. The former spoke. "JD, you stay right where you are!" His tall frame at full stretch, Buck took a few strides forward and gestured around at the others.
"Listen up, Sir, we, all seven of us, are a team, duly appointed by Congressman Redd and AD Travis, and handpicked by Chris himself. We stay as Seven until Travis himself says otherwise."
Bryce eyed the men, all six of them now standing. "AD Travis is incommunicado, and during his absence has placed this department in my hands to run how I see fit. My decision stands. JD, I gave you a direct order, go. Agent Larabee, continue with your briefing, I'm looking forward to a positive outcome for this assignment. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have much to do."
JD gave his teammates a watery-eyed glance before his head lowered and he exited the room.
Chris watched JD leave and immediately removed his neck tags and ID wallet. He handed them to Bryce. "If that's your final word on the matter, then I quit."
Buck and Vin instantly followed suit and placed their items down on the table. "Consider us with him," Vin stated, his glare at Bryce ice blue as he gestured toward Chris.
Noting the others about to do likewise, Bryce raised a hand. "While I commend your loyalty, I will draw your attention to the fact that you still have an active case. I expect you to resolve it before turning your backs on the good citizens of Denver and your already harried coworkers. Federal Law Enforcement is under enough pressure without the so-called 'Magnificent Seven' walking out and increasing their workload." Bryce turned to leave.
"Good day, gentlemen."
The six men stared after him in shock. The vein in Chris's jaw pulsed as he ground his teeth in frustration. He tightened the hold on his ID and tags. "Fine, we wrap this case up, and then I'm done."
Everyone wholeheartedly agreed, and the briefing was, abandoned, for now, to catch up with JD.
Back in the bullpen, JD stared at his desk. Securing his four computers would normally take a while, yet Fawkes wanted him to report for duty immediately. His misty eyes roamed over the numerous and various personal objects on his desk. It would likely take him a half hour or so to clear that lot, too. However neither were the reasons he was unable to make a start. He was still in shock from Bryce's orders. The transfer letter in the mail, the sleepless night; a glimmer of hope when Chris told him he wasn't going anywhere, and now...
He touched the desk and swallowed hard against the persistent lump in his throat. This was his world; this, the guys, the job; it was all he ever wanted. But Bryce didn't want him here...and there was nothing anyone could do about it, not even, it would seem, the mighty Chris Larabee. JD was so enveloped in his misery, that he didn't hear his teammates come in until Buck was next to him.
Fighting to stay strong, JD grabbed his laptop case, and flashed a smile that never quite reached his liquid eyes. He thumbed toward the door and started walking backwards. "I, uh...best get going."
Josiah stepped through the stationary group of stunned men. He drew the boy into an embrace. "It's only temporary, John Dunne. Do your best, as you always do, and trust in Chris, and us, to sort this out."
Nodding as he moved away, JD kept his head down and missed that the others were also bobbing their heads in agreement to Josiah's promise. Buck gave JD's shoulders a one-armed squeeze of support, and then Chris approached.
"This isn't over, JD. Stay out of trouble..." he winked. "And keep working on that list of businesses for us."
JD actually smiled. "Will do, Bossman." On his way to the door, he snatched up his jacket from the coat rack. He took one last look back at the men who had become as brothers to him, and then left.
"See you later..." Buck called out, but JD was gone. He stared despondently at the others, his deep blue eyes conveying all in his heart and mind.
"This fuckin' sucks," Vin hissed.
"Well said, Mister Tanner," Ezra praised. "I could not have put it better myself."
Chris turned to them all. "I won't work for Bryce a moment longer than I need to, but that's my decision, and I don't expect you to follow in my footsteps on this."
"Tough, we're gonna," Vin stated.
Buck nodded and addressed Chris. "Y'know, I remember once when JD had just joined us; he was determined to follow an order you gave us, to the letter. I figured he was just the new kid trying to impress the boss, so I said to him, 'Kid, all you need to do is your best. Chris counts on that; but he's not expecting anyone to obey every word he says.'" Buck smiled fondly and looked to where JD had just gone.
"The kid frowned back at me and said 'This is what I do, Buck; I can't do my job any other way. If Chris gave the word, I'd follow him to hell and back. Wouldn't you?'" Buck's eyes glistened.
"Man, I couldn't have been more proud. Those weren't the words of a tenderfoot blinded by hero worship, but of a guy like us - someone willing to put full trust in his teammates, even if it meant dying for them."
Larabee nodded. "And that's why we're with him 100%. He deserves no less."
They all agreed.
Chris continued. "Let's get going to bring this case to a close so we can grab JD and either get the hell out of this place, or wait on Orin's return, whichever comes first."
With hesitant, heavy steps, JD walked out of the elevator, down a corridor, and into the large, cubicle-lined area known as Intelligence Research. Heads bobbed up over cubicle walls to see JD glancing around apprehensively. He jolted a little when Agent Fawkes unexpectedly appeared next to him and extended his hand. Taken aback slightly at the gesture, JD looked at the hand for a moment, and then shook it.
"Welcome to IR, Agent Dunne. Come with me." The pair walked into a decent sized office, with its extra-large desktop semi-encircled by a bank of flat-screen monitors and numerous hi-tech gizmos.
"For what it's worth, I consider you and your team to be remarkable, and I think Bryce was wrong to separate you guys and to send you here. I have no doubt your time with us will be brief, but while I have that time, I want to utilize it as best I can. There is a stack of cases that we've reached a dead-end with. I want you to focus on those." He gestured to the office they were in.
"That's why I've put you in here, so you can work the magic I hear you're capable of and that, up until now, only your team has been privy to. With luck, in here you shouldn't be disturbed...too often." The man smiled.
"If you want to work on anything for your own team, that's fine, just don't broadcast it, and don't prioritize it. Do we have an understanding Agent Dunne?"
JD stared at him for a moment or two, and then nodded. "Yes, Agent Fawkes. Thanks."
"Good man." Fawkes patted JD's arm. "I'd prefer it if you called me Jim. Personally, I thought that the scheme Travis recruited you under was ingenious. The Bureau got the benefit of a unique technical talent, while you got the field training and experience required to add to your already impressive instincts. Would I like to have you stay here? Absolutely. Would I want to force the decision on you? No." He nodded toward the outer room.
"We have great people here, but you - you have that...spark, Dunne. Don't lose it."
JD stared at the man; his nervousness diminishing the longer Jim spoke. JD wanted to be elsewhere, but at least this man was keen to make the situation bearable. "Thank you, Sir, uh, Jim. If it's protocol, then so be it, but if not..." He smiled. "I tend to respond a lot faster when I'm called JD."
Jim chuckled. "Then JD it is. Okay, I'll let you settle in. The files for you to focus on are in the bottom drawer of the desk. Good luck."
Once alone, JD moved toward the desk. He took a seat and instantly approved of the array of technology he would be working with. It took his first two hours to customize the computer, upload programs he preferred to use, and synchronize his laptop with the new equipment. When done, he opened a drawer and took out the first of several case-folders. However, as he opened it, JD promptly felt his stomach clench when his concern for how his friends and teammates were doing caught up with him.
A rush of emotions caused his reluctant acceptance of theirs and his situations, to waver. Unable to shake the blanket of loneliness enveloping him, JD decided it would help if he buried himself in work in the hope of keeping his mind off his misery. Placing the open folder onto his current and very bare desk, he began to read.
In what seemed like no time at all, Buck's voice drew JD away from his work and looking up for the first time in hours. He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands and grinned at his self-appointed big brother. "Hey, Buck. What're you doing down here? You lose your way?" He chuckled at the friendly swipe to his head from the tall man.
"Hilarious, Kid," Buck said with a hint of sarcasm. "And there was me worrying I'd miss that razor-sharp wit."
The comment caused an awkward pause, but Buck quickly recovered. "So, you ready to hi-tail it out of here?"
JD's eyes widened. "Already?" He checked his watch. "Man, where did the day go?"
'Down the crapper for us,' Buck thought, and then brightened. "The guys suggested heading for the Saloon."
Standing and whisking his jacket off the back of the chair, JD grinned. "Awesome, let's go."
"Uh, knock, knock."
On hearing a voice, the two friends looked toward the door. They saw Jim Fawkes standing there.
"Sorry, am I disturbing you, JD?" He noted the young agent was slipping his jacket on. "Oh, you done for the day?"
JD stopped and suddenly looked uncomfortable. "Uh, that's okay, isn't it? To leave?"
Now Jim was looking awkward, and Buck's stare wasn't helping. "Well, due to the compulsory breaks technicians take, my agents usually pull an eight to ten-hour shift...and you didn't actually get down here until..." He smiled. "Hey, it's your first day. Get going and I'll see you at 8am tomorrow morning."
Buck didn't miss the glimmer of enthusiasm die in JD's eyes, or the hesitation in leaving, but he also noticed genuine regret in the commanding officer's features when the man approached JD and helped him finish putting on his jacket.
"See you tomorrow, Kid."
Finally snapping out of his uncertainty, JD nodded, leaned over his desk and picked up four folders, which he handed to Fawkes. "Inside each folder are notes and lists from my investigations. You should look them over, but they're ready to go back to the investigating teams to work through my findings." He grinned.
Buck draped an arm around JD's shoulders and sporting a wide grin, guided the youth out of the office. Holding the files and astonished that JD had already worked through four of the eight folders assigned to him, Fawkes stared after the pair. Several seconds later, he spoke.
Walking into the comforting familiarity of Watson's Bar, JD felt the tension in his shoulders ease and he smiled at his five friends seated at their usual table. Buck gestured to Inez for one beer and a soda as the pair passed the bar and joined the others.
Despite promising himself he wouldn't be too eager, JD couldn't help but ask the question. "Chris; did Bryce change his mind? Do I get to come back to the team tomorrow?" Chris's return look said it all.
JD sighed. "Oh."
"Sorry, Kid, the man wouldn't take my calls and Alice said he had appointments booked all day so couldn't see me."
"And I can assure you, Mister Dunne, our intrepid leader didn't cease all day in his attempts," Ezra added in support.
JD thanked Inez for the soda, and nodded. "Yeah, I knew you'd try. Thanks anyway."
"Fawkes been keepin' you busy?" Vin asked.
"Oh yeah," JD answered. "He left me a stack of assignment files to go through."
"Be real grateful if you could try putting together that list for us," Chris started. JD offered a cheeky, dimpled grin and waggled his eyebrows. Chris's eyes widened and he couldn't help but release a small smile when JD held up a flash drive.
"I've locked my iPad and laptop in Buck's truck, so if we can get to somewhere more private, I'll talk you through what I've found," JD promised.
Buck stood. "CDC and Pizza?" he more suggested than asked. The group agreed and drank up to leave the bar and head for Buck and JD's apartment in order to delve deeper into the seedy world of gunrunner Dean Brookes.
Two weeks on and assured that, for a while, there would only be groundwork to do on Team Seven's current and possibly final case, JD continued with what he once hoped would be a temporary position, but was quietly fearful could become permanent. He missed the guys, his desk, even Chris's moods, and initially was glad that sometimes, at the end of a shift, the team would visit the Saloon. Being with the team after work was a time of day that JD loved; a time to unwind and catch up, while cracking wise with his six best friends.
However, he hadn't joined the guys after work for a drink for the last week due to a self inflicted spiraling discontent with his lack of involvement in their professional lives. Lately, their evening would start out by catching up, sharing their mutual disgruntlement at the team's separation, to then unintentional, but eventual exclusion for JD when the six men would naturally slip into discussing the case and their day in general.
JD was starting to feel like an outsider, and even though he hated how petty that sounded in his own head, and that he knew the paranoia was his own doing, it was still beginning to feel like when back in Boston; being on the outside looking in - rarely in accord with other officers.
While he stood in the IR break room making himself a coffee, JD shook his head at his current state of mind, and was just reflecting on how the guys would kick his butt for thinking like this when one of the IR techs came into the room and approached him. JD smiled. "Hi."
"Hey there." A hand was extended. "Name's Dexter Knells. I've been on sick leave for a while, and I've been catching up with what I've missed. Great to see you here. Are you settling in okay?"
JD shook the offered hand. "JD - JD Dunne. Yeah, all good so far, thanks."
Dexter smiled. "Oh, I know who you are. Everyone in IR knows who you are. I get the feeling folk here still can't quite believe you've joined us."
"You and me both," JD said before he could stop himself. "Uh, I mean..." He sighed.
"Look, it's nothing to do with the technicians here, or even the job, but I'm an AIT - an Agent in Training, and I'm supposed to be an active team tech, while gaining field experience. Right now I should be up on floor eleven making sure my teammates have all possible available information at their disposal. To do that, I have to try and stay ahead of them, and I can't do that from down here." He took a deep breath and looked remorsefully at the tech.
"Sorry, man, you didn't deserve that."
Dexter shrugged. "No worries, I can appreciate your frustration." He leaned in. "However, watch your back. Some techs down here can get a little defensive, and may not be so forgiving. Don't give them a reason to give you a hard time."
JD sighed inwardly, and nodded gratefully. "Thanks, I'll keep that in mind." He smiled and held up the coffee pot. "Coffee?"
Knells grinned and nodded. "I'll break out the cookies."
Team Seven had been working from the list JD passed them a few weeks back. After eliminating most of the businesses, they were now staking out three more addresses. Buck was partnered with Josiah, Ezra with Nathan, and Chris was with Vin.
From inside a pool car parked close to their assigned address, Chris maintained a stringent inspection of the area while Vin scanned the building with field glasses; both watching for and assessing any interactions. By mid-afternoon, it was clear that the taxi fleet operating out of the garage was legit. Larabee shook his head.
"There's a chance the cabs are transporting guns."
Vin nodded. "True, but that's kinda tough to tell by watchin' from this distance." He glanced at his partner and grinned. "I know that look. Who are you sendin' in?"
Chris raised an eyebrow. "Maybe Ezra, and a handler with a dog from the K-9 division trained to seek out guns and ammo."
Eyes twinkling, Vin nodded and started the car. "A dog? Sounds good. See if you can get a real hairy one, and then insist Ezra wears his new black Hugo Boss suit."
Chris laughed aloud. "Tanner, you can be one devious sonofabitch."
Vin feigned ire, and as he signaled and pulled out he put on his best Ezra impression. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
After several long, fruitless hours of surveillance, Ezra and Nathan contacted dispatch, and their team, to report that they were calling it a day. After staking out their assigned address for several days, they concluded that the bakery store they were watching was simply that. Ezra even flashed a fake FSIS I.D. so that he and Nathan could inspect the premises.
Driving them back to the Federal Building, Nathan glanced toward Ezra. "I, uh...I'm sorry for the comments about wearing a suit on a stake-out. Doing so went a long way in convincing those guys that we were from the Food Safety and Inspection Service."
Standish offered a small but genuine smile. "Think nothing of it. I fully understand your reasoning, and in my defense, I find it far easier to dress up with the option of 'dressing down', than the opposite scenario." He glanced toward the back seat at the boxes of pastries purchased after their bogus inspection, and his smile widened.
"The decision to regroup at the Saloon so that JD can join us was a sound one. I am looking forward to meeting up with our absent teammate, and providing Mister Tanner doesn't get hold of these pastries first, treat our youngest to some fine baked goods."
Nathan chuckled. "Ezra, I do believe you're missing JD."
Ezra's eyebrow rose. "Mister Jackson, you're delusional. I suggest you take some of your own advice and report for a mental health checkup at your earliest convenience."
The southerner's words just caused Nathan to laugh harder, and he didn't miss the wry smile from Ezra, either.
On the third attempt to talk to Buck, Josiah was appreciating that his companion's mind was elsewhere. The warehouse they were watching had displayed minimal traffic in and out for several days. However, today's target looked more promising than the other two properties in regards to shady dealings. The appearance of Dean Brookes got the adrenaline flowing, and the camera clicking. Consequently, once the man had walked out of the property and driven away, things settled down to pretty much a standstill, and Buck had since slipped into deep thought.
"Talking things through often helps." Josiah frowned at the lack of response, and so tried a different tack. "...And then the woman stripped naked and walked through the main street..."
Buck turned away from looking through the passenger side window with field glasses, and stared at Josiah. "Who was naked?"
Josiah grinned. "Nice to know the real Buck Wilmington's in there, somewhere." The following huge sigh from Buck was a little disconcerting. "Buck. Is it JD?" He noted the man nod.
"Y-e-a-h." Buck shrugged. "Something's up, Preacher. As the weeks have gone by the kid's become quieter and quieter. There are very few snappy comebacks. Hell; he even apologized to me last night."
"Apologized? Perish the thought," Josiah chipped in.
Undeterred by the teasing, Buck carried on. "Over a week now he's avoided getting off work to meet up with us. He blew off horse riding last weekend - said he was working on some task that Fawkes assigned to him." He looked at Josiah, his gaze filled with confusion. "When have you ever known JD to turn down a chance to go to Chris's place, or to go riding?"
"Never." Josiah brightened. "But he is going to be joining us later today, yes?"
That question finally drew out the hint of a smile from Buck. "Yeah, he is - finally. Shame he's too young to drink in a bar, I'd sure like to see him unwind, some."
Josiah radioed in to dispatch that they were logging off their stakeout, and started to drive them to meet up with the others. "Whatever it takes - outside of alcohol - we'll get through to him, Buck. This thing with Bryce has unsettled us all, and JD more than any of us, but later, we'll give him whatever assurances he needs to keep his spirits up."
Buck nodded. "Maybe ours too, huh?"
Josiah agreed. "Ours too."
Armed with another flash drive for the team to view, JD slipped it into the front pocket of his jacket. He closed down his office to leave for the day, and walked through the dimly lit area and past empty cubicles to join his six ex-teammates in the Saloon for the first time that week. JD had no transport due to riding in to work with Buck, however the bar was only a few blocks from the Federal Building and it didn't take JD long to walk there. Inside, he spotted the six men sitting at their usual table, and was walking to join them when roars of laughter from the men stopped him in his tracks.
As JD was running an hour behind the team, most of the day's activities had already been discussed, especially the growing anticipation over the warehouse Buck and Josiah had staked out, and which Brookes visited. The six men were now reminiscing, and Josiah was reminding them of an incident from a couple of months back.
"...The place was buzzing, what with the crime scene flooded with uniforms, and ATF and FBI Agents. I noticed Agent Ray Schafer watch Vin rappel from the warehouse rafters to the ground and then approach him..."
>> "Nice shooting, Tanner. You saved my colleague's neck today."
Vin shrugged. "Just doin' my job."
His expression malevolent, Schafer looked from Tanner and Josiah, who was standing nearby, to team tech JD. The young agent was holding something similar to a Smartphone in his hand. He scanned the warehouse walls, to eventually hook the device up to his laptop.
"Yeah, you were, and no thanks to that kid you work with, who thinks all crimes should be solved by technology rather than experience coupled with hard, physical and mental endeavor. He's dragged us all down here on a wild goose chase."
Overhearing, Josiah moved closer, but Vin raised his hand and spoke. "JD works a case like any one of us, as well as havin' the smarts to make sure our technology stays one jump ahead of the criminals. If he directed us here, he had good reason."
Schafer snorted. "That kid's technology told us there were stolen artillery shells stored here." He gestured around the warehouse full of cops, but devoid of illicit contraband. "You see any? All we got out of this is a few arrests from some twitchy shooters."
Despite hearing everything, JD signaled for the three men to join him. He turned his laptop to face them. "Well, here's proof of what those 'twitchy shooters' were defending." He pointed to one wall, and then the x-ray images on the screen.
"Behind that false wall is a neat storage area for…" he pointed to the depictions on the laptop screen. "…Hmm…kinda looks like – shells."
Nodding to Chris when he also joined them, Josiah and Vin watched a triumphant JD close his laptop and grin at the astounded FBI agent. But what really caught the teammates' attention was the utter hero worship in the boy's eyes when the usually reserved Tanner placed a proud hand on JD's shoulder, looked into the eyes of said FBI agent...
...and blew a raspberry. <<
Chris nodded in remembrance of the incident as he joined in the howls of laughter from the men around the table. Vin's freshly flushing cheeks made them hoot even louder.
A heavy sigh emerged as JD watched the cheery interactions from his position in the bar. 'Didn't take them long to quit missing me, did it?' His paranoia got the better of common sense, and with his throat tight, JD turned on his heels to leave.
Though he always dreaded the possibility, JD understood that the team's need to move on made perfect sense. Agents' lives depended on keeping clear heads, and making incisive decisions that needed a degree of professional detachment. Dwelling on negatives was not a viable working practice.
He finally nodded acceptance to himself. Bryce had held his ground over the protests by the team about JD's move, and it was time to acknowledge his current position, admit that his fate was sealed, and to let the dream go.
JD tread wearily past the bar counter, and could barely make eye contact when Inez spoke.
"You are leaving so soon, jovencito?"
With a nod, JD dug into his pocket, removed the flash drive, and placed it into the bar manager's hand. "I, uh, forgot I have to...to be somewhere. Would you give this to Chris and tell him that I'm real sorry, but I couldn't stay?"
Inez's slender fingers closed around the small object in her hand. "They're just over there..." she started to say, but seeing the pleading look in JD's eyes she nodded. "Si, I will do this for you."
"Thank you," JD rasped out before hurrying away. Outside, he hailed a cab and headed home, vowing that from tomorrow he'd go back to riding his bike in to work.
Buck glanced toward the bar's entrance, and checked his watch for the umpteenth time. He smiled broadly when Inez approached. "Let me guess, you've missed me so much you just had to come over here."
"I have something for..."
Buck clapped his hands together. "Finally, you've seen the light."
Inez stared him out, and then finished her sentence. "...For Chris." As Larabee looked up at her in surprise, she reached out and placed the flash drive in Chris's hand.
"This is from JD. He had to leave, and asked me to pass this to you along with his apologies."
The mood around the table instantly changed. All business now, Buck again glanced toward the door. "JD was actually here?"
Inez nodded. With an anxious look around the table, she spoke her thoughts from earlier. "He appeared to be mucho preocupa - much troubled. There is a deep sadness in his eyes that I have only seen when one of his brothers has been injured or in trouble." She looked directly at Buck. "Go to him."
"Do you know where he was going?" Chris asked.
She shook her head. "No, but he got into a taxi. I wrote down the company's name."
Ezra took the paper and began dialing. Shortly, JD's destination was known. Buck started to leave for the CDC.
"Wait, Buck," Chris said as he too, stood. "I'm coming with you."
Neither man looked back to see if the others would follow because they already knew they would.
All the way home JD's thoughts bounced between embarrassment at leaving so abruptly, and self-confessed despair. It shocked him to see the men he loved as brothers appearing to not have a care in the world, while he wrestled hourly with the loss of being a team member, and with his future prospects, should Bryce's decision stand. He fought so hard to leave behind a desk job for a more active role.
With this latest development, by Bryce's hand, JD now wondered if he was doomed to be a fully-fledged field agent, and maybe a clean break, maybe to the FBI, was worth considering. He knew leaving the guys was not what he wanted, but he doubted he would be able to work in Denver, while watching his dream vocation forever out of reach.
He figured it was time to make contingency plans.
Minutes after entering the apartment, JD was undressed and in the shower. In an attempt to wash away his frustrations and sour mood he simply stood and let the hot spray soak his thick, dark hair, and cascade down over his face, neck, and tense, weary body
However, too many weeks of fighting his building despondency got the better of him and he leaned back to allowed his body to slide down the tiled wall. Whilst being bombarded with hot water, JD closed his eyes and huddled pathetically in the corner of the cubicle.
He didn't hear the front door open, or Buck call out to him, but it got his attention when the lock of the bathroom door splintered and the door burst open. Six friends stared at him, but all JD could think about at that moment was how he was stark-bollock-naked and drenched within an inch of his life.
He called out a warning, but his soft tone suggested apathy more than irritation. "Uh...taking a shower guys."
The fact that JD remained in his squatted position regardless of their presence, alarmed the six friends. Glances were exchanged and moments later only Buck and Chris remained.
"JD..." Buck began, but was gently halted by Chris.
"JD, it's not easy talking in here. How about you finish your shower and join us in the living room."
"Sure," JD replied, but the water continued flowing, and he remained seated.
"You want me to reach in and stop the water?" Buck offered. JD failed to answer.
"JD, quit moping and get out here," Chris ordered, his tone more authoritative now in the hope of snapping the youth out of his funk. He was openly taken aback when instead, he saw JD bury his face in his bent knees.
With his distraught 'cub' so close, Papa Bear Buck moved in. After kicking off his boots and socks, Buck opened the cubicle door, turned off the shower and stepped into the puddled tray to get JD to his feet. Despite being soaked by the smaller body, his despair was obvious when JD leaned in hard and apologized over and over.
"I'm sorry, Buck. I'm really sorry..."
"C'mon, son, let's get you on dry land."
The pair stepped out and into the waiting towel Chris was holding open. With a nod to Buck, the team leader wrapped the towel around JD, and then left the pair alone.
Gently rubbing the towel-wrapped arms of his surrogate little brother, Buck ducked and twisted until he was looking into sad, hazel eyes. "Talk to me, Kid. What is it?"
Ashamed, JD dropped his gaze. "I'm sorry."
"So you said. For what?"
JD finally looked up to meet Buck's worried-filled look. "I'm a jerkass, Buck. I see you guys relaxed and laughing, listen to y'all talking about your day and..." His husky voice quivered. "...I realize how much I miss working with you all." He swallowed around that darned annoying lump in his throat that had settled there since the letter from Bryce that started all this.
"I don't want this, Buck. Sure, I love tech work, but it's not the reason I came to Denver. I might as well just call up the FBI..."
Buck cut in. "Whoa, whoa, hold up there, Squirt. Don't be doing anything rash now. JD. JD!"
The boy looked up at him.
"Hang in there. One way or another, we'll put this right, okay?"
JD paused for a while, and then finally nodded. "I really am sorry, Buck. You guys don't deserve this sulking crap from me."
Genuine relief flooded Buck's strained features. He drew the youth close and a deep chuckle rumbled in his chest, causing a confused JD to again stare up at him through welling eyes.
"Aww, I can take a little brooding. Here was me thinking you were enjoying your new job and pulling away from us..." He smiled, coyly. "From me."
JD continued to stare up at Buck and everything suddenly fell into place. He pulled the towel tight around himself, and wet hair released droplets as he shook his head.
"Never emotionally, although I can't deny I was harboring thoughts of getting the hell out of Denver." JD's cheek dimpled.
"I miss the work, and being on the career path I chose to follow and...even though I don't want to, I can do the job in IR; but what I truly hate is not being with you guys." He sighed.
"But I can live with it, because I realize now that being close to you all is more important than anything. Apart from when my mom was alive, being with you and the guys has been the best time of my life." JD's head lowered.
"What Bryce did sucks; but he can't take what we have away from us."
Buck couldn't help himself and drew JD closer. "Yeah, it sucks big time, but you have our word that whatever comes next, we're gonna face it together, all seven of us." He felt his throat constrict to see the trust, affection, and respect shimmering in the hazel eyes looking up at him. Buck released his shivering charge.
"Go on, Kid, go get dressed; the guys are waiting on us." He noted JD's alarm. "They're not mad at you, just worried. Let's just all hang out together tonight, and worry about work in the morning." After he watched JD leave, Buck threw a few towels on the floor to mop up the excess water, and walked out to join the others.
Later, dressed in sweats and with his dark hair still damp, JD sat on the floor between Chris and Buck while the team talked over the warehouse Josiah and Buck had been watching.
"Sounds promising," JD agreed. "What do you need?"
"I'm applying for a search warrant tomorrow based on the sighting of Brookes at the premises. I want you to kit us up and monitor our operation, JD," Chris stated.
JD fought the welling pride and nodded. "Hey, I'm willing, but how can we work this?"
Chris smiled. "I spoke to Fawkes about this side of your responsibilities for the team and he's agreed, but in order to comply with Bryce's directive, you'll have to run any communications from your office. Are you up for it?"
JD beamed. "Do one-legged ducks swim in circles?" He heard Vin snort a laugh, but Chris's expression remained stoic. "Uh, yeah, sure, I can make it work, no problem."
Larabee twitched a smile. "Good. Tomorrow, get the equipment together as usual, and I'll let you know when we're going in."
It was great to see JD's old enthusiasm back and so Chris decided, for fear of building false hope, not to tell the boy that he was going to Bryce in the morning in another attempt to get JD back on the team
The following morning, Acting AD Marshall Bryce looked up from the work in front of him when his door opened. He stood. "Agent Larabee. I understand you requested to meet with me." He gestured for Chris to take a seat, but Larabee remained standing. "What can I do for you?"
"Enough of this shit, I want JD back."
Bryce sat down. "I've already made my views clear on this subject Agent Larabee."
"Screw your views..."
The acting AD's eyebrows rose.
"...Stand firm on this and soon you'll lose seven Federal Agents."
"Don't threaten me."
"It's not a threat," Chris said calmly. "I'm stating a fact."
"In the time JD has been assigned to IR, and partially due to information JD has supplied, ATF teams four and eight have each successfully concluded an outstanding case. His transfer is proving to be successful, and I am not a man to turn my back on a path to success."
Chris shifted slightly. "JD's not a commodity; he's a young, fresh-faced officer of the law, and promises to be a great agent, someday. You really want to throw that away?"
"I cannot influence his choices, Agent Larabee."
"That's exactly what you're doing. JD's more than just a good tech, and he wants to 'protect and serve', not drive a desk. The kid deserves better."
Bryce stood. "And there you have it in a nutshell. He's a boy, technically too young to be a Federal Agent, yet by some foolish scheme, we had a boy fighting a man's battles. I'm strictly by the book, and one day, when JD is older and still alive to tell the tale, he'll realize what I did for him."
Chris leaned in, his tone dropping to deadly and low. "Regardless of his age, JD made a man's choice. Travis had the foresight to see his potential and honor his decision, and I had the privilege to take him under my wing. Sometimes the book is wrong." He turned to go.
"But by the time you've figured that out, you'll be a team down, and will likely have personally squandered any opportunity of progressing in this branch of law enforcement and, in my opinion, that will be a lucky escape for the Bureau."
A stunned Bryce watched Chris go, but even as Chris walked away, and while he felt he'd scored points, he had failed to achieve his objective, and therefore failed his team, and JD. He could hardly wait to tie up this case. Being part of this department no longer evoked the pride he once felt, not to mention the fact that if the Bureau wanted leaders like Bryce, they didn't deserve the loyalty of smart, brave men like Team Seven.
Later that evening, with all seven men present, and providing the search warrant was signed, plans would be made, and a case would, with luck, soon be concluded. After that, all seven would hold their heads high, while planning to kiss their ATF careers goodbye. Chris marveled that, rather than feel trepidation by that thought, instead he felt empowered by it.
While he might not be a part of the ongoing bust, Chris's insistence over JD kitting the team up with their mics and earpieces ensured he controlled the frequency, which would enable him to listen in. JD hated being excluded this way, but he had to keep faith that Chris would somehow, someday, sort it out with Bryce, even though his hands were tied for right now. Meanwhile, it was business first and right now the team was about to search some suspicious premises, and take a step closer to putting away one arrogant dirtbag by the name of Dean Brookes.
With vests on and weapons and ammunition checked, Chris and his team each checked in with JD to ensure their equipment was working.
"Thanks. All tests are affirmative. Recording...now." JD informed. "Uh, guys."
"Yeah, Kid?" came the unanimous reply.
"Watch your backs. I'm just sorry that I can't."
Chris smiled at his teammates. "We will, and...for the record, you are. With you monitoring this, we couldn't be in safer hands." With a nod from Chris to the others, the group of six men moved in to deliver their search warrant.
No one answered their knock and identifying call, so Vin checked the sliding, steel door. It moved. Guns drawn, the six men cautiously stepped inside the building. Flashlights were activated to illuminate the dark interior as each man twisted left and right to check every shadowy inch. The place was empty, and Chris felt frustrated and disappointed. Could Brookes's men have been tipped off?
A noise from the door behind them caused all six to turn. In the criss-crossing beams of light they could see heavily armed men quickly surrounding them. Wasting no time on an introduction, Chris set the pace by lunging out and taking down the man closest to him. Around him were the sounds of numerous grunts and bone on flesh as the team fought for their lives. A gunshot, accompanied by a bright flash made it clear that a bullet was fired, but not by whom. As he took one of several vicious blows to his jaw, and felt his communication gear ripped off, all Chris could hope was that if it wasn't one of the guys firing, the shot was due to a struggle for a weapon, and not an indication of an actual wound.
Swinging out an arm in the dark, Vin's elbow connected with bone somewhere on his assailant's face. He felt someone grab his arms and attempt to restrain him from behind, but Vin kicked out with his foot and his quick reflexes took out a knee with a sickening crunch. Light from a gunshot gave him a heads up to where his next attacker was coming from, but his success was halted when something heavy connected with the crown of his head. While dizzy, and in pain, Vin's headset was taken. In the darkness, he was manhandled until his face slammed up against a wall and burly arms held him upright.
Whoever was hitting out at Ezra wasn't particularly sharp and the southerner was easily ducking the punches. Monitoring shadows helped him successfully maintain control of his battle until the white-hot agony of something solid hitting him hard between his shoulder blades stole his breath. Strong hands pushed him down onto the cold concrete floor, and after his earpiece and mic were removed, his hands were tied behind his back. Ezra was dragged to his feet and pushed up against something as equally cold and solid as the floor. He felt a presence next to him, and smelled blood, but his focus remained on trying to get his breath back. However, his effort was bringing on a new agony all of its own.
A gunshot halted Josiah's assault on his near-invisible assailants when a bullet barely missed his ear. In that split second of hesitation, what felt like several bodies tackled him to the ground; and despite his best efforts to dislodge them, the constant rain of heavy blows to every part of him wore him down. His mic and earpiece were taken and his arms were cruelly yanked back. Josiah's wrists and ankles were then secured before he was ungraciously carried face down, and then set upright against what he assumed was a wall.
Nathan was fast on his feet, and his large hands packed a wallop, but it wasn't enough to stop a sharp, agonizing blow to his belly. Although bent double and holding one arm against his burning stomach, he continued lashing out with one fist, and both feet. Raking fingers ripped away his communication gear, and while dodging left and right in reaction to the sounds of footwear on concrete, he took another blow to the back of his neck. Crashing to the floor, Nathan figured he likely went wrong by assuming one boot-scrape to be that of an incoming assailant, and his miscalculation took him straight into the path of another attacker.
At one point, Buck knew Chris had been standing back to back with him, and the pair was in their fighting comfort zone. However, eventually their stand dissolved when Buck was grabbed by his thick, dark hair, and seconds after his earpiece and mic was removed, found himself airborne. The sudden and painful stop against what he realized was a wall as he crunched against the unyielding object, set off pain in his back, arms and head. More hurt ensued when fists connected with the soft tissue of his eyes and cheeks, and the bone of his jaw. Straining at the bonds that were quickly applied to his wrists, and spitting blood, Buck didn't go quietly to his enforced destination, which earned him a debilitating kidney punch.
A good fight never daunted Chris, but this wasn't a good fight. Somehow, someone had successfully relieved him of his headgear, while no matter how he battled, his every move was anticipated. Not only was he tiring, but he was battered, bruised, and bleeding unlike ever before in a raid-provoked conflict. He squinted when the gloomy warehouse was suddenly flooded with light and he was greeted by the sight of his equally beaten teammates lined up along one wall; some being held up, and all guarded by heavily armed men holding night vision goggles in their hands. His gaze, however, went straight to the grinning features of one Dean Brookes. Chris gestured to the goggles.
"Should have known you'd have to resort to cheating to beat us, Brookes." While he spoke, Chris was scrutinizing his team. They all looked like hell, and as his gaze fell on a groggy Vin, for the first time since Bryce's extreme decision, Chris found himself grateful that JD wasn't there.
"Well, at least you know when you're beaten, Larabee. Once we got you here, we couldn't allow you to remain armed and in communication with your command center. My plan was a resounding success, and now, I get to enjoy the pleasure of your company while the ATF and FBI drive themselves crazy trying to find you." He grinned. "Which they won't."
A battered Chris struggled when his arms were forced behind his back and he was shackled. He frowned at Brookes. "Plan?"
Brookes nodded. "This warehouse was just a ruse to draw your interest. I haven't used this place in years - far too high profile an area for what I do. Until now, Agent Larabee, you and your team were in my way, so you will remain as my guests until my business is concluded, or possibly even longer - we shall see."
He nodded to his men and six agents screamed out in pain and anger when Mace was sprayed into their faces. Incapacitated and injured, each of the six men were dragged toward two windowless vans. Five minutes later, there was no trace of Brookes, his men, or the vans containing team Seven.
After the customary equipment checks, JD focused on the monitoring. He had already cleared his desk in readiness to leave the office when the bust was complete. He listened intently, relieved that, despite only being a few minutes into the operation, it was all going to plan.
He sat upright to the sounds of individual scuffles. His heart leaped into his throat and he stood abruptly, sending his chair flying across the room when he worked out that his brothers of the heart had walked into a trap. His calls to them went unanswered as one by one, the shouts and sounds of the vicious skirmishes died when the team's equipment went silent.
JD instantly raised the alarm, and dismissing any thoughts of consequences, accompanied Team Two to the target warehouse. His heart thumping against his ribs, JD stared despondently around at the warehouse interior and the milling law enforcement officers. Despite showing painfully obvious signs of recent, fierce struggles, the place was deserted. Orders were issued to discover whether traffic cams had picked up movement from the area and CSI arrived to glean any clue that might help.
It was less than half an hour from the initial ambush, when JD, the Bureau, and DPD realized they had nothing to go on, and so were faced with the daunting fact that six members of team Seven were officially missing.
Bryce's PA, Alice, stood in an effort to block JD's entrance to her boss's office, but one side of JD only his mother and the team had seen was a stubborn streak the width of the Grand Canyon. It rarely appeared, but when it did, nothing short of a freight train could stop him - or maybe one of Chris's glares; and after spending the evening and night tracing back all the evidence gathered so far without success, John Daniel Dunne was in the mood for a fight.
"I don't recall granting you an appointment, Agent Dunne," Bryce said, standing up from his high-backed, black leather chair.
"Appointment?" JD squeaked, and cursed inwardly for it. "Are you serious?" He pointed behind him. "My teammates have been missing for twelve hours and no one's got even so much as a whiff of a clue to their whereabouts. I want to be officially appointed to help find them."
The Acting DA raised an eyebrow. He had to give the kid credit for his devotion to his friends, even if he was going about it all gung ho. "As I recall, they are no longer your teammates..." Before JD could cut in, he continued. "...and as for helping, we have Team Two and also the FBI involved so I see no reason other than personal necessity for you to interfere."
"'Personal necessity' as you put it, is the only reason for me to be involved, but then, I never expected you to see things from my perspective."
Bryce stared at the youth. "Agent Dunne, you're overwrought and clearly irrational, which confirms why personal involvement is the worst motive for participation. While this situation is ongoing, I fear your professional position will be compromised, and I suggest you take some personal time - actually, I insist, starting right now." He sat down. "Good day, JD."
JD stood outside Marshall Bryce's office in mild shock at how quickly his visit to the boss had been, and how little of a fight he managed to put up. His mind was racing.
If he took personal time, there was nothing to stop him looking for the guys. His brow crinkled and he glanced back at the office door. 'Did Bryce intentionally grant him time off so he could help?' JD walked from the outer office and toward the elevator. He looked back one last time as the question lay heavy on his mind.
Instinctively, JD pressed the elevator button for floor eleven, and as if the previous, painful weeks had never happened, he swiped into the office, sat at his old desk, and fired up his computers without a second thought. While bouncing between determination, fear, silent anguish, and threatening tears for his missing brothers, JD set to work.
Chris roused from the light doze he could just about manage due to having his wrists chained and connected to the wall he was sitting against. With only enough play in the chain to allow him stand and pee in a bucket that he shared with Buck, there was very little comfort, or room for maneuver. A weary, green gaze scanned his teammates whose eyes in turn met Chris's. Vin appeared to still be nursing a headache, but each hour that had passed since their incarceration saw him become more lucid.
"Don't we get bread with our water?" Vin moaned as his glare raked the empty water bottle lying next to him.
Josiah's deep voice rumbled over the tense silence that followed. "Matthew six, verse eighteen; 'That your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.'"
Vin peered at him through his least swollen eye. "Any chance that reward's a candy bar? I'm starved."
The others huffed out chuckles. Chris smiled; it took a lot to keep this team down for long. He addressed them all now they were more alert.
"I'm guessing this little song and dance is less about Brookes kidnapping us and more about diversionary tactics."
Buck nodded, and then winced from the movement. "Sure looks that way. Likely to be a lot of cops out there searching right now, and taking their eye off the real ball Brookes is kicking around out there." He tugged at his shackles.
"Thank God JD wasn't with us." He glanced up apologetically. "Sorry guys, just thinking aloud."
"Your thoughts are not ones we haven't considered ourselves," Ezra replied. The others nodded their agreement. The southerner wriggled uncomfortably. "How humiliating, I fear I have need of the bucket, Nathan."
"Knock yourself out," the EMT replied. "And have one for me while you're up there."
More chuckles offered enough noise cover to preserve Ezra's modesty. Just as Standish sat back down, the sounds of locks being slipped announced an arrival. The large roller door went up and men entered the room with fresh buckets, sandwiches and bottles of water. Brookes followed them in.
"Laughter? I must be treating you too well," he stated. He noted Larabee stand up, and heard chains rattle as angry agents gave in to their frustration.
"You and I both know this crap you're pulling is doomed to sink just as fast as any deals you've set up, so give it up, Brookes," Chris warned.
"On the contrary, Larabee, my business will soon be concluded, and thanks to your failure to intercept me, and consequent disappearance, by the time the Feds have figured out this location, I'll be long gone." His men collected up the used buckets and replaced them with the empty ones. As they, and Brookes turned to leave, he pointed to the food and drink.
"Don't guzzle this down, there will be no more."
"Brookes! We may be in here right now, but I know you'll be behind bars soon." The conviction in Chris's unwavering promise visibly unnerved the gunrunner.
"I disagree," was all he said before walking out, rolling down the door, and locking it.
Six hungry men stared desolately at the food and water.
"JD will work it out," Josiah said, steadfastly.
Buck instantly nodded, followed by four others. Chris unscrewed a bottle cap and took a drink of tepid water before answering.
Eight hours of intense investigation found JD tired and despondent. He glared at the information displayed on the monitor. He was missing something, he had to be, but every cross-reference threw up the same links and addresses; addresses that had been thoroughly scrutinized and cleared, now, and earlier in the investigation.
All bar one.
The address the guys raided, and were consequently kidnapped from.
JD battled against tears that threatened due to a mixture of weariness, frustration, and the despair at what his brothers of the heart might be going through. He refused to allow himself to go down the road of loss; not those guys, not his family.
For those six men to get caught out suggested planning on a massive scale by a very determined individual. He would never say clever. One thing his mother reminded him of regularly was that truly clever people didn't need to be underhanded; only those who aspired to be clever played dirty.
JD yawned, and almost broke his jaw when he pulled up short as a thought struck him.
It was known from Josiah's profile that Brookes's father died when Brookes was in his teens, and his mother passed soon after. Fingers flying over keyboards, JD sent his technology into a frenzy as he searched for Dean's parents' wedding certificate and cross-referenced each one of the names on there with property searches. One by one names were dismissed and properties discounted, until one building was unearthed, causing JD to turn almost apoplectic.
Could it really be that obvious?
Staring back at him was the name of a vast storage lockup - 'Sullivan of Colorado'. Pearl Sullivan was Brookes's mother's maiden name. Once the business name was entered into internet searches, a freight trucking company emerged, 'Pearl's Haulage', as well as an import/Export Corporation, 'P.S. Freight'. The company's CEOs were just one name; Dean Pearl. Clever, JD thought. The name Dean Sullivan could well have shown up during earlier investigations.
He wrote down the storage lockup's address while using his honed abilities to bounce off a military satellite and get a live image. He sent the live feed to Conference Room One's large screen and hurried to follow it. Inside, JD locked the door before he tweaked and twiddled and soon displayed an aerial image of the building. Zooming in, he couldn't hold in a squeak of celebration when he noted three vehicles, plus a truck and a semi, that were parked up in the building's parking lot. He found the truck and the semi to be registered to P.S. Freight, and Pearl's Haulage consecutively. Now, more than ever, JD felt he was on to something.
Disappointingly, there was no individual activity in the five minutes while JD watched and his fast, eager fingers Google-mapped the route to the business's location to pass on to the FBI and Team Two.
Finally, JD dialed.
Seated at his desk, Agent Lee Jervis answered a call. "Team Two, Jervis speaking. Oh, hey, JD. How are you holding up?" Grabbing a pen, Lee wrote. "Okay, I got that. As soon as Caulfield comes in, I'll pass it on." He listened.
"JD, I understand your eagerness, but you have my word, we're on it. Alan's in a briefing with the FBI, and I'll update him, and them, when they're done, okay? JD? Hello?" Shrugging, Jervis replaced the handset and put the message on Caulfield's desk.
Just about to join the briefing about Team Seven being held by the FBI and Team Two, Bryce reached into his jacket and answered his private cell phone. "Bryce." He scowled. "Agent Dunne, how did you get this number...? Never mind. I am due to attend a briefing, please...What? I see. Leave your information with...well, then I'm sure Agent Caulfield will see it when he returns to his office." He sighed.
"JD...son, while I understand how you're feeling, you must follow protocol. Let the appointed agents deal with your findings. Now, I really must go."
As he replaced his phone, Marshall Bryce felt a pang of dismay for the young agent. Dunne had worked himself into the ground to find his ex-teammates, and sounded strained on the phone. However, good men were on the case, and Bryce was confident Team Seven would be found. His true fear was whether they would still be alive, and for the first time since taking over, he wondered what Travis would do.
While JD stood with the disconnected phone still tucked against his ear and chin, his eyes never left the large screen. There was activity now, and the semi was being secured and checked. JD felt sure it would be leaving soon and yet his phone calls and pleas had been ignored. The panic welled up inside him and he paced back and forth in an effort to get his thoughts straight.
He had the location; the proof that there was a strong chance the business belonged to Dean Brookes; and if he waited, he might be too late if they were shipping out and his friends were there. With that last thought, the agent's alarm diminished alongside his growing confidence in deciding to deal with this the only way he knew how...
...once he'd figured out a few details - and then booked out a pool vehicle.
To get to his destination quickly through the building traffic, JD ran full lights and sirens until he was close. He was already wearing his mic, earpiece and flak jacket in order to save time. On the satellite link, the semi had looked about ready to leave, but he wanted to ensure it was carrying a parting gift from him before doing so. Parking up a distance from the building, JD radioed dispatch to apprise them of his position, and then ran flat out toward the storage warehouse.
The meeting at the Federal building broke up early and Team Two's leader Alan Caulfield returned to his office with plans to hit every business premises in Brookes' name, regardless of whether or not it was cleared by the team who were now missing. There was a chance someone out there knew more than they were admitting to, and the Feds were fast running out of time to unearth it. With a list of equipment to pick up, including a thermal imager, he sat down to prepare to brief his team.
He casually picked up the message on his desk. Moments later he was hollering out Lee Jervis's name. He held up the message from JD. "When did you get this?"
Lee checked the time. "About forty-five minutes ago."
"And you didn't call me?"
"You were with the FBI. I told JD you'd be informed before we head out."
Alan leaned in. "When a member of Team Seven contacts us we act on it. If JD's calling, he's got something."
"Alan...the kid's distraught, his buddies are missing..."
"Obstacles like that just make those guys razor-sharp and bloody-minded." He glanced at the flashing light on his office phone and played a second message from dispatch. Caulfield groaned. "Inform AAD Bryce, get the FBI in here and let's go, JD's already out there!"
From his covert position, JD tapped the license plate into his phone and watched the semi pull away with one of his trackers now in place. He watched Brookes speak to several men before three more vehicles drove off, leaving only one truck left. The gunrunner then walked back into the storage lock-up alone. After a short, cautious wait, JD used the throat mic to call dispatch and alert them to the tracker's frequency, and the direction the semi took. He advised them that he believed it to be carrying weapons and concluded his conversation by confirming his own position.
The report back included an order from Bryce to hold his position until back-up arrived, but when JD noted Brookes return to the remaining truck with an obvious intention to leave, he knew he had to act, and fast, if he was to find the guys. Taking down Brookes would simply be an added bonus at this point. With an instruction to dispatch of his concerns and intentions, he waited for Brookes to go back inside, and then prepared to make his move; while softly praying that backup would be there real soon.
Walking from the front area and back through a corridor of storage lock-ups, Dean Brookes stopped at the farthest one. He entered and smiled at the six weary, battered, shackled men.
"Well, this is where we part company. I see my men have kindly emptied your buckets for you. I haven't decided when to call the authorities to advise them of your location - or even if I will." He noted the glances between the manacled teammates, and felt extremely grateful they were secured.
Smiling to hide his discomfort at Larabee's long, hard glare, Brookes stepped out into the corridor and secured the door in three places, leaving the six agents chained up in a small, dimly lit storage locker, unsure of their fate, and listening to the departing footsteps of possibly their only hope of getting out of there.
Standing inside the building's sizeable front area, Dean Brookes took one last glance around the property he had cleverly concealed from the authorities. His intention to be last away was twofold; one, to ensure the arms, and his goons, were well away to present no connection to him should they be stopped. Two; to gloat at Larabee's so-called 'Magnificent Seven', who were detained at his leisure, and were at his mercy to be released. He paused momentarily at a glancing thought of what was wrong with that image, but he shrugged off the fleeting concern and put it down to weariness as he packed up his final possessions.
However, his smug world suddenly came crashing down when, from outside, all hell broke loose.
"ATF! It's over, Brookes. I have at least thirty cops and SWAT out here with me. Give it up!" Armed and ready to go in, JD took a steadying breath as he waited outside the open doorway.
"Go to hell, Fed!"
"I probably will, but you'll be there before me, Dean!" JD called back.
A shout of 'GO! GO! GO!' went up moments before the storage facility was swamped with the sounds of hollering, running, and automatic gunfire, Rotor wash from an approaching helicopter added to the bedlam. Inside, Brookes was tempted to use Team Seven as collateral, but aware of his already mounting Federal offences, and safe in the knowledge of the semi well on its way with the guns, and all weapons payments safely banked, he decided to leave this mess up to his attorney to sort out.
Hands held out in front of him, Dean Brookes calmly exited through the main doors, but as he got closer, and saw only a single armed cop there, instinct took over and he rammed into JD in an attempt to disarm him. The pair traded blows as they rolled around on the ground. Despite his exhaustion, JD's adrenaline was flowing and his training ensured he eventually got the upper hand. He turned Brookes over, shoved him face first into the ground, and forced one knee into Brookes's back while he cuffed the man.
Overpowered, cuffed, and lying on the ground, it occurred to Brookes that they were still alone. He strained to look back at the youth. "Where's your backup? The place was surrounded."
JD reached for the iPhone he'd dropped in the skirmish, held it up, and smirked. "No backup, just me."
After a search of the prone man, JD removed a gun, a ring of keys, and a cell phone. The young agent scrambled to his feet, dragged Brookes upright, and marched him back into the outer area of the lock-up before slamming the crook back against a metal stanchion. JD pushed his Colt into the man's face.
"WHERE ARE THEY?" he spat.
Receiving only a stare in reply, JD put pressure on the gun under Dean's chin. "I'm in a real shitty mood and I can promise you, no one out there's gonna be concerned about me shooting you in the line of duty." He smiled and gestured with his head to outside. "But then you already know that."
Brookes paused a few moments longer, and then jerked his head in the direction of the storage lockers. With a grunt, JD took out an extra pair of cuffs he'd brought with him in anticipation of more than one man to subdue, and secured Dean Brookes to the support.
"This isn't over yet, Kid."
JD stared at him. "Sure looks like it for you from where I'm standing."
He really had no time to gloat. He wanted to be like the guys and threaten murder and mayhem if his friends and teammates were hurt, but with his bravado about to take a dive due to his heart flip-flopping around in his throat, it was hard enough to control his breathing, let alone act tough. Instead, just before racing off, he pointed his Colt into the guy's face in warning, and gave Brookes his best Larabee-style glare.
"You..." Brookes stammered. He shook his head and his earlier flash of concern suddenly became clear. "'Magnificent Seven - we only took down six! You're one of Larabee's men."
Dabbing at his bloodied nose with the back of his hand, JD gave a nod and a tight smile before leaving. "You bet I am."
The youth jogged through the back corridors and passed by secured lockers, while yelling out six men's names. His heart pounded hard against his ribcage when no reply came. Reaching the final corridor, JD kicked at each metal door. Shouts from within the very last lockup had the youth running and calling back. Gun at the ready, JD carefully fumbled in his pockets for the keys he'd taken from Brookes. Trembling fingers unlocked the three padlocks, and after shoving the keys back into his jeans pocket, JD slowly slipped the three latches.
He tossed up the rollup door with a strength he never realized he possessed. The room interior was lit with one overhead bulb. All business, he checked the room before turning his filling eyes to the six men who were chained to a wall.
JD's legs wobbled from utter relief at seeing them alive, and bent forward to rest his hands on his knees to regain his composure.
He straightened, and then walked forward on shaky legs before squatting on his haunches to talk to Chris. "How bad?" he rasped.
Chris allowed himself a small smile "Nothing too serious."
JD moved to the others, visiting and reconnecting with each man in turn. His heart constricted with every cut, graze and bruise he noted. Although Vin's eyes were clear, JD could see the dried blood and the wound peeking through the sharpshooter's matted hair. Vin met JD's gaze and winked at him.
"I'll live, Kid - thanks to you."
Welling eyes spilled and, unable to reply, JD squeezed Vin's shoulder. He glanced across at Ezra when he spoke.
"Sounded like you had quite a battle out there," the beaten southerner drawled.
JD scrubbed at his eyes and once more fished out his iPhone. "You mean these guys?" He tapped the screen and the earlier ruckus played out to the six teammates.
"Soundtrack from one of my games," he announced, proudly while he moved on to Buck.
"You're alone?" Buck asked. He watched JD nod. "Damnit Kid..." His eyes brimmed. "Man, you've got balls, boy. Bryce is an idiot if he thinks you should be left to stagnate in an office as a tech." His eyes scanned the bruises forming on JD's face.
The youth touched a sore spot. "This is nothing, honest."
With a nod, Buck leaned closer. "I'm proud of you little brother."
"Buck, I..." JD started to whisper as his defenses once again wavered. When he saw Buck wink, he simply nodded. Message understood, on both sides, and a more personal reunion would take place later.
"Why are you alone, Kid?" Chris pushed.
JD sighed. "L-o-n-g story." He indicated to his mic and earpiece. "Although I have been transmitting to dispatch since I reported the semi leaving here, directly before I captured Brookes. Man, you should have seen his face…"
JD started to chuckle, but needed to quickly turn away as the memories of his struggle to find his brothers, and the constant fear that he would be too late to save them, once again almost overtook him. 'Shit.' He slowly looked around at each man.
"I uh, there were moments back there when I thought I'd lost you all."
Chris shook his wrists and rattled the attached chains. "JD," he said softly in an attempt to ease JD back into his task. "Brookes has a key."
JD's eyes widened. "Oh, yeah. Sure, sorry."
"There's nothing for you to apologize for, and Kid – I'll want details when we're out of here, especially about that semi."
With a small grin, the youth nodded. "Sure thing, Bossman." He turned with the intention of going for the keys when it occurred to him what he'd removed from Brookes earlier, and had used to open the locker. Dipping a hand into his pocket, JD held the keys in his outstretched palm and looked abashed at the six, chained men.
Grins formed, followed by laughter, which was a relief, as well as pretty amazing after what they'd been through. Josiah spoke around a fat lip.
"John Dunne, don't ever change, son."
Moving to Chris, JD dimpled his cheek and shrugged. "Don't reckon I could even if I tried." When he unlocked Buck's cuffs, JD happily succumbed to the man's tight bear hug.
They broke apart when a noise from outside heralded the arrival of JD's long-awaited backup. While JD continued unlocking chains, Team Two's leader, Alan Caulfield, entered the room, and relaxed his firearm on seeing the scene before him.
"Sorry we're a little late..." He scowled at Jervis. "I haven't long gotten your message."
"Did you find Brookes?" JD pointed to the front of the building.
Caulfield nodded. "Sure did." He glanced around. "Who assisted you?"
JD winked at the others. "iPhone."
Caulfield frowned. "Who? Is he a Fed?" His eyes narrowed when the six now standing, shaky, bewhiskered agents, grinned. "I'm missing something, aren't I?"
"It'll all be in the report, don't worry," JD promised. He relaxed a little when paramedics came in to check on the freed men. 'Along with my resignation,' he thought to himself.
Much to the exasperation of the six freed agents, their attending doctor at the hospital insisted they stay in overnight. He proclaimed them to be considerably dehydrated, while all suffered either cracked, bruised or even broken ribs, and one needed his head glued. They were a little more cheered when female nurses helped them clean up some, though due to cuts and grazes, the whiskers would have to stay for a few days.
Doctor Freeman put the six agents on IVs to ensure their meds and hydration were controlled while they got some much needed sleep, and explained that once they ate a small meal of soup, chicken sandwiches, and yogurt, he would insert a mild sedative into their IV to help them rest thoroughly.
While all this went on, JD went back to the office and wrote up his report. Returning to the hospital, and before being allowed to visit his friends, he was guided to a cubicle for an examination of the bruises and cuts suffered during the fight between him and Brookes. Once released, he found the men settled in a room big enough for them all. He walked in and grinned to see the six of them digging into a meal, and ignored the fact that his growling belly was reminding him he had barely eaten since this whole nightmare started.
"Well, you guys look a whole lot better."
Buck grinned. "You mean cleaner."
"Yeah, that too," JD chuckled. He sat in the large, comfy chair situated against a wall, and between the two sets of three beds, and faced them all. "Team Three and some of the FBI caught up with the semi. It was packed full of automatics." He smiled. "They decided to play it out instead of striking immediately, and as luck would have it, the truck went straight to the buyer's warehouse - one Rufus Siddiqi. He and five goons were arrested as soon as he took delivery of the load."
"And Brookes?" Chris asked.
"Charged with gun running and has a court appearance tomorrow. DA says he's gonna move that Brookes be denied bail due to being a flight risk." JD leaned forward in his seat.
"Bryce wants your statements as soon as possible, and so wants y'all to go into the office before taking a paid sabbatical."
Chris huffed and each man looked his way. "'Paid sabbatical', a neat way to reduce enforced sick absence percentages, just - call it a new name."
JD sat. "Yeah, well, we know he likes keeping costs down." He gulped. "I, uh, handed him my report."
All six narrowed their eyes - as best they could with the bruising they'd suffered. Ezra spoke up.
"I sense more to that statement."
JD licked his lips, nervously. "No, that's it..."
The door opening had them all look toward it and JD on his feet and his gun drawn.
"At ease, Agent Dunne," Assistant Director Travis ordered. He looked at his injured men. "I've read JD's, Caulfield's, and Agent Struts of the FBI's reports. Quite an incident. How are you all?"
Chris intercepted five men about to give Travis both barrels over Bryce's behavior while in charge. "Welcome back. We'll be fine soon enough, but I need to talk to you once you have the reins again, Judge."
Orin nodded. "The reins are mine and I'm up to speed, and yes, I would like that talk, Chris, and also with all of you." He produced an envelope. "Yours, I believe, JD."
Buck noted JD's coyness. It only took a few glances between JD, Travis and the envelope before he twigged and barked out at him. "You resigned? Without talking to me? Or Chris? Or any of us!?"
Vin's eyes were fixed on JD and a change of demeanor in the youngster prompted a soft utterance of 'Shit!' from the Texan. Travis took an instinctive step back as he noticed JD's features darken before almost two months of hurt and frustration, and two recent days of pure fear for his friends, exploded out.
JD leaped from the chair. "Resigned?! You bet I resigned! I needed to make my point, and seeing as Bryce listens to no one, I figured direct action was the only way to reach him." He raised a leveled hand above his head and his voice rose with it.
"I'd had it up to here! Weeks and weeks of living with the clear message from him that my technical skills are the only thing he rates me for; subjected to having to work our case from the sidelines, to then being forced to act covertly to find you guys while not even sure you were alive or dead! Even when I figured out where you could be and I told Bryce, he still blew me off!" JD took a breath.
"Do you know what he said when I handed in my report? He told me I was facing a disciplinary, maybe even dismissal for my actions. Gross misconduct, he called it. Jeezus! I wasn't making a point, or disobeying orders when I came for you, guys, I was trying to make up for the fact that while other teams got my assistance, my own team didn't, AND COULD HAVE DIED BECAUSE OF IT!"
While he gulped in air, JD missed Travis moving closer, and Chris having to threaten Buck to stop the man tearing out his IV and going to JD. Travis took the youth's elbow as he watched every emotion emerging to overwhelm the worn out youngster.
"Kid, come here," Buck ordered, but the emotion in his voice took the strength out of it. "Come on, son, come here."
With a dismissive wave, JD wrenched his arm from Orin's grip, bolted for the door and hurried out of the room and down the corridor.
"Get-this-off-me!" Buck hollered, once again tearing at the tape holding the IV in place, and while ignoring Chris's orders to quit it. A large hand covered Buck's and the distraught man looked up.
"Enough, Buck," Travis ordered. "I'll find him."
Working on the fact that JD would not want to be seen upset, Orin walked until he found an empty room. Sure enough, he found JD inside and huddled in a shadowy corner. Taking a seat in a chair close by, Orin waited patiently until his youngest agent looked up at him.
"They're worried about you. You should go back."
JD's voice was husky as he replied. "I know, Sir, sorry."
"I'm not looking for apologies, son. I am, however going to offer one for what's been happening over the last two months."
JD frowned. "It was hardly your fault, Sir."
"In a way, it was. I failed to leave orders not to mess with my personnel. However, some of his decisions make fiscal sense, and, reluctantly, I will leave those in place."
JD's eyes widened in alarm. "And me?"
Orin stood and helped JD up. "Take a day to recover, and then come and see me."
Smiles of relief emerged from the hospitalized team when Orin and JD walked into the room.
"Sorry," JD rasped out.
Buck patted the comfy chair now positioned between his and Chris's beds. JD dropped into it and sighed with inner contentment when Buck's hand rested on top of his head. Minutes later, the boy was asleep.
"I'll talk to the hospital staff and tell them you have a temporary guest," Travis promised as he gestured to JD. "I suggest you follow JD's example and get some rest too, boys." He looked at Chris, and saw the blond relax when Larabee recognized from the man's expression that all would be well.
Travis ripped up the resignation letter, before finding a spare blanket and draping it over JD's sleeping form "I am back in charge. There will be no disciplinary for JD. Bryce will be returning to the Finance department tomorrow." He paused. "The man needs guidance, but I have to acknowledge, he gets things done. In hindsight, the Director has determined to take advice from his ADs over any future temporary appointments."
He glanced at JD, and then at each man. "For what it's worth, Bryce was impressed by your fervor and professionalism in the handling of this case, and especially with JD's tenacity, even if he did disobey a direct order. Hopefully this experience will educate Bryce to the more human side to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, and that experience and loyalty count for far more than mere qualifications and friends in high places."
There was another, longer pause. Vin broke the silence.
"Uh, seein' as you're goin' out, could you arrange more food for us?" he asked.
Laughter from the team broke the tension. Travis nodded, and finally cracked a smile. "I'll see what I can do."
ONE WEEK LATER
Sitting inside his office in IR, JD smiled when Jim Fawkes knocked and entered. "Hey."
Fawkes perched on the corner of the desk. "Hey, yourself. Ready?"
Picking up a box, JD stood and held it against his chest as he nodded. "Sure am." He awkwardly extended his hand. "Thanks for your support. It's been great working with you. If circumstances had been different..."
Jim stood and shook the offered hand. "Yeah. Same here, I've enjoyed having you with us, even if it was a short while."
JD gestured with his head toward several folders stacked up on the desk. "That's the last of the recent casefiles you asked me to work on. I've been showing Knells a few tips - loosened him up a little to push the boundaries, so to speak. I pressed Travis until he sanctioned for team techs to be able to use all Intel options available when working a case. You should do the same. Criminals fight dirty, and we should be able to also..." His cheek dimpled in a grin. "...Without repercussions."
Exiting the elevator on floor eleven, JD was surprised to see Marshall Bryce waiting for a car. "Sir."
Bryce looked at him. "Agent Dunne." He eyed the box in JD's arms. "Back here, I see."
Bryce nodded. "Good. I - I was wrong, you should be here. What is needed, is to ensure IR have better access to the personnel they're liaising with, instead of remaining faceless to those who require their assistance."
JD smiled. "Sounds like a good move, Sir. Maybe if a team leader met with Agent Fawkes when requesting information on a case instead of just calling, it would go a long way toward that."
"Indeed." Bryce stepped into the waiting elevator and spoke as the doors closed. "Best of luck with your ongoing field training."
JD stared after the rising elevator for a few moments before shaking himself out of his astonishment from Bryce's words. "Wow."
He tried not to look disappointed when he walked into the bullpen to find only one team member there. "Hey, Ezra. On your own?"
Standish spoke without looking up. "I am, Mister Dunne. Please excuse me, this email is extremely urgent."
"Uh, yeah, sure." He set the box down on his desk and smiled as he glanced around. Man, it was good to be back. He began to unpack. On hearing the squeak of the bullpen door, he turned to see who it was. JD jolted when the whole team were stood there, grinning.
"SURPRISE!" Buck hollered out, seconds before striding into the room and grabbing JD to give him a squeeze. "You didn't really think we wouldn't be here for the official reuniting of the 'Magnificent Seven', did you?"
He put the chuckling youth down and all but Chris welcomed JD 'home'.
"Well, I did kinda wonder where everyone was, but I know it gets hectic around here, so..."
Ezra patted JD's back. "I take it you approve of the urgent email I sent out, then."
JD grinned. "It was to these guys?"
"It was. We wanted to ensure the occasion was marked appropriately."
Chris Larabee stepped forward with an envelope in his hand. He shook JD's hand and gave him the packet. "Good to have you back. This is from Travis, and Bryce delivered it personally."
Curious, JD accepted it. "I wondered why he was down here." The young agent ripped the sturdy envelope open and took out the frame within. His jaw dropped open, rendering him speechless for a moment or two.
"Wow, a...a commendation." He looked around at his smiling friends. "Neat, but - it don't seem right to accept this just for doing my job."
Chris raised his hand to squeeze JD's shoulder. "It's not all about doing your job. It's about battling against the odds, and bureaucracy, and going above and beyond the call of duty to save six men's lives." he grinned. "And all while capturing a wanted gunrunner."
JD's eyes glistened as he listened to his hero quote what any one of these men would do for their country, and for each other. He took a breath, and grinned.
"Ah, well, if you put it like that..."
Laughter filled the bullpen, accompanied by calls and embraces of congratulations. Vin called out over the noise.
"Now can we eat?"
JD turned to him. "There's food?"
Tanner nodded. "Yeah. Inez has put out a spread in the backroom of the Saloon for us."
JD raised a hand and the pair hi-fived. "Awesome." He looked to Chris. "Aren't we working?"
As each man grabbed their jackets and personal gear, Chris shook his head. "Not today; however, tomorrow, for team Seven, it's business as usual, and we get to fix what Bryce almost destroyed."
"Yeah," Buck agreed. It's good to have Travis back in control."
In the elevator, Josiah glanced around at his brothers. When the car stopped, he mumbled to himself as he followed behind the exiting group. "A new broom may sweep clean...but it's the old broom that knows the corners."