Chris was glad Vin was already in, he seemed to have a way with Nettie Welles, the Office Supervisor in Personnel. Nettie intimidated just about everyone in the Denver office right on up to AD Travis and maybe him too. And though Nettie didn't intimidate Chris, he had never been able to get anything he wanted from Personnel without going through proper channels. Personnel files were rarely allowed to leave the ATF office building and certainly not without the required minimum of two authorizing signatures. Vin had managed this small miracle in one minute flat.
+ + + + + + +
Ellen was sitting as her desk studying the album when Chris charged through the door.
"What have you found?" he demanded.
"First things first Chris. I don't want any mistakes or misunderstandings here," she replied. She seemed unperturbed by his sudden entrance but if truth were told she found his take charge bull-in-a-china-shop style irritating. If circumstances in their lives hadn't put them in each other debt she doubted they would ever have given each other a second thought.
Chris was not patient person by nature and Ellen could very exasperating, she just had to do things her own way. He respected her expertise and her professionalism and when he would admit it to himself he respected her for her compassion. This was her playing field he would have to do things her way. For five or ten minutes anyway.
"Chris how well do you know J.D.?"
"Quite well, I did both his first and second interviews for the team myself. His credentials were excellent in both computer skills and on-the-job police experience. HR wanted him to join the systems group and chase cyber-crime because his references were excellent. He's a rookie so we've worked pretty closely over the last year."
"Why him though? Surely there are a number of other talented people who would have filled your requirements?"
"Ellen with his looks he's a natural for undercover work in gangs, and schools. He fits in so well, despite his age and education; it's impossible to tell the difference between him and any other junior in school these days. He's been with us not quite a year and his work has been exemplary."
"At 20 years of age how did you get him approved for such an elite team?"
"One of the stipulations that Assistant Director Travis had when J.D. joined the team was that I commit to guardianship. J.D. was still under 21 and technically an orphan. Travis wanted to make sure I was serious about someone so young and inexperienced joining a team of specialists that if I wanted him on the team bad enough I had to personally commit to guardianship. Travis decided it was acceptable because it would be less that a year before J.D. turned 21. Then when J.D. and Buck hit it off so well that it only made sense that Buck have guardianship rights as well. Why? Ellen what are you getting at? What's this got to do with J.D.'s condition?" Chris' voice taking on a suspicious tone.
"Come on over here to the couch and sit down, bring the personnel file."
"Yesterday afternoon I received this fax in reply to Carlie's inquiries. It was a copy of a report from a free clinic in Boston that J.D.'s mother took him to when he got the chicken pox in 1985. The clinic wasn't computerized and their reporting was done by hand."
"Yeah, so what?"
"Chris, take a look at the date of birth."
"1982... That can't be right! 1982 makes him 18 going on 19!"
She looked at him steadily, "Not 20 going on 21."
"There must be some mistake," he protested. "The copy of his birth certificate in his personnel file reads March 30, 1980 as his date of birth, so does the copy of his driver's license. The clerk at the clinic who took that information must have made a mistake."
"That's what I thought, I've volunteered in free clinics, they're a zoo half the time and pandemonium the rest. Last night I asked Buck to search through J.D.'s belongings at home and he found this album. J.D.'s mother had put it together. It's a beautiful piece of work, something a mother would do. I want you to take a look at it." She handed the book to him.
At first Chris seemed hesitant to take the book, as if taking it would burn his hand, and then a resigned look came over his face. He already knew the answer.
He leafed slowly through the album. He smiled at some of the pictures and read some of the write-ups with interest. After a few minutes he set the book down open to the page with the picture labeled "John's Birthday 1985".
"There is no way the child in that picture in five years old." He concluded.
Chris leaned back against the back of the couch, resting his head for a moment on the cushioned back. The fatigue from the worry and lack of rest over the past few days was evident on his face. "Jesus Christ, he's 18 years old."
"Ellen, even with the copy of the report from the free clinic, what made you suspect there was more than a clerical error here?"
"It's what each of your men had to say about J.D. Chris. They all have very unique insights into him. Josiah told me about J.D.'s difficult upbringing, his having to make tough decisions while still very young but he doesn't seem to have gained confidence from that experience. Josiah felt J.D. was still unsure about his place with the rest of you. Nathan told me how very intelligent he is. Buck is all the evidence anyone needs to know the boy is loved and wanted. Ezra has no doubt he could hack into anywhere he wanted to with his computer skills but that he's too honest for the long-term deception of undercover work. Then Vin told me about a conversation he'd had with J.D. about lying, when it is and isn't justified. Individually these insights didn't mean much but together with the album..."
"It's not hard to put together from there Ellen. The report from the free clinic raised a question about his age and the rest of begins to make sense. These pictures and the baptismal certificate confirm he's two years younger than we thought. The guilt of having lied to get on to the team has caught up to him with his supposed 21st birthday coming up."
"I think so, Chris. The fear of being found out and the potential consequence of being dismissed from the team and more importantly from his new family just became too much to deal with on his own."
"And with this lie he couldn't confide in any of us, could he?"
"I don't think he felt he could."
"This is the emotional strain, the reason he's not waking up."
"I think so," she replied quietly.
"Jesus what a mess!" He paused a moment be fore asking, "what are you going to do?"
"I'm going to dump this back in your lap my friend and ignore what I've found out, pretend he's nearly 21 and use doctor-patient confidentiality as my defense. "
"Thanks for your support."
"Oh you've got my support. I know as far as the ATF is concerned, if he's found out this could end his career for any number of reasons; computer hacking, being under age, lying on his application. I don't even want to think about the legal consequences of his actions. But more importantly, I know that whatever you decide to do, you'll do it because he's a part of your family and you and those other five men out there love him like a brother. You'll do what's right for him and what's right for the rest of your men. Any decision you make will be for that reason and that's the right reason. I'm not qualified to make such a decision."
Chris gave her a weak smile. "What makes you so damn wise?"
"I'm older than you remember, therefore wiser," she teased.
"Well the rest of the team is entitled to know and I want to talk to J.D. and find out how all this came about in the first place."
"Nothing leaves this room unless you say so. Let me know what you decide and I'll make sure my paperwork corroborates whatever you decide to do."
"So what do we do now? How do we wake him up so I can talk to him?"
"After I telephoned you, I talked to Carolyn Baldwin, our resident in psychology. She had a suggestion, it could be a little rough emotionally but she thinks it might be the best way to go."
+ + + + + + +
An hour later Ellen approached J.D.'s room with Dr. Carolyn Baldwin by her side. Chris, Vin, Josiah, Nathan and Ezra were waiting outside the door to his room.
"Gentlemen, this is Dr. Carolyn Baldwin, I've asked her to join us because, quite frankly, I'm outside my field of expertise here and I wanted Carolyn here just in case."
"Doctor Baldwin," Chris nodded a curt greeting in Dr. Baldwin's direction. "I've filled everyone in on what we suspect, Buck is in with him now."
"We were in luck, Carlie found lavender soap in the gift shop," said Ellen. "I've washed my hands with it."
"One quick caution before we go in." Carolyn Baldwin "From what Dr. Kendall has told me about this case, your friend has been under an excessive amount of emotional strain, he is likely to be very emotional now and for the next few days. As distressing as it may be, it will be good for him to let it out."
"No more'n it will be for the rest of us ma'am," said Vin.
The group quietly entered the room. Buck looked up from his place beside J.D. He started to rise but Ellen motioned him to stay where he was. She moved around to the other side of the bed and gently and efficiently removed the monitor wires taped to J.D.'s arms and chest until only the IV remained. The other five men gathered in a group to stand a step behind Buck. Dr. Baldwin waited just inside the door.
Ellen took a deep breath and then sat down on the bed. She placed her hands either side of J.D.'s face and turned his head gently to face her. She then held one lavender scented hand under his nose. J.D. was quiet for a moment and then he visibly started, jerking his face away and then back towards her hand, his eyelids twitched but did not open.
Ellen leaned over her patient. "Sparky," she said gently. "Come on Sparky it's time to wake up."
A frown formed on J.D.'s face. His hands came up searching blindly, Ellen took them in hers but he still didn't open his eyes.
"Come on Sparky, Momma needs to talk to you, time to wake up sweetheart."
J.D. went suddenly still, and then it came ... a cry of such anguish it sent chills down everyone's spine. "Ohhh Momma!" Then a loud sob, "Oh Momma, I'm in such trouble."
With that he sat up suddenly, grabbed and held her in a hug, she put her arms around him and rocked him back and forth letting him cry.
"Momma I don't know what to do, they'll send me away, I broke the law, I lied to them, they thought they could trust me but I lied. I didn't mean to, I had to. Momma, what am I going to do?"
The anguish in his voice was heartbreaking. Everyone's eyes glistened with tears.
"It's okay sweetheart, everything is going to work out somehow," she said, attempting to make her voice sound soothing despite her tears. "I promise you Sparky everything will be alright."
More sobs, the weeks of emotional strain and worry spilled out in sob after sob for some minutes. J.D.'s body shook with the effort. Ellen continued to provide soothing words of comfort.
Then Ellen felt a change in the hug, the worst was over and J.D. was beginning to notice his surroundings. "J.D. I have some friends of yours here to help you."
Ellen drew back from the hug, she ignored the confused look on J.D.'s face when he saw hers and put her hand on Buck's arm and pulled him into J.D.'s line of sight.
"Buck?" said a small voice.
"Right," croaked Buck, his voice broke. Buck cleared his throat, "ahh, right here kid, like always".
J.D.'s next words were muffled against Buck's shoulder as he dove into Buck's arms.
The sound of more that one man's tears could be heard as Ellen closed the door behind herself and Carolyn Baldwin on their way out.
+ + + + + + +
Ellen stopped in to check on J.D. last thing before she went home for the weekend.
J.D. was asleep, exhausted from all the "emotional turmoil" according to Ezra. Buck, Nathan and Ezra were keeping watch over their young friend.
Buck informed her that they hadn't a chance to question J.D. about the discrepancies in his records. The young man was so emotionally spent, Chris had decided it could wait until tomorrow or Sunday. Chris still had two days until Monday morning when he would have to provide AD Travis with an update.
A brief examination of J.D.'s shoulder indicated that it was continuing to heal nicely. She left her pager number with Buck, just in case she was needed over the weekend.
Her job here with these men would soon be done she thought with a hint of regret. They are very lucky to have found each other she thought to herself.
J. D. spent the morning watching cartoons with Vin and Buck. Vin had chuckled and Buck had laughed at the antics of the cartoon characters but J.D. for the most part had been quiet. In fact he hadn't said much of anything last night or this morning and that had Buck worried. Why shouldn't J.D. be quiet? Buck reasoned to himself. Hell, the kid's had a lot to worry about the last few weeks and he's been through a lot physically and emotionally the last few days. Buck had figured everything would be okay if J.D. would just wake up. Well, now he was awake and everything sure didn't seem okay.
Buck thought it might help to do something they would usually do Saturday morning, and that was watching the cartoons. But J. D. wasn't really watching the cartoons so much as lying facing the T.V. He was trying to sort things out in his mind. They had told him he'd been shot when he and Buck stumbled in on a hold-up Tuesday night after the hockey game. He remembered the game... sort of.... He remembered being shot, the pain anyway and the bandages and stitches were confirmation enough of those events. Everything after that became so confusing. He remembered being alone in a place that was familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. He remembered feeling lost and in danger but also feeling like he wasn't far from a safe place just not sure how to get to it. He had hoped his mother would help him, but at the same time he knew she was dead. And then suddenly she was there...?
Every sniff, every little movement from J.D. brought a worried sideways glance from Buck. It was beginning to get on Vin's nerves. Vin suggested Buck take a break. Why not go get them some coffee, maybe go out to a Starbuck's and get some real coffee and some breakfast for the both of them. He'd been there all night after all, and the break would do him good.
J.D. took advantage of Buck's one brief absence from the room that morning, to take a trip to the bathroom. He leaned on Vin's arm to steady himself on the journey to and from but managed on his own otherwise. Buck would have made too big a deal of things and Vin was glad to oblige as much or as little as J.D. wanted.
J.D. ate sparingly of his lunch of toast, applesauce and the weak peppermint tea that Nathan had brought him. It wasn't much but it felt good in a stomach that had gone too long with out solid food and mercifully it stayed down without a fuss.
A short while later Chris, Josiah and Ezra walked through the door carrying chairs.
"I dare say Mr. Dunne you are looking remarkably better than last night, there even appears to be some colour in your cheeks," said Ezra cheerily.
"Thanks Ezra," replied J.D. managing a weak smile. He suddenly felt very anxious and he wasn't sure why.
"I'd say he looks on the road to recovery." Said Josiah giving J.D. a warm smile of his own.
J.D. could only manage a small smiled in reply.
"How ya doing son?' Asked Chris as he pulled his chair up beside Buck's.
"Good Chris, really, I'm much better," said J.D. anxious to please.
The rest of seven settled themselves into chairs around J.D.'s bed.
"I'm glad to hear that," said Chris giving J.D. a warm smile.
It was time to get down to business and find out what was going on. Chris looked at the boy knowing he was two years younger than they had thought made him seem that much more vulnerable. He didn't want to upset the boy but he had to find out what happened if he was going to get the kid, out of this mess. Hell the kid, get all of them out of this. What affected one of them affected them all.
Chris began quietly. "J.D. while you were asleep we discovered some discrepancies in your personal records that could have some serious ramifications."
J.D. eyes became wide as his entire body visibly tensed.
"Now kid, take it easy," cautioned Buck putting a reassuring hand on J.D.'s good shoulder.
"Wh... what discrepancies?" The suspicion in J.D.'s voice belied the trembling body under Buck's hand.
"J.D. can you tell us why your records show you were born in 1980 and while we have some other evidence that shows you were born in 1982?"
J.D. jerked under Buck's reassuring hand the trembling was now visible to Ezra and Nathan at the foot of the bed, anxiety had transformed itself into fear.
"Son, there's nothin' to be afraid of." Buck moved the hand from J.D.'s shoulder to the back of his head to slowly stroke his hair, with his other hand he took J.D.'s hand in arm wrestlers grip and held it close to his own chest over his heart. He looked steadily into the boy's frightening eyes, willing J.D. to feel the reassurance he was trying to communicate to him.
"J.D. look at me," ordered Buck gently but firmly.
J.D. looked up at his friend with frightened eyes.
"There's nothing that's happened that we can't work out together... all of us here... together."
If any of them had any doubt previously that J.D. was ignorant of the discrepancies. His reaction at Chris's question confirmed that he already knew.
"We need you to tell us how it happened J.D." Chris said in a calm gentle voice.
J.D.'s gazed moved slowly from Buck to Chris and then slowly from man to man gathered around the bed. Each one sat quietly, offering silent encouragement, patiently waiting. It was now or never J.D. thought to himself. Josiah would tell him that god or fate or whatever you believe in had provided him the opportunity to relieve himself of this burden, and to have faith in his friends, so after taking a deep breath he began.
"When I was twelve Momma got real sick. She'd been sick off and on for years before that but this time she couldn't seem to get better. The medical tests and medication were expensive and not fully covered by what little insurance we had. I could get a job, if I was fourteen, helping out in a small grocery in our neighborhood. It was perfect because it was close to home and I'd only have to work after school and Saturdays. But I wasn't very big even for twelve and I needed a proof of age. That was the first time I broke..."
J.D. paused, blinked back threatening tears and took another deep breath before continuing "I hacked into state birth records and changed the year of my birth and then I ordered a new birth certificate. I had it sent to Mr. Hutchins, the grocer, so he'd know it was a genuine copy of a birth certificate and so my Momma" J.D. paused again. He dropped his eyes before continuing in a whisper "So my Momma wouldn't find out."
"What about school J.D. didn't any of your teachers or class mates suspect when you got a job so young?" asked Nathan.
"I was always smart in school. I'd moved ahead two grades by then but I was so much younger I didn't have that many close friends."
"But eventually didn't someone from school find out," persisted Nathan.
"The next school year I was going into high school and I was moving to a different school than everyone else, one for gifted learners. It was in a different neighborhood, so no one I knew from my old school would be there. During the summer before I...." Again J.D. paused, a lump rose in his throat as tears threatened once again.
Josiah supplied the answer. "You used your God-given talents once again and hacked into school records to change your birth date. Being a brand new school no one was the wiser?"
J.D. nodded, the tears beginning to drip from the corners of his eyes.
Still starring down at the covers, he continued. "Momma never told me but I figured it out for myself, she had leukemia. I was fourteen then and she had to go to a hospital across town for chemotherapy. Mr. Hutchins was good to me. He liked me and I worked hard for him. He thought I was sixteen so he let me use the delivery van to take Momma back and forth so we wouldn't have to go by taxi which would have been less convenient and expensive."
"J.D. with no vehicle to learn on how did you get your driver's license?" asked Chris, already suspecting he wasn't going to like the answer.
J.D. looked up at Chris, tears were now flowing freely down his cheeks, but he said nothing.
"I believe what Mr. Dunne is trying to tell us is that he simply issued himself a driver's permit. Am I correct J.D.?" asked Ezra is a gentle tone. "You drove your Mother to and from her appointments without ever having had the benefit of a driving lesson?"
J.D. wiped the tears away with the backs of his hands, nodding his head in agreement.
Buck's big hand gently squeezed the hand he still held over his heart. "It's Okay kid, you're doing fine." he whispered.
"Anyway I finished high school at sixteen. I had offers of scholarships to go to college but I didn't go because it meant I would have to leave Momma. I needed a job pretty quickly, one that paid okay. A guidance counselor suggested the police academy. One thing followed another. I graduated in six months, and joined the Boston PD. Momma died eight months later. Ten months after that you interviewed me Chris."
J.D. looked at Chris, his eyes pleading. "You have to believe me Chris I never meant to lie to you. I changed the records years before...." His voice broke but he continued on, sobbing "I didn't see how I could tell you and not have you wonder what kind of person you hired and could you ever trust me again. I thought if I told you I might have to leave.... I thought I could live with it until all this stuff about my 21st birthday...." The tears streamed down his cheeks now as the sobs took over.
Chris rose from his chair to sit on the side of the bed. Buck backed off letting of the boy's hand. Chris took J.D. gently in his arms and held him. In a soft, gentle voice he'd long ago forgotten he had, he tried to comfort the young man. "Shhh, take it easy now. It's okay son, everything is going to be alright." After a moment the sobs seemed to subside. Chris draw back from J.D. enough to look him straight in the eye but still held him gently by the back of the neck. "It's okay son, I believe you, every word. And no matter what happens your place is here with us, got that?"
J.D. nodded. Chris let him go and J.D. took the handkerchief Josiah offered him and blew his nose loudly into it. He wiped the tears off his cheeks with the sleeves of his hospital gown. With a big sigh he held his head up and looked into the faces of his friends. To his embarrassment two big tears started to roll down his cheeks again.
"I'm sorry guys," said J.D sobbed, "I can't seem to stop bawling."
"It's okay J.D. The Doctor said you might be a little emotional for a day or two," explained Nathan with the smile. "The bawling is just a stress release from all the worry you've been under that last few weeks. It's normal."
"It's still embarrassing," mumbled J.D.
Chris returned to his chair. "J.D. I need to know... is there anything else? Did you change any other records?" asked Chris as gently as he could.
"I was worried I'd get found out with databank cross referencing so I changed all the hospital and insurance records for myself, my mother's records of next-of-kin, my social security number..."
"I get the idea," interrupted Chris, holding up his hand to signal J.D. to stop. "Let me rephrase the question, are there any computerized records that you are aware of that haven't been changed?"
"The Catholic Church has computerized most of its records. I never even checked there because I wouldn't have changed them anyway... it would have seemed too much like a sin."
"Understandable brother," said Josiah.
Chris sighed and wondered for the one thousandth time in the twenty-four hours what he was going to do about this mess.
"All 'n all J.D. I think what you did was pretty courageous," said Vin.
J.D. and the others looked at Vin questioningly.
"You were in a tough spot all on your own, having to take care of your ma as best you could. You didn't ask for any handouts, you didn't do any of this out greed or for yourself. You did what any man would do to take care of his own. I'm proud of you." Vin finished giving J.D. a wide smile.
"Thanks Vin." Said J.D. returning the smile.
"Yeah J.D.," replied Chris.
"How'd you find out? About me changing my age I mean? I was pretty sure I hadn't left any evidence of what I'd done."
"I didn't find out son and as far as I know you didn't leave any evidence" answered Chris. "The doctor treating you for your gunshot wound figured it out.
J.D. frowned, clearly confused by Chris's answer. "How would a doctor...."
"Perhaps we should apprise our young friend of some of the details," suggested Ezra.
Buck cleared his throat as he put his hand on the boy's uninjured shoulder before starting. "J.D. during the surgery to fix up your shoulder, your heart stopped..."
J.D. jumped under Buck's reassuring hand, the wide-eyed look of shock in the young man's face was too much for Buck to continue.
"Then after the surgery, you wouldn't wake up, the doctors were pretty concerned because they couldn't figure out why," continued Nathan. "There didn't seem to be any physical reason anyway."
"It was suggested to us that the reason might be an emotional one," said Josiah. "We'd all noticed how preoccupied and withdrawn you'd been over the last few weeks. An emotional reason made sense. Maybe something was worrying you so badly you didn't want to wake up and face it..."
"...or us," added Buck quietly.
J.D. looked up at his best friend. He recognized the look in Buck's eyes. He'd seen it in his mother's so many times, worry mixed with sadness. He had held back his own worries and fears from her not wishing to add to her burden more than was necessary while she was sick just like he had held back from Buck these last few weeks. He now realized that in trying to make things easier for her he had only made matters worse for both of them. Sharing his fears with her would have lightened the load for both of them. Tears welled up in his eyes once again. He vowed to himself, he was never going to let that happen again.
Chris continued, "Doctor Kendall decided to do some investigating of her own. She received a fax copy of a medical report on you when you had the chicken pox in 1985. Your mother had taken you to a free clinic where the reporting was been done by hand, that report was later filed with the Massachusetts State medical records. On it your birth date was listed as 1982."
Buck's picked up the story again, "Ellen asked me to go looking through your things at home J.D. for pictures and stuff from when you were growing up. I found the album your Mom had made up about you while you were growing up. The baptismal certificate in it confirmed March 30, 1982 as your birth date.
"Though it is likely that none of us in this room can match your exceptional intelligence Mr. Dunne, it quickly became clear that this was likely the cause of your distracted behaviour over recent weeks" said Ezra. "You would certainly have understood the ramifications, both legal and ethical, if it were to become public knowledge that you were in fact only eighteen years of age. Further, it would not have taken long for our superiors to surmise that you would have had to have taken steps to ensure the validity of this falsehood."
"Hell Ezra. J.D. what Ezra's takin' so long to get at is that you're basically an honest man who'd got caught up in a lie with the best of intentions. Ya weren't sure we'd understand because you'd lied to us as well and ya didn't know if we'd stand by ya or turn away from ya. Your own personal moral code of honesty was in conflict with your desire not to disappoint us and your conscience wouldn't let you to rest easy until your personal turmoil was resolved," explained Vin.
The other five men gaped at Vin. Not usually one for words, Vin had neatly summed up the situation for them all.
"Whatta y'all lookin' at? I got a vocabulary, I just don't choose to wear it out like Ezra does," retorted Vin in a mildly indignant tone.
"The doctor, is she that lady I saw when I woke up?" asked J.D.
"Yes, J.D., she's a good friend of mine," replied Chris. "She specializes in orthopedics. Considering the severity of your injuries I was afraid you wouldn't be field certifiable again if the very best wasn't done to repair you shoulder."
J.D.'s face became grave before he asked in a quiet solemn voice, "Why was she pretending to be my Momma?" He looked younger that ever, his wide brown eyes serious.
"J.D. there was only one person you could ever turn to and not be worried they wouldn't not understand and that was your Momma," replied Josiah gently. "Doctor Kendall spent a lot of time interviewing each one of us and studying that book your Mother made to try and get to know you and figure out what was bothering you."
"Who would you feel safest with? Who would you most likely respond to, the one person who would understand the lie. Your Mother," said Chris.
"And despite your accusing Buck of being worse that a mother hen, none of us could have impersonated your mother as effectively as a woman could," said Nathan.
J.D. starred down at the covers on the bed for along moment. "Now what?"
"What do you mean," asked Chris.
"Now what Chris, what are you going to do about me being only nineteen years old?"
"Eighteen, you're not nineteen until Friday," corrected Chris a little more sternly than he had intended.
In a more gentle tone Chris answered. "I don't know just yet J.D. Let me worry about that for now, I'll let you know what I decide to do. In the meantime, you concentrate on getting better."
"Speaking of which', interjected Nathan, "you look pretty tired, we should go and let you get some rest."
"Where has the afternoon gone? It's nearly suppertime," commented Josiah. "It's good to have you back John Dunne. Don't ever leave us like that again," admonished Josiah with a wink.
"I won't Josiah" replied J.D. afraid that he was going to go to tears all over again.
"Take it easy J.D., is there anything you need or want from the nurses before I leave," asked Nathan.
"No thanks Nathan."
"Night pard, I'll come by first thing in the mornin' and bring ya somethin' that resembles real food for breakfast." Said Vin from the foot of the bed.
"Thanks Vin, I'd appreciate it."
J.D smiled to himself as he heard Nathan lecture Vin on the way out the door. "Vin I'd be careful what you feed that boy, his stomach is liable to still be sensitive..."
"Ahh Nathan give me some credit will ya'..." came Vin's reply.
Chris moved to sit back on the bed beside J.D. "J.D. remember what I said son, your place is with us no matter what happens, understand?"
"Yes sir," that was too much, a big tear started to rolled down each cheek again.
"Get some rest son." With that Chris rose from the bed and headed out the door with Josiah.
J.D. could only nod in reply.
"Buck, you got a minute," asked Chris.
"Sure thing Chris." Buck reluctantly rose to follow Chris and Josiah out the door.
"Be right back kid."
"How you holding up Buck," asked Josiah.
Chris, surprised by Josiah's question, looked at his oldest friend. He was dismayed at what he saw. Only just now did he see what the strain of worry had done to his friend over the last five days. Buck's face lined with fatigue, his eyes red rimmed from sleeplessness. He'd lost weight. Chris couldn't remember Buck having had anything to eat or drink except coffee for five days now. The realization hit him that he'd failed to back one of his men up.
"I'm making out okay Josiah," replied Buck wearily. "You know I'm trying hard not to see the kid any differently. Age is only a number right? He can still do all the things he could before we knew about the falsification of the records but I'm fighting this feeling to out and out baby him. I keep telling myself he's still the same J.D. just as capable as he was before."
"You're right, he is the same J.D. Buck," replied Josiah," but what's different is what we know about him. We all knew he'd been through a lot growing up, we just didn't know how much and what he'd had to do to survive it. It's this new understanding that causes the rest of us to see him differently. He hasn't changed. Don't worry, you step over the line with your mother-hen routine J.D. will let you know."
"I expect he will Josiah," said Buck with a chuckle. "So what's up Chris? What did you pull me out here to talk about?" asked Buck.
"Let's go get some chinese for supper, you look like you could use something to eat Buck and we need to discuss options for dealing with this situation."
"What about J.D?"
"Ezra can stay with him until you get back. We'll only be an hour or two."
"Is this an order?"
"I would prefer it wasn't Buck. You're joint guardian for the boy. I want your input on this decision."
Buck paused a moment to study Chris's expression. It had been some years since Chris had asked for his input on anything outside the job. Deciding Chris's request was serious, "Be right back," said Buck as ducked back inside J.D.'s room.
"J.D. I'm gonna go have some supper with Chris and Josiah, will you be alright with Ezra until I get back?"
"'Course I will Buck"
"I'll only be an hour or so, I'll bring you back some Chinese take out, the hospital menu for tonight is liver anyway. Fine with you Ezra?"
"I would be delighted to keep Mr. Dunne company until you return Mr. Wilmington," replied Ezra.
"Thanks Ez." With a gentle squeeze of the boy's good shoulder he was gone.
"Is everything alright?"
"What do you mean?" Ezra was puzzled by the question.
"The look on Buck's face just now. I get the feeling something's wrong."
"Not as far as I know J.D. You have presented us with a particularly complicated situation but nothing that cannot be resolved. I'm sure Misters Larabee, Sanchez and Wilmington are simply taking this opportunity to discuss how to proceed from here."
"You mean whether or not to turn me in," J.D. Commented glumly.
Ezra moved to sit on the bed, "J.D. having recounted your activities of the last few years to us, we are all now accessories after the fact. This is made especially serious since we are all peace officers sworn to uphold the law. Let me remind you of what Mr. Wilmington pointed out to you earlier, we are all in this together. What effects one of us effects us all."
"That's easy for you to say, you're not the one who broke the law."
"J.D. I will not try to mislead you. This is a quite a dilemma you have presented us with. Your career and maybe even your freedom are at stake. But I will lay odds on Mr. Larabee every time. Mr. Larabee is surprising resourceful. If I were you, I wouldn't worry about anything until I had to, but rather try and get some rest to prepare myself for whatever may come."
The gentle scolding seemed to have the desired effect, the boy rolled onto his side and settled in to take nap.
"For what may I ask?"
"For being truthful with me, Buck woulda either held back or sugar coated it to try and protect me like I was too young to handle it. I knew you'd tell me the truth and I really appreciate it"
"You're welcome J.D., now get some rest."
Ezra walked over to the window to gaze out of it unseeing, lost in thought. Why did he get such a warm feeling from one little compliment? He couldn't recall ever having been able to effectively comfort someone else before. This time he wasn't even trying, he was just being himself. But then how many people had he ever been just himself with? The attachments to these men were becoming dangerously close. He was becoming too comfortable. Hadn't Mother warned him? If you let your guard down, you will be taken advantage of. In undercover work letting your guard down could get you killed.
Ezra noticed that J.D.'s breathing had settled into a slow even rhythm. He returned to the chair beside the bed and sat watching the young man sleep.
Lee's Chinese Restaurant
Chris leaned back against the back of the booth and listened intently to Josiah. He hadn't been all that hungry and he valued the anthropologist's assessment of the situation. Josiah having finished his meal cradled his cup of Chinese tea in one hand while he talked. Buck was still making up for missed meals.
"I don't see any other way around it Chris. If we decide to keep what we now know a secret, though the rest of us no doubt can live with it, J.D. will still have the burden on his conscience. The potential threat of being found out will still exist. And if one of us should happen to let what we know slip, seven careers go down the tubes and more importantly one young man likely ends up in prison."
"But if we tell AD Travis, it takes the control of what happens to J.D. out of our hands', worried Buck.
"He's still 18 Buck, Travis could go lightly on him," said Josiah.
"He's by the book Josiah," was Buck rebuttal.
"He wrote a lot of that book," countered Josiah. "As hard as that man is, he values people and loyalty."
Chris spoke for the first time. "I don't know Josiah. I still have Travis's personal respect but I used up a lot of the favours he owed me after Sarah and Adam were killed."
"There is one bargaining chip," Josiah mused. "J.D.'s crimes themselves. If he'd been found out he would have been arrested long ago. You don't think the various agencies wouldn't like to know how he hacked in and out undetected?" asked Josiah.
"You do that and J.D.'s likely to end up working with all those geeks in cyber-crimes," said Buck.
"Which would you rather have Buck? J.D. working with geeks and living with you or trying to survive the daily group shower as an ex-cop in prison?" asked Josiah.
"Then there really isn't much choice is there," concluded Buck glumly. "We'll have to tell Travis."
"He's a tough but fair man Buck," said Chris trying to provide some reassurance for his friend. "I really don't see any other choice. Do you want to come with Josiah and I when we meet with Travis Monday morning?"
"No, I'll probably lose it and make matters worse."
"I have faith in you Bucklin," said Josiah, "you won't lose it."
"Just the same I'll wait for the news with J.D." He started to slide across the seat to exit the booth. "I better get this take-out food to him."
+ + + + + + +
Buck couldn't help but smile inwardly as he watched J.D. sleep. Despite everything Buck couldn't remember that last time he'd felt so contented. He knew now J.D. wasn't going to die. Even now the thought of such a thing happening sent a cold shiver of fear up his spine. He also knew that no matter what it took they would find a way to keep the kid out of jail.
Ezra said he'd fallen asleep soon after they had left and if J.D. was getting back into his usual routine he'd wake up hungry any moment.
As if reading his thoughts J.D. rolled over onto his back and gave a little sigh as he opened his eyes. He stretched his arms and moaned a little as the stretch pulled on the momentarily forgotten wounded shoulder.
"Easy there kid," cautioned Buck in a soft voice.
"Hey Buck," greeted J.D. with a smile. "When did you get back?"
"About an hour ago," replied Buck "You hungry?"
"Ah yeah... yeah I am," said J.D. yawning. He struggled to a sitting position.
"I told Mrs. Lee you had a sensitive stomach right now and she made something special for you." Said Buck reaching behind J.D. to adjust the pillows for him.
"Thanks Buck. The food sure smells good."
Buck sat back in his chair and was quiet while J.D. ate.
When J.D. finished he pushed the wheeled table aside and leaned back against the pillows. "That was really good Buck, thanks."
"My pleasure son."
After a short awkward pause, they both spoke at once.
"You go first J.D.," Buck prompted.
He'd seen the look of worry and fear in Buck's eyes this afternoon, the same look he'd seen in his mother's so many times. In the last seven years he had wished so many times for someone to share the load with him, someone just to talk to once in a while. The look in Buck's eyes now, told him he'd found just such a person in the tall gregarious man.
Looking down at the covers in his lap J.D. started, "Buck I never meant for.... I never meant to worry you so bad... for things to get so out of hand."
"I know you didn't son. But I can understand, you were only a kid J.D., trying your damndest to fill a mans' shoes in a situation that would challenge most grown men."
"No, I don't mean the hacking or the lying. I mean not talking to you, letting my fears get so bad that you thought I would rather die than come to you. I made that mistake with my Momma, not sharing with her and I think it only made things harder for her. I don't want to make that mistake again."
J.D. looked up into Buck's face. Buck's eyes were moist with tears. "I gotta admit J.D. for a while there I was afraid I'd lose you and I wouldn't know why."
Buck leaned forward in his chair, his elbows on his knees, his eyes staring down at his hands clasped in front of him. "Somewhere along the line you became like a younger brother. You've become family to me and I was hoping you felt the same way."
J.D. put his hand on the big man's shoulder. Buck looked up to meet his eyes, tears had made wet tracks down Buck's cheeks. "Buck, I'd be proud to be considered your brother."
Buck sniffed gently and nodded his head in acknowledgement as he sat up straight again. He cleared his throat before replying. "Thanks kid".
"What did you want to tell me?" asked J.D.
Buck paused before saying, "I wanted to apologize for going through your personal things. I wouldn't have done it except that Ellen felt she needed some personal information about you. I swear J.D. I haven't before and won't ever again invade your privacy like that."
"I know that Buck, maybe it was all meant to be, cause it sure seems like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders," he shrugged slightly and wincing at the effort, "so to speak. Where is the book now?"
"I put it back in your room on your bedside table," replied Buck. "I wasn't going to try and hide what I'd done."
"I umm, I'd like to show it to you... ahh you know, properly, when I get home."
"I'd like that just fine," Buck replied.