Into the Fold

by Becky

Part Seven

It was late in the day when JD arrived back in Denver. As he made his way out of the terminal, he stood staring at all the busy travelers rushing about, trying to escape the bitter cold winds that were so common this time of year. JD thought it was almost funny that he couldn't feel the cold at all, the shame and guilt of what had happened in New Mexico had already frozen his heart.

'How am I going to face Buck and Chris now? They'll know something's wrong as soon as they see me. And how am I going to explain this busted up hand to Nathan? God, I've got to get it together. If I don't, and they find out, we're all dead.' The dark-haired youth quickly swiped at the tears that momentarily blurred his vision. He carefully adjusted the sling now cradling his battered hand and proceeded to find a cab.

Since it was still early by Team 7 standards, Buck was not at the loft when JD arrived. He unlocked the front door and slowly made his way inside. Leaving his keys on the table, he headed straight for his room. Once there, he stripped off his coat and shoes and climbed, fully clothed, under the covers. 'Maybe if I just go to sleep this will all look better in the morning' he thought. 'Maybe when I wake up this will have been just a horrible nightmare.' Even as sleep descended on the young man, he knew he was wrong.

Buck entered his home after a less than exciting day at the office, intent on grabbing a beer and channel surfing the night away. At least one thing about the kid being away, he didn't have to fight for the remote. Just as he was about to sprawl on the couch, the glint of JD's key ring caught his eye. Walking over to get a closer look, he realized that his roommate must have come home without even calling to let him know.

Seeing that JD's door was closed, Buck padded over and gently knocked. "Hey, kid, you in there? It's me, Buck. I can't believe you came home and didn't even have the decency to give me a call." Not hearing a reply, Buck opened the door slightly and peered inside. The room was draped in shadows as the sun began to set. Buck almost didn't see the figure curled up under the covers on the bed.

Walking over to the bed, Buck was surprised to see his usually hyper roommate sleeping so early in the evening. The last time he could remember JD turning in this early had been a few months before, when he had succumbed to a nasty flu that had incapacitated over half the agents.

Buck immediately took note of the dark circles that marred JD's pale features. He also noted the lone tear that had made its way down the young man's cheek. Warning bells immediately began to sound in the older man's head.

Needing to know what had happened, Buck reached out and shook his roommate's arm in an attempt to rouse him. He was caught completely off guard when JD cried out in pain and curled even further into himself. As the covers slipped down, Buck saw the stark white material of the sling holding JD's right hand.

"Kid, it's just me… Buck… Come here, son, and let me take a look at your arm." Buck sat down on the edge of the bed and placed his hand gently on the small of JD's back, noting that his roommate was trembling slightly.

JD had been awakened by a bolt of pain running straight down to his injured hand. It took him a minute or two to realize that it had been Buck, and not one of Saunder's men who had grabbed him. Rolling over, he met the worried gaze of his friend.

"Hey, Buck," JD murmured. He was surprised at how weak his voice sounded. He struggled up to lean against the bed's headboard, bracing his arm tightly against his chest to try and stop the waves of pain that were washing over him. "Sorry I didn't call and let you know I'd be here. I hope I didn't spoil any plans you might have had." He couldn't bring himself to meet Buck's eyes as he spoke.

"No, kid, you didn't mess up any plans, but I can't believe you didn't call and let me meet you at the airport. I bet you had a hell of a time managing your bags and all with that hand of yours. What the hell happened?" Buck knew his tone came out a little harsher than he had intended, but seeing JD up close for the first time had done nothing to alleviate his concern.

"I didn't want to bother you guys. I figured you had had a busy day. It wasn't too bad at the airport, anyway." JD continued to avoid Buck's gaze as he spoke. "And about the hand, well, I wasn't looking at what I was doing last night, and got it slammed in one of the guy's car doors. That'll teach me to keep my mouth shut and pay attention, now won't it?" He managed a weak smile as he tried to explain away his injury.

"Slammed it in a car door? Damn kid, that's bad even for you. Did you get it seen to properly before you came home, or do I need to call Nate over here? As it is, he is going to have a fit when he sees you. Don't take this the wrong way, JD, but you look like shit."

Noticing that JD was still avoiding his gaze, Buck gently grasped the boy's chin and lifted his head up so that the two could see each other clearly. Buck was surprised to see the look of pain and sadness in JD's eyes. It took every ounce of restraint he had not to envelop him in his arms in an attempt to wash away whatever had left him so vulnerable.

"I'm ok, Buck. I stopped by the ER last night and had it looked at. It's just hurting a lot right now, with the flight and all. I didn't get much sleep while I was away, and it's all catching up to me. I'll be better tomorrow, I promise." JD found himself slipping back down onto the bed, too exhausted to stay upright any longer. "I'm gonna go back to sleep, ok? I'll tell you all about the trip in the morning." As he spoke, his eyes slid closed.

"JD, son, why don't you change into your sweats before you go back to sleep, it'll be a lot more comfortable than sleeping your jeans. Here, put these on," Buck urged as he held out a pair of faded blue sweatpants.

"Thanks, Buck" JD murmured as he sluggishly removed his jeans and replaced them with the sweats. Dropping the jeans to the floor, he crawled back under the covers and turned on his side with his injured hand carefully tucked against his chest and allowed his eyes to close once again.

'Poor kid, he must be really beat.' Unable to resist the urge to 'mother' his young roommate, Buck pulled the covers tight around the kid's shoulders, careful not to jostle JD's injured hand. As he opened the door to leave, he returned to his friend's side, gently brushing a few stray locks of dark hair from his forehead, covertly checking for fever. 'Well at least he's been spared that' he thought as he quietly closed the door. Abandoning his previous plans for the evening, he found himself dialing the number to Chris's ranch, eager to speak with the team's leader about JD's sudden return.

Part Eight

Buck looked up with concern as his wayward roommate came trudging into the room, still looking half-asleep as he gingerly rubbed his eyes and swiped his too long bangs out of the way. "Hey, kid, how ya doing?" Buck called from the kitchen table where he was reading the newspaper, a cup of coffee and some eggs in front of him.

"What're you still doing here Buck? Isn't it Wednesday? Did I manage to sleep straight through to Saturday?" JD made his way over to sit across from Buck at the table, propping his head up on his good hand and stifling a yawn.

"No, it's not Saturday yet, kid. God knows I would love that though. I called Chris last night after you went to bed, told him about you coming in and all and he said to wait for ya this morning, so I could drive you in. He didn't think it was such a good idea for you to drive, with that hand all busted up, until Nathan gets a look at it." Buck casually observed the young man, almost able to see JD's brain processing what he had been told. As the words began to register, a flush of embarrassment crept into JD's cheeks.

"You didn't have to stay here and baby-sit me, Buck! I can take care of myself just fine. And I told you I had someone take care of my hand in New Mexico! Why'd you have to call Chris, anyway? And why the hell did you let me oversleep and be late my first day back? I'm not some little kid here, Buck!" By the end of his tirade, JD had managed to get out of his seat and make it halfway to his room before Buck's voice, full of hurt, stopped him dead in his tracks.

"Ya coulda fooled me. I've seen five-year-olds that act more mature than you are right now. I let ya sleep because you were damn near passed out last night when I came across ya. And I called Chris because we've been worried sick about ya, out there alone, when we only heard from ya that one time. And about the hand, did ya have a real doctor look at it or just some fly by night in a clinic somewhere? I know you and hospitals and I just can't see you out there in New Mexico, with a bunch of strangers, sitting in an ER for hours. Now tell me I'm wrong here, JD. Huh?" Buck found himself standing at the young man's side as he finished. He gently took hold of JD's injured hand, observing the swelling and deep purple bruises marring its surface. He noted that the hand didn't even have a real cast, just an ace bandage wrapped tightly around it.

"I'm sorry, Buck," JD said quietly. "I know I'm being a pain, but I just get so tired of everyone thinking I'm just some stupid kid. I really can take care of myself, it's just that things just seem to keep piling up on me and I never seem to get ahead of it all. You're right, I didn't go to a real hospital about my hand. I just thought it was sprained or something. And I was real anxious to come home. It's just that now it's really hurting, I'm really tired, and I just want everything back to normal." JD found he had to look down, avoiding Buck's gaze, as tears stubbornly filled his eyes.

"I'm going to get dressed, Buck, I'll be ready to go in ten." JD quickly turned around and rushed into his room. He firmly shut the door behind him. Hearing Buck move away, he leaned against his door, and let himself slide silently to the floor. He sat there, his arms wrapped around his legs, resting his forehead against his knees. With a sigh he hoisted himself up by the edge of the bed, and proceeded to change into his work clothes. By the time he was ready to go, his head, as well as his hand, had begun to throb in earnest. 'I'll almost be glad to see Nathan at this rate, at least he'll give me something to take away the pain.'

Noting how tired his young friend looked as he prepared to leave, Buck met him at the door with his jacket, and helped him shrug into it. JD had abandoned the sling by this point, as it was providing little comfort. "Come on, kid, let's go see the boys. They've missed you, and we can't wait to hear all about this case you been working on."

Just thinking about all that had went on while he was away, made JD's stomach turn. He could practically feel the blood draining from his face. "Well…there really isn't much to tell. Just computer work." JD stammered.

"You ok there, son? You're looking a little green. You sure you're ok to go to the office? Maybe ya got the flu or something." 'Something's not right with him,' Buck thought,' kid looks like hell. Computer work don't normally have this kind of effect on him. Maybe Chris'll get whatever it is outta him.'

"I'm ok to go in, Buck. Just a little tired still, hand hurts some. I'll be fine, though. Let's go." JD proceeded to exit the loft and head down to Buck's truck.

"Alright, if you say so." The two men got into the battered truck and soon were on their way to meet up with the rest of Team 7.

"Hey kid! Good to have you back!" Vin called out as JD and Buck entered the office. Soon, Josiah and Nathan came to greet their young friend as well. Chris, having been waiting for the roommates to make it in, rose from his chair and headed toward the young man.

"Well, son, I hear you came home last night without even letting us know you were coming. It would have been nice if you'd called, at least let us pick ya up, don't ya think? Anyway, Buck tells me those other guys really worked you hard, sent you home about to drop. And something about slamming your hand in a door? Trouble really does follow at your heels, doesn't it?" Chris had been observing his youngest from the minute the elevator doors opened, and he wasn't happy at all with what he was seeing. JD looked like the fourth day after a three-day bender. Dark circles under his eyes, pale complexion. And the man didn't miss how he was cradling his hand close to his body, or the pained expressions that crossed his face every minute or two.

"Why don't you come into my office and tell me all about your trip. And while we're doing that, Nathan can take a look at your hand." The older man didn't wait for a reply as he gently steered JD toward his door. He threw a knowing glance at the others that clearly said that he was unhappy with the state his newest agent had been returned in.

Once in Chris's office, JD started to sit in the chair in front of the desk, but was quickly propelled to the couch as Nathan prepared to examine his injured limb. Grasping JD's forearm carefully, he began to unwind the bandage. JD grimaced as the movement awakened new pains in his hand. He felt as if he would pass out from the intense pain as Nathan attempted to manipulate his black and blue fingers.

At his gasp, Nathan stopped what he was doing, and turned a concerned eye to his young friend. "I'm sorry, JD. I thought Chris told me that you only had some bruises, maybe a sprain. But I can tell you right now; this is more than a sprain. We need to get you x-rayed, and have this hand set. If you don't, it'll never be right." He gently laid JD's hand across his lap. "I'm gonna give the Doc a call and let him know we're bringing the boy over, Chris. It might take a little bit for him to work him in, so can we let him stay in here and rest a bit?"

"You go and make that call, Nathan. JD can stay in here and fill me in on his trip while he waits." Noting that JD momentarily had his eyes shut as he tried to ignore the pain in his hand, Chris took the opportunity to silently thank the team's medic for his help.

Sighing in relief as the throbbing in his hand receded, JD waited for the team's leader to begin asking about the New Mexico trip. He was overcome with anxiety as he tried to think of what he would tell Chris concerning the assignment. He knew he couldn't tell him the truth, and it shamed him deeply to lie to his superior 'How the hell am I going to be able to hide this mess? I'm no good at lying, just ask Ezra, you can see it written all over my face. This is hopeless.'

"Tell me, JD, did the case go down ok? Were you able to help them with what they needed? It must have been one hell of a job, to keep you tied up there practically day and night." Chris was eager to hear how his young agent had fared away from the watchful eyes of his teammates. He could tell that JD had pushed himself too hard in his efforts to please the other team, but knew the kid had done a good job. He just wanted to hear JD's take on things.

"Well, I was able to set up all the fake accounts and profiles for them, but after it was all done, their guy just couldn't make the connection. They had to let the case go. For all the work, it was just wasted effort. Not much more to tell." JD refused to meet Chris's eyes as he spoke, for fear his leader would see how upset he was.

"Not much to tell? You work on the cover for over a week and everything just falls flat? What kind of operation were they running out there? Damn, kid, I'm sorry you flew out there, worked yourself into the ground, and then the case fell apart. I hope the next time Travis snatches you away from us and sends you packing, that he'll at least make sure the case is solid. We sure coulda used you here with us, and as we can see, being with them did nothing for you. Why don't you rest here a bit, until the Doc calls you? Then we'll get that hand taken care of. I'm just going to work on the budget." Chris began to shuffle the papers on his desk, as JD sat on the couch looking unsure as to what to do with himself.

"JD, you look like shit, kid, and I mean that in the nicest possible way. I know you don't like being coddled, but will you just lay down there and try to get some sleep? Unlike that Saunders fella out there, I won't have my people collapsing of exhaustion on my watch. I'll get you up when the Doc's ready for ya." Chris tried to control his exasperation as he spoke. He just couldn't understand why JD got so embarrassed when anyone tried to look out for him. 'Poor kid must not be used to someone caring for him, other than his Mamma.'

Knowing by the tone of Chris's voice that there would be no negotiating with him, JD laid down on the soft leather couch for the second time in a month, resting his head on the arm. His body quickly gave in to the exhaustion that had been plaguing him for days. Before long, his breathing evened out to a slow, steady rhythm and his face relaxed as he got some much-needed sleep.

A little over an hour later, Nathan found himself kneeling down beside the still sleeping youth, gently shaking his shoulder. It took a moment or two for JD to reach wakefulness and realize where he was. He pulled himself up off the couch, and stood up to leave. Suddenly he swayed, causing Nathan to grab on to his elbow to steady him.

"Whoa. Give me just a minute. Must have gotten up too fast," JD commented as he took a minute to compose himself. "I'm OK, Nathan. Is the Doc ready to fix my hand now?"

"Yeah, kid, he's ready. Shouldn't take too long. We'll be back as soon as we can, Chris," the healer stated as he and JD exited Chris's office.

An hour later the two returned, the younger agent sporting a royal blue cast on his hand. JD made his way to his desk, where he sat down and turned on his computer. Without acknowledging the other men in the room, he began to work on the 'official' report on his trip.

Nathan continued into the office, heading in to see Chris. He informed him that JD's hand was indeed broken and he would be in the cast for several weeks, his duties restricted. As he turned to leave, he found himself looking again to Chris, a troubled expression on his face.

"Chris, I gotta tell you something. You said JD slammed his hand in a car door, right?"

"That's what the kid told Buck last night. Why?" asked the blond agent.

"Well, I was just wondering, because I got a pretty good look at that hand as it was being set, and I'm just not so sure the kid's telling us the whole story. Now, I've seen car door injuries a time or two, and there's usually a pretty obvious area where the door and the frame meet around the limb involved, and I couldn't find any such mark on JD's hand. The way the bruises looked, it just didn't look like a car door did the damage. I hate to say the kid lied, but with the nervous way he's acting, I just don't know."

"I know what you mean about the way he's acting. I wish I could get him to tell us what's eating at him. And the hand, well, if he feels that he can't tell us what really happened, then there's not a whole lot we can do. Maybe Buck can get him to open up. We'll just have to wait and see. Thanks for helping with this, I know he's more comfortable with you when it comes to these things."

"Glad to do it, Chris. I hate to admit it but the kid's gotten under my skin. I just hope whatever's going on, passes quick. "

Over the next few days, Team 7 resumed work, but each of the men noticed that JD was not himself. He kept to himself quite a bit, lacking the enthusiasm that had become his trademark since joining the team. It was frustrating to see their youngest so disturbed, yet unwilling, or unable, to confide in any of them. JD had always come to Buck, or one of the others, when he was upset or unsure of himself. The older men decided that intervention would be necessary to help the young man open up about his problem.

"Ok, guys, here's the plan. We're cutting out early, going home, and packing up some things for the weekend. We'll head to the ranch, have some food, watch the game, and generally laze the weekend away. Now, who's in?" Buck stood in the middle of the office and waited for the affirmative responses his teammates were going to give. It had been decided that Chris's place would serve well as the arena for dealing with JD, and plans had already been made by everyone. Everyone except JD, who knew nothing of the others intentions.

"I don't think so, Buck. I've got a lot of work to catch up on. You guys go and have a good time, though" JD replied, never looking away from his monitor. It broke Buck's heart to see the sadness reflected on the boy's face. It was obvious he wanted to be with the team, but that he was denying himself their comfort. But this reaction had been anticipated.

"No can do, kid. This little slumber party is mandatory. For everyone. We've been working our asses off lately, and we all need some time to relax." Chris promptly stated.

"Who knows, maybe we can include our refreshments and pay-per-view fees in our monthly expense reports. It would serve as just compensation for our deep and lasting commitment to justice," Ezra quipped.

"Yeah, kid, how often is watching the game included in your job description. Now come on, let's go pack!" Buck hauled JD from his seat, barely giving the young man a chance to logoff his computer.

Seeing that he had little choice in the matter, JD resigned himself to a miserable weekend, spent trying to conceal his guilt from his friends. It was so much easier to do when he could hide in his room, or sit on the balcony staring out into the city. Being in such close quarters with all six of his team members was going to be torture to the troubled agent.

Part Nine

"Chris, do you have any crushed tomatoes? I don't care what Buck says, spaghetti sauce just doesn't taste right without them," called Nathan from the kitchen.

"Nathan, I've done told ya, no one wants to be enjoying a fine plate of spaghetti and then bite down on one of those squishy little buggers. It's just plain disgusting. Just chop up some more onions and throw them in. That'll fill it out just fine," Buck groused on his way out of the kitchen.

"I don't know, Mr. Wilmington, your breath already on occasion leaves much to be desired, so do you think it wise to add to your predicament with yet 'more onions'? Don't you agree, Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked, trying to draw their young friend into the friendly banter.

Sitting across the room, staring into the fire Vin had laid once the men had arrived, JD seemed oblivious to the activity around him. He had been quiet on the drive up, and had managed to keep himself pretty much out of the way of the others as they completed the various tasks of preparing the evening meal.

"JD, son, Ezra's talking to you. It kinda rude not to answer him, kid," commented Buck as he flopped down on the couch beside his roommate. Even though his tone was teasing, the older man's eyes, as well as Ezra's, held concern for their youngest.

"Huh? Oh… I'm sorry, Ezra, what did you need? I didn't hear you," JD stammered, embarrassed. 'I wish they'd just leave me alone. If I'd wanted all this attention, I would have asked for it. I just can't get my mind off all that crap in New Mexico. If the guys knew how stupid I'd been, they wouldn't even want me here, anyway.'

"Never you mind, Mr. Dunne. Nothing important. I have to say though that you have seemed a tad bit preoccupied as of late. Care to share what's on your mind?" The southerner's usually stoic face now held a look of warmth for the younger man, a warmth that was not often revealed.

"It's really nothing, Ezra. Just have a few things to sort out is all. If you guys don't mind, I think I'll go out to the barn and see the horses." Trying to avoid an interrogation by the undercover agent and his mother hen roommate, JD rose quickly and made his way out the back door before either of the two men could attempt to deter him.

"Way to go, Ez. That went just dandy. I thought we said we would 'ease' our way into getting him to talk to us. Now you've gone and sent the kid running," Buck bellowed, totaled exasperated.

At that moment, Chris, who had been observing the scene from the top of the stairs commented, "Don't go getting all over Ezra, Buck. He just did what we've all been itching to do all week. I don't think that there's going to be an easy way to get the kid to come around. Whatever the hell has that boy so tied in knots, we've got to get it out of him. Before things get any worse." Pausing for a moment to look around his home, he observed his men as they looked up at him, waiting for some indication as to what their next move should be.

"Come on boys, let's go and have a talk with our youngest. Might as well get it over with." Chris ordered as he headed for the door. The six men went, as one, to take care of their 'kid'.

JD stood in front of his horse, Lucky, his head buried in her neck. He had, over the last day or two, come to the decision that he was going to have to resign and leave Team 7. It was the only way he would be able to keep his silence and protect his teammates from coming to harm. The only good thing about having been forced out to the ranch was that he would get to see his beloved horse one last time. He knew that Chris would take care of her after he was gone, but it didn't make the loss any easier to bear.

A few moments later, Chris and the rest of the team quietly entered the barn. The sight that greeted the six men nearly broke their hearts. They knew JD was troubled, but to see him standing beside that horse, tears silently rolling down his cheeks, was clear evidence that something was horribly wrong. The men quietly approached the boy, with Chris and Buck in the lead.

"JD, son, you've gotta tell us what's hurting you. You've gotta know we'll do anything to make things right. You can't go on carrying whatever this is, all alone." Buck's soft voice drifted through the barn as he spoke to his roommate.

"That's right, JD. Let us help you. Nothing's ever as bad as it seems when you're keeping it all to yourself. We're your friends, son, and we love you. Let us help." This appeal came from Josiah. The man, so feared by many, carried a special place in his heart for JD. Being an observer by nature and profession, he had always been able to see just a little deeper into people than they might like, and right now, the despair he saw in JD scared him.

Looking up as the voices of his friends registered, JD attempted to hide the evidence of his weakness by awkwardly brushing the tears from his face. As he looked around him, he could see that the other men had a formed a semi-circle around him and his horse. They each carried a look of worry, and he knew those looks were caused by his actions.

"I wish you could help me. But you can't. There's nothing anyone can do now, and it's all my fault. You guys were right to keep me out of the action. I'm just some stupid kid. I don't know why I thought I could be one of you. None of you would have gotten in into this mess. But, don't worry, guys, I know what I'm going to do now. By tomorrow, everything will be just fine." This last statement was said with such finality that the other men feared that whatever was going on had actually driven the young man to suicidal thoughts.

"JD, whatever has happened, it's nothing to get so desperate about. We'll figure something out to help you, you know that," Chris reasoned, his heart breaking at the thought of this young man so despondent that he was on the verge of doing something foolish.

"Son, I have to ask, where is your weapon? I think it would be better if I held onto it until we get things sorted out here." He tried to be as casual with the request as possible, but he was deadly serious about protecting his agent from himself.

"Oh God, Chris! You don't have to do that! You know I would never…I wouldn't…I ain't going to kill myself. No… I just meant that I've decided to leave the team." JD cried as he tried to explain his comments to Chris.

Chris walked over to his youngest agent and gently grasped his chin and turned his face toward him. In his most gentle voice, the one he had once reserved only for late night visits to his son, he said, "JD, what do you mean you've decided to leave the team? What in the hell happened in New Mexico that was so bad that you feel you have to leave? You have to know that if someone is threatening you, we'll protect you. Let's go inside and sort this out, ok?"

Jerking his head from Chris's hand, JD exclaimed "That's what you don't understand, any of you! It's not me I'm worried about protecting, it's the six of you!" JD's eyes grew wide in shock as he unwittingly revealed the secret he had been so desperately trying to keep. "It's not me," he whispered as tears once again flowed down his pale cheeks.

"Oh, kid, come here," Chris sighed as he pulled the boy into his embrace.

Having finally given voice to his fears, JD leaned into his leader's strength, letting himself cry in earnest. Not caring, for the moment, what tomorrow would bring. Only knowing that for now, his family was there to keep him safe.

Part Ten

"JD, I know this is hard for you, but I need you to tell us what's been going on. I know it has something to do with your time out in New Mexico," Chris encouraged.

The team had made its way into the living room, where JD occupied the sofa, nestled between Chris and Buck. The rest of the men had taken up positions around the room, ready listen to JD's story.

"Yeah, it does. I just don't know how to start. At first, things seemed fine. I met up with the Saunders and the team, and got a feel for what they needed done. The work was tricky, but nothing I couldn't handle with a little time. But that was just it. They seemed in a real hurry for me to get done. That's the reason I couldn't call more, they kept me there 'til all hours. I started thinking things were weird, but I just wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to make a fool of myself by asking dumb questions, so I just went along with it." JD never looked up the whole time he spoke.

"Well, pretty soon it got so bad that they barely let me up long enough to eat or get any real sleep. I was always with one of them, except at night, when I was too tired to even consider going out. By the time I got the clue that something really wasn't right, it was already too late."

"Son, what do you mean too late? What happened to you out there?" came the concerned voice of Josiah from across the room. His expression was one of restrained fury at the idea of JD being tormented by Saunders and his team.

"That last day I was there, I decided I was tired of constantly being watched, so I got up early and took a cab over to the office. I hadn't set out to find anything, I just wanted to get the damn job done and come home. I'd really started to miss you guys. I just wanted to come home," JD confessed in embarrassment.

"It's ok, kid. We know you didn't go in there aiming for trouble. Now tell us the rest, alright?" came Buck's soft voice, his arm encircling JD's shoulders.

"After I got in, I went to the computer and turned it on. As soon as I did, I realized that there was a disk still in the drive. I shoulda just left it alone, but I couldn't help it. I had to know what was going on, so I opened the file. It shoulda been a bunch of made-up accounts and passwords, but there was more. I started finding the names of Saunders and the others mixed in with the fakes. I looked further into those entries, and they weren't made up at all. There were numbers to real accounts, and the accounts were loaded with money. And my name was on the disk, too. They set me up, Chris. They set me up using my own program!"

"Let me get this straight JD, you're saying that these guys had you thinking you were laying down a cover, but what they really were doing was filling up their own accounts? And they set up one of these accounts in your name, too?" Chris questioned, hardly believing his ears.

"Yeah, they did. And just as I was starting dig a little deeper, Saunders and the whole team showed up. Saunders wasn't too happy about me finding out. But he wasn't too worried about it, either. He had been checking up on me. He knew things had been kinda rough lately, and he said no one would believe me if I tried to turn them in. He said he would tell everyone that it was my idea, since I knew so much about computers, and that none of you would believe me. I didn't know what to do, Chris. I didn't want anyone to get hurt." The grief-stricken expression on the young man's face just served to feed the anger Chris was already feeling.

"Who were you worried about him hurting, son? Did he threaten you physically?" Chris asked.

"No, he didn't threaten to do anything else to me," JD explained as he cradled his injured hand against his chest. "He just said that if I told anyone that he could arrange for something to happen to one of you guys. That he could have Ezra's cover blown, or make sure that one of you went into a bust without backup. The way he said it, Chris, I believed him. They all just stood there behind him, backing him up. I was scared, I didn't know what to do. He told me to go; that he would tell Travis the bust fell through. I just left and came home. I didn't have the guts to tell you the truth." The last statement was filled with self-loathing. JD refused to meet the concerned faces of the rest of the team.

"He's the one who broke your hand, isn't he JD? That son of a b*tch hurt you, while they all watched, didn't he?" This revelation came from the usually quiet Nathan, rage at JD's mistreatment burning in his eyes.

"Yeah, it was him. Like I said, he wasn't too happy to find me looking at those files. Thought he'd put me in my place. I'm sorry I lied to you guys, I just didn't want him to hurt any of you."

"Damn, JD! Don't you know that we would've believed you, no matter what? You're a part of this team, and we know you'd never do something like that, right boys?" Chris wanted to make it absolutely clear to JD that his friends were there to back him up.

Affirmative responses came from each member of Team 7, causing JD to blush at the depth of caring he was receiving from these men, men who had quickly become his family, his brothers.

"I know now, Chris. I didn't really know it then, but I know it now."

Part Eleven

As night began to fall, the members of Team 7, for the first time in days, were able to relax. A fire burned brightly in the fireplace as sounds of the game on the television filled the room. Ezra had engaged Josiah in a game of chess, while Nathan sat reading in the corner. Vin was sprawled in one of the two recliners, while Chris occupied its twin. And right in the heart of the room, sat Buck, his hand on JD's chest, the kid's head resting on a pillow in his lap.

JD lay still, not quite asleep, but content to let Buck comfort him, if just for a little while. It felt good to have shared his ordeal with these men, his brothers by choice. It had been a long time since he had felt so safe.

"Hey, kid, I bet you're getting kinda hungry, aren't you? With all that's went on, you didn't get a chance to try Nathan's spaghetti. Want me to get you a plate, and maybe something to drink?" Buck asked, always the mother hen. As he thought back through the day's events, he could not recall a single meal having been consumed by the younger man.

"No thanks, Buck, I'm not too hungry right now," came the quiet response. JD didn't even bother to open his eyes as he spoke, but the grimace he made clearly indicated that food was not an appealing thought.

"Son, if you don't get something in ya soon, you're going to make yourself sick. And who am I gonna ride with tomorrow if you're all puny?" Although the tone was one of teasing, the concern behind it was genuine.

"I'm fine, Buck. My stomach's just a little upset is all, just been worried about all this mess for so long. I'll feel better tomorrow, you'll see." JD shivered as he snuggled a little closer to his best friend.

"JD, I heard you telling Buck you aren't feeling too hot. When the last time you ate anything?" Nathan asked as he made his way over to the young man's side. He pulled the throw off the back of the sofa and draped it over JD, tucking it in.

As Nathan questioned, he took a minute to lay his hand across JD's forehead, checking for fever. He frowned slightly when he found it to be slightly warm

"I ate some cereal last night. I'm fine, Nathan, really. Just got a nervous stomach is all, maybe a little tired." Taking into account that it was before nine in the evening, with the television blaring, and the usually hyper computer tech was practically asleep, it was clearly indicated that all was not well with their 'little brother.' Not well at all.

"Son, you seem a little warm to me. Maybe you picked up a bug while you were gone. And having your hand broken while your fellow agents threaten your friends, really didn't help matters. I'm gonna bring you some Tylenol and some juice. After you finish, I think it would be a good idea if you make it an early night. After some rest, you should feel a bit better." Nathan rose from beside the couch and went to get the pills.

JD pulled himself up from Buck's lap and waited for Nathan to return. Truth be told, despite having shared his troubles with the team, he still was feeling pretty rough. Just the thought of crawling into Chris' big guest bed, with it's overstuffed comforter and pillows, sounded like heaven.

Buck looked over at his best friend and had to fight the urge to just scoop him up and take him to his room. The kid looked like he hadn't had a decent night's sleep in weeks. And Buck didn't like how pale and drawn he looked, either. JD was entirely too young to look so worn out.

"Here ya go, JD. Drink up. We don't want to have you dehydrate on us. We'll get some toast into ya in the morning and see how you feel from there." When it came to JD's health, no one argued, at least not for long, with the ex-medic. His word carried as much weight as Chris' did when it came to watching over the team.

JD managed to get the pills down, but after drinking half the glass of juice, he returned it to Nathan. "I can't drink any more of that. It's not sitting too well, as it is. I think I'll just go on to bed, if that's OK."

Holding his hand gingerly over his queasy stomach, JD stood up and offered a forced smile to the rest of the team. "Good night, guys. Thanks for believing me, putting up with me lately. I know I've been a pain."

Rising from his recliner, Chris grasped JD by the shoulder and gave him one of his rare smiles. "Kid, on your worst day you're less trouble than the rest of these guys. And as for believing you, well, you don't ever have to worry about us doubting you. Ever. You understand that, son?"

Not quite meeting Chris' gaze, JD replied "I got it, Chris. But thanks all the same."

"Come on, kid. Let's get you to bed. Chris, I'm gonna put him in the room across from the bathroom, just in case that juice makes a replay, alright? Kid's looking a little green from where I stand," Buck observed as he steered JD down the hall.

"Works for me, Buck. Sleep tight, kid. Let Nathan know if ya get to feeling any worse, understand?" Though he tried not to show it too often, JD always managed to bring out Chris' paternal side with a vengeance.

As Buck and JD disappeared into the guestroom, Larabee sat down and mentally went over the day's events. He knew, come Monday morning, he was going to have a long talk with Travis about JD's ordeal. He was going to make damn sure those bastards paid for hurting one of his men.

Part Twelve

Sunday came and with it, came a sense of contentment for the entire team. JD spent the majority of the day watching TV and sleeping while the other six men were content to keep him company. Neither Buck nor Chris strayed too far from the young man's side. Every chance they got, one of the men offered JD a warm smile or a chance to talk.

It was decided that the next morning, Chris and JD would go to Travis and bring him up to speed on the past few week's events out in New Mexico. Chris was confident that Travis would see that Saunders and his men were made accountable for taking the money and for assaulting a fellow officer.

As Monday arrived, JD found that he was incredibly nervous. Chris had assured him that there would be a hasty resolution to the situation. JD just hoped that the assistant director shared Chris' faith in his loyalty to the ATF and to Team 7. He didn't know what he would do if Travis thought he was somehow involved in the other men's scheme.

"Son, trust me, everything's going to be just fine. Travis is a good man. One of the best I've ever worked under, and he isn't gonna turn his back on you. He wouldn't have sent you out there in the first place, if he didn't trust you to do your job." Chris hated to see the fear and doubt that was reflected in his agent's eyes.

"I know he's a good man, Chris. I just hope he thinks the same of me after he hears what we've got to tell him. He has friends out there in New Mexico. Who knows what they're going to tell him?" JD bit the inside of his cheek, trying to distract himself from the anxiety that was threatening to overwhelm him as he and Chris approached Travis' office.

"Don't you worry, JD. I'm here to back you up, and I know what kind of man you are."

Within minutes, the two agents were seated in front of Assistant Director Travis. The director knew by the serious expressions each of his agents wore, that something was troubling them. The fact that JD was one of those agents did nothing to ease the tension he was beginning to feel.

"What can I do for you, gentlemen? My secretary tells me you requested this meeting, needing to discuss an urgent matter with me."

"Sir, it has come to my attention that Agent Dunne ran across some trouble while in New Mexico. He was assaulted by Agent Saunders, and threatened. As were the rest of Team 7. I want the man arrested."

"Agent Dunne, you were assaulted by Agent Saunders? Why am I just now hearing about this? Are you alright, son?" The older man found himself filled with guilt just thinking about his young agent suffering at the hands of Saunders and his men. Knowing that JD had been sent out there totally unaware of the suspicions surrounding the other team did little to help matters.

"Assistant Director, sir, I didn't even tell Agent Larabee about any of this until Saturday. I… sir…I found out that Agent Saunders and his men were stealing money via the computer program I wrote for them, and were putting it into accounts for themselves. When they discovered what I knew, they threatened the rest of my team. They set up one of those accounts in my name and put money there, too. They said that none of you would believe me if I tried to turn them in. I'm sorry I didn't come to you sooner, but I was afraid." Having given his confession, JD slumped down in his seat, waiting for Travis' response.

"Agent Dunne…JD… I never meant for you to get tangled up in this mess. You see, the director out there in New Mexico, Bill Harris, is an old friend of mine. He came to me about a month ago and confided that he thought one of his teams had gone bad. That they had came to possess account numbers for one of the biggest arms dealers out there, and that they were planning on taking advantage of his current incarceration to help themselves to the man's fortune. Bill knew these guys would need some help to set up the actual transactions, and I let it slip that one of my agents was a computer genius. Well, of course, that genius is you. When Bill heard rumors that his team was setting up a computer hacking scheme and needed someone to set up the cover, he asked me to send you out, so you could pave the way for those men to incriminate themselves. I had no idea they would try to take you down with them." The director's face colored with embarrassment as he addressed the younger men.

"Dammit, Orin! You knew those men were dirty, and you sent my man in blind? How could you do that? Why weren't JD and I informed about what you and Director Harris were planning?" Chris demanded, barely able to contain his anger.

As the director and his boss exchanged angry looks, JD just sat, trying to comprehend what Travis had told them. He couldn't believe that Travis had known all along about Saunders and never bothered to prepare him. The more he thought about the way he had suffered through the guilt and fear for his team, the angrier he became. Finally, as the two older men continued to argue, JD could remain silent no longer.

"How could you let me go through all this, without even letting me know what was going on?" The cold, quiet tone of JD's voice stunned both Larabee and Travis into an abrupt silence.

"Answer me, sir. I was prepared to resign and leave the ATF to protect Chris and the others. Do you have any idea how devastated I've been over all this?" JD was beyond reasonable thought as he questioned his superior.

"JD, I never thought any harm would come to you over this. It was supposed to be a simple assignment, in and out. If I had thought for a minute you would be hurt, I would never have agreed to send you. Or at least I would have made sure you were protected. Director Harris felt that with your youth, combined with the recent tension between you and your team, that the stress of trying to keep up a cover might be too much for you. I really didn't agree with him, but being that Bill's an old friend, and a damn fine agent, I found myself going along with him. I know now that you are much more capable than any of us ever imagined. I hope you can accept my apology for all the pain you've suffered over this. And I hope you have reconsidered resigning. You're a damn good agent, son. Young, but full of enthusiasm and skill. I'd hate to lose you." Travis knew that his words held little comfort to the young agent, but hoped they would have a positive effect.

"Sir, I have no intentions of resigning. Not as long as Saunders and his men pay for what they've done. But I will tell you this, and I mean no disrespect sir, but if you ever send me into a situation like that again, without giving me all the facts, I will be gone from this agency in a heartbeat. I turned down a lot of other jobs, safer ones, making a lot more money, to come out here and do this job. It's all I've ever dreamed of doing, but I will not work for people who don't trust me to do my job." JD never once wavered as he addressed the assistant director.

Chris stood beside his youngest agent, his heart swelling with pride. Even though he often thought of JD as a little brother, sometimes even a second son, he knew//realized// in that moment what a strong man he really was.

"Agent Dunne, I promise you that this will never happen again. You have every right to expect to be treated with the same respect and trust as any member of this agency. You've earned it. I'm just glad you've chosen to stay with us. Just so you know, Agent Saunders, and his team, were taken into custody Friday morning, pending trial for felony theft. With your testimony, Agent Dunne, they will be serving very long sentences behind bars."

"I'm glad to hear that, sir. And I will do anything I can to make the case stick." JD couldn't believe that his nightmare had finally come to an end. Relief washed over him, bringing with it a smile.

"Come on, kid, let's go downstairs and tell the boys. It looks like we have a lot to celebrate. Saunders is going down, and we finally get our old JD back," Chris stated, with a gleam in his eye.

"Your 'old' JD? You must be talking about some other guy. I'll never be 'old JD' as long as I'm still hanging out with the bunch of you. You guys will be tearing up the old folk's home and I'll still be out there taking down the bad guys." The look of merriment in JD's eyes could have lit up the entire room.

Noticing his youngest agent hurrying off down the hall toward the elevator, Chris called out in response "Who are you sending to an old folk's home kid? I know you weren't referring to me, now were you?"

As laughter carried from inside the elevator, Chris thought to himself 'Thank you, Lord for bringing our little brother back into the fold.'

The End

Comments: Becky

(March 2003)