Inner Strength

by Sue M

Ratings/Warnings: Some bad language

Disclaimer: Just playing. I know I can't keep 'em but if I could they'd be on season 10 by now!

From an idea by Phyllis Loafman

Thanks to Phyllis for always being there to keep me on track.

Thanks to Mog for ATF

This had been a great idea. The whole of Team Seven had gone on a good long hike, partly to get some fresh air and exercise and partly to take a break away from work.

Vin and JD had initiated the plan but the others had soon warmed to the idea. They had climbed the grassy mountainside to a large bluff and as the others relaxed and took in fluids, JD wandered off to take a look at the view.

He stood in silence, thumbs tucked into the pockets of his jeans, as he surveyed the area below, the city sprawled beneath him, vast and inviting. He loved Denver and never regretted one day he had been there. He inhaled deeply, taking in the fresh air as a gentle breeze ruffled his soft dark hair. He was at peace.

" ya don't fall there, kid."

JD's eyes flew open, his heart pounding as strong hands grasped his shoulders firmly and thrust him forward, only to pull him back again with a jerk.

JD clutched his chest dramatically.

"Buck, you idiot...I almost had a heart attack."

The brunet chuckled, "And what had you so deep in thought?"

JD smirked and looked back toward the scene.

"Just admiring the view is all. Where are the others, are they ready to move on?"

Buck jerked his head back, "They're just back there, still resting, think Vin's getting a little antsy, though. So...just how far up are we?" Wilmington stood close to the edge and peered over, he whistled. "Wow...that's high."

JD frowned, a knot forming in his stomach. "Buck, step back a little."

Still contemplating the expanse beneath him, Buck absently looked at his friend, not really registering the words.

"What was that, kid?"

As Buck spoke a bee annoyingly hovered around his face, startling him for a moment as he absently batted it away, not realizing his foot had crossed the edge of the outcrop.

"Darned stupid insect, get the hell away from me..."

"I said..." JD interrupted but before he could finish, Buck's expression changed to one of alarm as his balance was compromised, his foot seeking stability, while his arms flailed.


Despite trying, the brunet found no words would come as his body slipped over the edge.

JD lunged forward and snatched up his partner's hands but was dragged hard to the ground by the combination of the larger man's weight and the pull of gravity, air whooshing out of him as his small frame crashed to the ground.

For a few moments neither man spoke, one dangling precariously, feet unsuccessfully searching for purchase but only finding loose shale and rocks, the other out of lack of air as his abused lungs and ribcage struggled to recover. The feeling of Buck's hands slipping from his own, spurred JD to re-adjust his grip as his small frame began to slide toward the edge.

"B...Buck?" he gasped out.

Wilmington clung to the amended grip, finally looking up at terrified hazel eyes.

JD clenched his teeth and groaned as his body slipped steadily forward mostly due to the heavier, thrashing mass he was clinging to. Feeling himself slipping, Buck again searched desperately for a way to gain a foothold, but as he swung his legs, JD slipped even further toward the rim.

"Uuuhhh...Buck...d... don't move, or you'll drag us both over...aaaahh."

The pair slipped again and Buck could now fully see JD's face and shoulders. The youth was pale, his dark hair clinging to his head and face as the sweat poured from him, his eyes now screwed up tight in concentration.

"I...I can't seem to...pull..." the younger man gasped. Suddenly his legs found a root and the youth quickly wrapped his feet around it for extra support.

Buck felt helpless and was quickly realizing if JD remained holding on, they would both go over, and although he himself didn't want to die, he wanted the kid to live even more.

"JD...we're...gonna both...go over...l...let...go...son. "

Dunne made a growling sound. "You have...gotta be kidding" He was distraught now, suddenly feeling worthless. He just wasn't strong enough to pull this man, who was like a brother to him, to safety. JD turned his head to the side and sucked in air.



Five of the men of Team Seven were relaxing in the soft breeze and warm sunshine, while sipping their drinks. Vin was laying back on the grass, propped up on his elbows, legs crossed at the ankles and his eyes closed as he tilted his head toward the warmth of the sun. The chatter from his teammates floated around him, and while he happily listened, he chose not to get involved. Something caught his ear and he tilted his head, his blue eyes rapidly opening to look directly at Larabee.

Chris instantly stopped speaking.


"Where are Bucklin and JD?" Vin asked, but before anyone could answer, Tanner was on his feet and running.

Chris followed, the others right behind him. If there was one thing Chris had learned, it was to trust his sharpshooter' s instincts.


Everyone heard that. Knowing it was JD was bad enough, but hearing the screaming desperation in his voice terrified them.


Dunne was half over the rim now, his legs straining to keep hold of the root, desperately fighting with Buck as the brunet twisted to release JD from certain death.

"Buck...please...stop fighting me..." he sobbed, a child- like quality to his voice as the fear of losing this man gripped him.

All Buck could focus on was the small body slipping further over the edge, he was not going to let this boy he adored die trying to save his sorry ass.



Dunne jumped as he felt pressure to his shoulders.

"I got ya kid."


JD's heart soared as his friend's voice penetrated his fear. He watched, mesmerized as arms came in from all directions easing the burn in his oxygen-starved limbs as they relieved him of his burden. He was numb as Vin pulled him away from the edge and watched, laying against Tanner in an exhausted, almost dream-like state as Josiah, Chris and Nathan and Ezra hauled Buck to safety.


The brunet was too shaky to stand but it was obvious to his saviors that he was not happy where they positioned him and they moved him next to JD. Despite his weakened state, Buck grasped the younger man and pulled him toward him, clutching JD to his body in a fierce embrace.

The other five shaken men watched breathlessly as their two friends sobbed, surprised as JD's hand relaxed its grip on Wilmington's arm, and clenching his fist, punched the man hard. Buck flinched but didn't release his hold, he knew what the punch had been for.

"I didn't take you down...with me." His breaths shuddered as Buck spoke.

" choice," came the muffled reply. Chris stepped in.

"Let Nathan look you over." He glanced at Ezra who nodded, a chopper was on its way, they were not about to take chances and attempt to get these men down the mountain on foot.

Buck was suffering from shock with just a few minor bruises and scrapes. JD was clearly struggling to breathe and Nathan was concerned he might have damaged a rib or two. Sitting him up slightly seemed to ease his pain so they leaned him against Buck, the bigger man happily enveloping the younger, as they waited for help. The others closed around the pair for comfort and warmth in an attempt to prevent shock from setting in.

Fifteen minutes later Buck, JD and Josiah were on their way to Denver General as Chris led his shaky team back to the vehicles.


The next morning at the loft Buck and JD shared, Josiah had prepared a delicious breakfast of pancakes and waffles, the aroma drawing Buck into the kitchen. He smiled up at Sanchez from his seat at the table as the older man poured him some coffee and pushed an empty plate in front of Buck, gesturing to him to help himself.

"This was really kind of you, preacher. Staying over was generous of you, but making us breakfast, too..."

"My pleasure, brother. You boys had a truly horrific experience yesterday, we all wanted to be here for you, but I got in first." Josiah grinned and winked.

"Is JD up yet?" Buck wondered, tilting back on his chair a little as if that might give him a view of his roommate approaching.

Sanchez shook his head. "I looked in on him earlier, he's still pretty out of it. I'm guessing it's the painkillers. "

Buck frowned, "P'raps I should go check...."

"No, Buck...he's fine, let him rest."

There was a tap on the apartment door and Josiah signaled he would get it. In less than a minute, Vin was in the kitchen and digging into the food, Chris and Nathan followed close behind. Nathan grimaced.

"Lord, just ate."

"'M humwy," he mumbled, his mouth full of pancake. Nathan stared at Chris.

"How can he be hungry...he..."

"...just ate," the rest chorused, laughing.

By now, Josiah had poured coffee for everyone and they each picked up plates and food and made their way to the living room to sit down.

"How's JD this morning?" Chris wanted to know.

"Still sleeping," Buck offered. Chris stood and walked to JD's room, pushing the door lightly then disappearing in. The four men watched him leave then continued on with breakfast.


"You hidin' in here?" Larabee asked, sitting down on the bed.

JD yawned as he shook his head, " know...thinking. "

Chris bit his lip, he couldn't explain why but that small statement really bothered him.

"Don't be dwelling on what happened yesterday, hell, we have close calls every day...just move on, kid."

"Easy for you to say," JD stated, his eyes misty, "You would have been able to save..." he stopped mid sentence and suddenly rallied."You' re point in dwelling on point at all." He attempted a smile, "Did I smell pancakes?"

Larabee nodded, filing JD's last statement for a later date. "You did... ya hungry?"

Again, Dunne shook his head, "Not really, but it sure smells good. Give me a minute and I'll be right out."

The blond stood, nodding. "See you in a minute then."

JD watched Chris exit his room then carefully pushed his covers back to get up. He was aching all over from the bruises he'd received when he hit the ground the day before and he walked stiffly at first. Standing in front of his mirror, he pulled off his T-shirt and looked at himself, carefully touching the marks as his eyes located them. He sighed as he viewed his body. He was in reasonable shape, noting his toned, flat abdomen and his lightly defined arms. JD shrugged, hell, Buck was a good six or seven inches taller than him and outweighed him by considerably more than a few pounds, it was a miracle he'd hung onto him at all. Slipping a fresh T-shirt over his head, he dropped his sweats to the floor and stepped out of them, slipping into a pair of jeans. As he approached the door he hesitated for a moment, though he wasn't sure why. Taking a deep breath, he stepped out to join his teammates.

"Well...look what the cat dragged in..."

"'Bout time you showed yer face, kid..."


Things were going badly wrong in a warehouse bust. JD had taken off after one reprobate and was climbing stairs to a gantry, taking them two at a time. Buck was right behind him, covering his partner's back. Both agents ducked as the offender fired back at them, continuing on as soon as the man turned and continued his attempted escape. JD was almost on him when he heard a strangled cry from behind. Turning he froze as he saw Buck hanging by one hand from the iron framework, legs and body dangling in mid-air.


Hearing his name jolted the boy into action and in seconds he was lying flat, grabbing at Buck's wrists, successfully latching on to the one that was flailing wildly.

"Buck, stop struggling...I got you." JD's mind was spinning...this couldn't be happening again. He searched the ground below, grateful to see all five of his teammates looking up at them. Larabee called up as Vin was already at the stairs, Ezra close behind.

"Hang on, JD...we're coming."

Buck and JD locked eyes, the younger man shaking with the effort of holding on to him. They both knew...they both knew Buck was slipping, but it was okay, the guys were coming.

Each of the five men stared in fascination at the scene before them, pounding up the steps as fast as they could go. Just as Vin hit the gangway, Chris screamed out.


Buck smiled as he looked up at JD. "Love you, kid."

In seconds, as JD's grip slipped, Wilmington's body plummeted to the unyielding concrete below, landing with a sickening crack.

Buuuccckkkk! " The youth began sobbing as he watched the blood spreading and pooling around his best friend's head, Chris sliding next to the man and howling in anguish.

Dunne cried out again.

"Buck...Buck. Nooo!"


"Hey! Hey...kid...wake up...come on, son...come back to me."

Terrified hazel eyes flew open, at first unseeing then slowly focusing on the man at his side, gripping his arms. JD's chest was heaving as he fought to control his erratic breathing.

"B...Buck.? Oh God...BUCK!"

The younger man flew at the older, clinging tightly as his body shook. The brunet returned the embrace, rubbing JD's back to comfort him.

"Hey,'s okay...just a bad dream."

JD shook and continued to cling, the brunet allowing him to continue as he maintained comforting him. Eventually, the young agent relaxed a little and he looked up as he gently pushed away.


Buck smiled, "No need to be sorry, ya idiot. Do ya wanna talk about it?"

Dunne thought for a moment then shook his head.

"Naw...I'm fine now, thanks...just a bad dream. I'm real sorry I disturbed you."

Buck pushed back the soaked bangs. "It's okay...I had to get up to pee anyway. You sure you'll be okay, now?"

JD nodded, "Yeah...really...I' m fine, thanks." He watched his 'big brother' leave, calling out as the tall man reached the door.


The brunet turned, "Yeah?"

"Would you leave the door open, please?"

Buck smiled and nodded, "Sure, kid."

As he listened to the sounds of Buck moving around, JD closed his eyes. The dream had been so real. Maybe it was a sign, a warning. He needed to be stronger...he needed to exercise more...yeah, that was it...he just needed to hit the gym more.

He vowed to himself he would start the next day. He glanced at his clock...2.45am. JD set his alarm for 6am...might as well start straight away.


JD felt his new regime was invigorating. Each morning he would get to the office after an hour's workout at the gym, his mind full of ideas and questions, his conversation sparkling and sharp. The team assumed his and Buck's bad experience had given the youth a new lust for life and they happily encouraged him, though on several occasions, Vin raised concerns quietly to Buck about the frequency of JD's exercising.

A couple of weeks later saw a quieter JD and again, the team assumed he was merely settled in his new routine. Nathan was watching the young tech as he walked around the bullpen; he appeared to be favoring an arm or shoulder. The EMT called to him, causing the other four agents to look up from their work, Vin especially, watched with interest.

"JD...are you in pain?"


God, he felt sick. His shoulder throbbed making him sick to his stomach. JD had been weight-training and rowing at the gym every morning, sometimes twice a day and jogging every evening for several weeks now. At first it helped him feel better about what had happened that day on the ridge, tiring him out so much it chased away the bad dreams. But lately he was feeling exhausted, his appetite almost non- existent and erratic, as was his sleeping pattern, so he trained harder, but looking in the mirror that morning he had appeared to have lost weight, not gained.

His shoulder was aching from the day before, so he knew he should have rested it that morning, but JD found himself outside the gym again and decided on a little light workout. He had cursed himself when he felt the agonizing burn of strained tendons.


Buck interrupted his thoughts, pulling on JD's arm as he spoke to get his attention when JD didn't answer Nathan.

Dunne squealed in pain and dropped to the floor as the shockwave hit him. The next thing he knew, he was leaning against Buck as Nathan was checking him over, admonishing JD for not telling them he was in pain. Suitably apologetic and waving it off, JD was sent home. Two days later he was training again, but now he hardly slept at all... during the night.


As the team sat in the Saloon Vin gestured to a spot to one side of Buck, drawing attention to JD. The youth was resting his chin on his hand, propped up by his elbow as it rested on the table top, and was sound asleep, six men unsure as to be amused or concerned.

Buck nudged him awake, startling the youth as he almost fell off his chair.

"Damnit, Buck...I was just resting my eyes."

"Sure kid, we could see that. C'mon, I'll take ya home."

Vin stood. "It's okay, Buck, I'll take him, I was about done here, anyway."

Buck nodded and watched the two younger men leave, as did Chris. Something was making the hairs on Larabee's neck stand up, he just didn't know why yet.

As they traveled toward the loft, Vin watched as JD struggled to stay awake. On entering the apartment and as they reached the living room, JD turned to Vin.

"Thanks for the ride home Vin, I appreciate it."

"No problem, kid. JD...sit down...please."

Frowning, the youth complied. "Something wrong, Vin?"

Tanner squatted down next to his friend, pausing for a moment, then spoke.

"JD...I consider you to be a brother, so on that understanding I have to say, I don't like what's happening with you right now, kid."

Dunne swallowed. "I...I don't know what you're talking about."

Vin sighed, "Yeah ya do...all this exercising...I know something about keeping fit,'re doing too much."

The easterner stood, almost knocking Tanner off his feet. "Don't be ridiculous, exercise is good for you, you got it all wrong, Vin."

The Texan stood. "Okay...if you say so, but know this, I spoke to you first, I care about you, and I wanna do right by you...but if you carry on like this...I'm gonna have ta speak to Chris."

JD exploded, pushing Vin hard in the chest. "Get out of here, Tanner. If you feel the need to go tattling to Chris, then you go right ahead. But know're no friend of mine. Now...GET OUT!"

In a matter of seconds Vin's emotions went from shock to anger then to sadness. With a last look at his friend and with a heavy heart, he left the apartment. He felt bad, but at least he had tried to be honorable about it.

JD dropped to the sofa and covered his face with his hands, leaning his elbows on his knees. He was just too tired to think about what had just happened and after a few minutes he got up and shuffled off to bed.

The next day there was a briefing on the Weston case.


"Anytime, JD."

Buck nudged his partner, " in there?"

JD snapped out of his daydream and looked around the conference table at his amused teammates, all except Larabee, who was standing, arms folded across his chest, an impatient look on his face.


"The search you did on Weston," Chris reminded, "We're waiting..."

Snapping back to reality, JD panicked, pushing papers every which way in an attempt to find his report. He knocked over his Coke can, its contents splattering and pooling dangerously close to Buck's papers. The brunet leapt to his feet to save his work.

"Oh...shit...shit, I'm sorry." JD was on his feet, snatching at blank sheets of paper in an effort to soak up the offending liquid, succeeding instead in spreading it further. Nathan had already grabbed some napkins from the coffee tray and was trying to help. Chris huffed.

"Alright, this is getting us nowhere. We'll resume after lunch." He strode out of the conference room glancing at JD as he left. The youth dropped his head.

"Aww shit."

Josiah placed a friendly hand on JD's shoulder. "Pay no mind, John Daniel...I fear our team leader is a little fraught over this case, Weston has openly threatened us and Chris wants him badly. Now...I was about to get us all some sandwiches, what would you like?"

JD smiled, "Aw, I'm good thanks Josiah, I brought something from home."

"Very well, I'll see you later."

JD finally picked up the last of the sodden tissues, sighing, and deposited them in a trash can. He startled as Ezra approached him.

"You've been a little preoccupied these last few weeks, JD, is there anything you would like to talk about?"

Dunne frowned, "I don't know what you're talking about Ezra...I haven't been preoccupied. "

"Are you sure you are not overdoing things, son? 'Burning the candle at both ends', so to speak?"

JD backed toward the door. "You're nuts, Standish."

As JD left, Ezra sighed, "Alas, my friend, whatever it is that is ailing you, you are clearly in denial."


Chris beckoned Buck into his office. The brunet took a seat.

"You gonna tell me or do I have to keep him after class?"

"I assume you're talking about JD here, stud."

"Got it in one. Any insights you'd like to share?" Larabee was all business.

Buck sighed. "I...I don't know...there's something...I just don't know what. He's exhausted, he isn't eating all that well, he thinks he's hidin' it from me...but I noticed. He seems to be training a lot... probably a distraction from the real problem. All I know is he sure doesn't want to talk about it."

Chris pursed his lips. "I'm gonna send him home." He halted Buck's protest. "I'll come to the apartment tonight after work, see if he'll talk in more informal surroundings. "

Wilmington grinned, "You're a good man, Larabee." He stood to leave, "A very good man."

Chris watched his oldest friend leave his office. "Yeah, well...let's hope being a good man doesn't make me a bad leader."


JD approached Vin as he was sitting at his desk. He had hated the atmosphere between them and attempted to make amends.

"I'm going to the gym later, ya wanna come with me?"

Vin frowned. "Again, JD? Didn't you go this mornin',' before...?" Vin leaned in closer, "Didn't we just talk about this, kid?"

JD looked hurt. "So? And I thought I'd already explained, exercise is good for you. Never mind, I tried to put things right, but no matter, I'll go alone."


Dunne looked toward Chris.

"My office, please."

JD dropped his head. "Shit." He walked into Chris' office, closing the door behind him.

"Sit down."

The young agent took the seat Chris offered.

Despite Chris being like family to him, JD always shook when his hero called him to his office unexpectedly. He stared at the man sitting at the desk in front of him.

"I don't know what's going on, JD, but you need to snap out of it. Weston has made it very clear he wants to hurt us before we attempt to take him down. We can't afford to get sloppy. I want you to go home and rest. Come back here tomorrow and start fresh, okay?"

"Chris, you're talking crap, I'm fine..."

Larabee stood, "That was an order, go."

The easterner jumped to his feet but instead of the indignant stare he had planned, he swayed. Chris grabbed his arm.

" okay?"

JD snapped back to normal vision.

"I'm fine...just a head rush. I'll see you in the morning."

In minutes, the youth was packed up and gone.

As JD hopped on his bike, he figured he might as well go to the gym, anyway, then changed his mind...he would go running instead.


The hot water felt good on his body. JD had run for miles and he ached. He hit the button to switch off the triple jets and reached out for a towel, wrapping it around his waist to dry his dripping body. As he pushed wet, dark hair from his face, a wave of nausea hit him and he put his hand against the partition to steady himself, then rested his head against the steamy glass until it subsided. Wearily, he took a deep breath and went to step out of the shower but again got dizzy, this time blacking out almost instantly. JD didn't feel the crack as his head collided with the edge of the shower cubicle, or see the blood that flowed freely as he lay on his side half in, half out of the sliding doors, unconscious on the floor.


Buck and Chris entered the apartment, the brunet sniffed the air.

"Well, he hasn't been cooking, but he's taken a shower fairly recently."

Chris concurred, he too could sense the aroma of shower gel and feel the steam that hung in the air. Buck searched a little, wondering where JD could be. He tapped on the bathroom door and pushed it open.

"Kid...kid, you in he...OH DEAR GOD! CHRIS!"

In seconds, Larabee was with him, watching as Buck checked for a pulse, trying to avoid looking at the blood on the floor. Chris dialed 911.

"No, he's not conscious. We don't know how long he's been down...hurry."


Vin was first to arrive at the ER, spotting Chris and Buck hovering near large double doors. He approached the blond.

"What happened?"

Chris shook his head as he watched Buck cross in front of the doors for the umpteenth time.

"No idea...found him on the bathroom floor, bleeding from a gash on his head."

The three men looked up as Josiah and Ezra came in. Josiah spoke.

"Nathan's with Rain. He said he'd get here as soon as he can. How is he?"

"We don't know yet." Buck sounded hoarse. "Damn doctors sure are takin' their goddamned time."

Chris walked over to him. "He's just had an x-ray, big guy. They have to be sure before they tell us anything."

Ezra coughed lightly. "Why did he leave the office early? Was he ill?"

Larabee shook his head. "No, just tired. I need him to focus on digging up data on Weston, suggested he get an early up."

"He was just showering, Chris," Buck defended his friend, "Hardly energetic, was it?"

Torn between telling his oldest friend he thought there was likely far more to it or leaving the man ignorant for now to ease his burden, Chris sighed. He decided on the latter.

"No, it wasn't."

Vin glanced at the blond knowingly, guilt pouring from him. Chris returned the look only to be interrupted by the ER doors opening. Five men moved forward.

Doctor Dave Peters extended his hand. He knew the men well as he had tended to them before...Buck and JD most recently.

"Buck, you're looking well." He glanced at the others, "Gentlemen. Okay, JD is showing signs of regaining consciousness but there's no way he's getting out of here tonight. His x-ray's clear but he took quite a knock, resulting in a gash to his right brow. He's had four stitches but I'm fairly confident he won't have a scar. When he comes around, he'll have a killer headache and possibly be a little stiff where he landed hard on one side but that should be it. I'm moving him to a side ward here in the ER where I can keep an eye on him. If things go as well as I expect, he can go home tomorrow, probably late morning."

"When can we see him?" Vin couldn't help himself.

Peters smiled. "Let me get him into the side ward, okay. You can stay as long as you like then."

The doctor returned to the ER. Buck watched the doors swing and sighed.

"That was good, right?"

Chris nodded, "That was good."


On the third attempt, JD's eyes opened, but not for long. The light stabbed at them, causing sharp pains that reached right to the back of his head. Then he went hot and before he realized it, he was being held in place on his side while throwing up into something.

A few minutes later, he came around again, only this time he managed to peek out of hooded lids.

Buck closed in. "Hey."


"Ya had your vomit voucher for today, so you gonna wake up now, squirt?"

"Aren't I awake yet?" JD wondered.

The brunet chuckled, "Not so's you'd notice."

"'K. Can I have a drink, please?" Before JD had finished his sentence Buck had a straw at his lips. Within seconds of ingesting the liquid the youth was asleep again.

By morning, Dunne was awake and watching five men snore. Ezra came in with a tray of coffees and they all jerked awake as he spoke.

"Well...a very good morning to you, Mister Dunne. My, don't you look ghastly. Would you like something to eat?"

JD threw him a lopsided smile, "Naw, I'm good, thanks. Could use a drink though, and..." he whispered, "...I need to pee."

Buck was at his side in seconds, "Come on, then." He offered a hand.

"I got one of those hospital gowns on," he looked at his friends, shyly, "They'll see my butt."

Wilmington couldn't help chuckling. "Hell kid, it's not like they haven't seen it before."

JD went to speak, his eyes wide.

"Okay, okay," the brunet turned to the others, "Guys, would ya turn around please?"

Scraping chairs followed their acquiescence as they tried not to show their amusement.

"Thanks," the easterner whispered and clung to his roommate for support as he made his way to the bathroom. The trip back was considerably steadier. After some light banter, Chris grew serious.

"JD, do you know what happened to you?"

Dunne shrugged, avoiding eye contact with everyone, Vin especially, as he gingerly touched the dressing above his eye.

"I must've slipped, you know, as I got out of the shower."

Each one of them knew he was lying. JD did not lie; he simply wasn't good at it.

"Fair enough," was all Chris said, but to the others, it spoke volumes.


A few days later and JD was almost his old self. By the end of two weeks, it seemed the 'old' JD was back, joking, teasing, though still not eating much and still exercising several times a day.

Vin had made clear his thoughts on that to Larabee in his office one day.

"I appreciate you coming to me, Vin, I know that must have been hard for you," Chris confided.

Tanner sighed, "I don't want JD an' me ta fall out over this, but I'd rather have him safe an' hatin' me than sick, or injured..." Vin dropped his gaze to the floor, whispering, "...or dead."

Chris agreed and promised to talk to the youth about it, though he seriously doubted JD could ever hate Vin, or any one of the team, especially for caring.

But before any more could be done, the Weston case took off.

Within days, they had a meeting arranged to purchase arms, but on the day, the dealers appeared wary and minutes into the transaction, the firing started.

JD had been grateful to be in the surveillance van. His energy levels were almost non-existent and he was struggling to see clearly on occasion. He had shrugged it off, but knew he was in serious trouble. He felt he had successfully been hiding his poor health, but was now seriously considering talking to Nathan. He picked at an energy bar as he watched and listened to his teammates, standing suddenly as he saw Ezra's position compromised.

Calling out his intentions over his mic, JD raced from the surveillance van to back up Ezra who had now become isolated as the rest of Team Seven struggled to contain the gunfight.

Ezra's and JD's combined efforts eventually caused the shooters to flee.

"Come on!" Ezra called to the easterner.

Trying to ignore his weariness, JD set off in pursuit right alongside Standish.

"Go right," the southerner indicated. Dunne nodded and split right as Ezra went left.

A few minutes on, JD rounded a corner. He felt as if his whole body was shaking, but raised his gun, clutching it in both hands, as two blurry figures standing next to a white van came into view.

"STOP! Federal Officer, lay down your weapons and put your hands on your heads," he called, with as much authority as he could muster.

JD saw movement but his vision was unfocused and he failed to distinguish who was ahead of him. A gunshot sounded and the young tech spun and dropped, hitting the floor hard while white hot pain seared through his left arm. In seconds, rough hands pulled him to his feet and ripped off his throat mic. Unable to stand, JD was dragged, agonizingly forward, to be thrown headlong into the white van. No sooner had the doors slammed closed, the van was moving and Dunne found himself rolling painfully against the metal sides as corners were taken at break-neck speed. JD fought to stay conscious, his shoulder pain adding to the nausea he had been experiencing. He looked about him as he painfully slid around and despite things being slightly out of focus he could make out the van interior was bare save for a few hooks in the roof. The jostling became less intense as the van seemed to be slowing down.

Realizing the vehicle had stopped, his heart pounding in his chest, JD braced himself for whatever might come through the doors. Humorless laughter assaulted his ears as the doors flew open and a man jumped in and hauled him upright. He screamed in agony, his shoulder jolted as his wrists were pulled in front of him, bound then raised over his head to be secured to one of the hooks. As the youth swayed there he looked blearily through sweat-soaked bangs at the two men before him. The one standing outside the van sneered.

"Got me one of Team Seven...shame it wasn't Larabee himself, but you'll do." The man then looked to his fellow thug standing inside the van in front of JD .

"Do it."

With those words, the man outside left while the other turned toward the young agent. JD did not see the stomach punch coming, curling inward as the air left his body. He soon lost consciousness as blow after blow rained down on him, the last one he remembered aimed at his right cheek, snapping his head back to finally loll forward as he lost consciousness.

After a few more hits, the man stepped back to admire his handiwork. Satisfied as he looked over the dangling, unconscious form, he exited the vehicle, closed the doors and joined his partner in an unmarked car and was soon racing away from the abandoned vehicle.


Ezra had met a dead-end. He touched his throat mike. Larabee answered.


No sooner were the words said when a single gunshot sounded from JD's last known position. Once again Chris' voice came urgently over the headset.

"Team Seven...sound off."

One by one five voices said their name, the sixth ominously missing from the role-call. Chris barked out once more.

"Agent Dunne...damnit JD, answer me."

Standish spoke. "I am almost at his last location now, stand by."

As soon as he saw the blood on the ground he knew it was bad, but before he could call it in, the southerner was joined by five other men. Instantly, Tanner was scanning the ground, following a trail to a point then stopped. He called back, five pairs of eyes on him.

"Blood stops here...likely a vehicle."

Buck groaned, Larabee sighed and closed his eyes. This was not a good day. Their bust had gone belly-up and they had a man missing, possibly injured. He issued orders to the waiting DPD officers and they made their way back to their vehicles, setting off in the vain hope of trailing whatever it was took their youngest away from them.

The unmanned surveillance van had recorded the arrival and exit of a white van and Larabee ordered an APB on its license plate and a warning that no one was to approach the vehicle as it could endanger the life of a Federal Agent. ~

Eight or nine miles later, acting on a sighting, two vehicles pulled up several yards away from a stationary white van. Cautiously, six men approached, guns drawn. Tanner ducked down, edging along the side of the van then came up, gun pointed at the front side window. He looked in then back to the others, his voice a mere whisper.


As the sharpshooter made his way back, the remaining five men approached the doors at the rear of the vehicle. Buck cautiously tried the handle and mouthed back to Larabee.


With a nod Chris and Buck took a door each and as Chris pulled on the handle and Buck pulled at the other door, their teammates covered them. A silent count to three and the doors were open, causing six men to suck in a breath.

"Jesus H Christ."

Buck disarmed his weapon and stared silently into the van interior before snapping to his senses and leaping inside, Chris right behind him.

JD was hanging by his wrists. His knees dragged the floor as his head hung forward limply, his chin touching his chest and soaked black bangs veiling his beaten features. Blood dripped steadily from his nose, splattering as it hit the metal floor. A note was pinned to his chest.


Larabee snatched at the note and crumpled it, angrily tossing it to the ground.

"Weston's a fucking dead man." The blond's voice was low and menacing.

Buck stayed focused on his injured friend, lifting the smaller body enough to take the strain as Vin joined him and pulled a small knife from his boot. Flicking it open, Tanner cut the bonds attaching the boy's wrists to the roof-hook.

Despite knowing what to expect, the drop of the limp body proved too much for Wilmington in his crouched position, and he had to sink to the floor to protect himself and JD. As he cradled his bloody and unconscious friend, Buck watched through watery eyes as Nathan stepped closer to examine the youth, vaguely aware of Ezra confirming to Chris that an ambulance was on the way, the southerner then discretely picking up the discarded note for evidence.

"Keep his head forward, Buck," Nathan advised, "Don't want him choking." The EMT attempted to staunch the flow of blood from JD's nose, while encouraging Josiah to hold a pad over the bullet wound in JD's upper arm.

No one could fully comprehend what they were seeing. Chris was livid. He had been concerned for some time now; both about Weston's threats to the team and JD's health. Despite Vin and other things alerting him more recently to something being not quite right with their youngest, since the case had taken off there had not been time to address it and talk to the youth. He knew it would be unpopular, but as soon as JD was able to talk about it, Larabee was going to get answers, and then he was going to get hold of Weston and demonstrate the art of feeding a man his own intestines, or maybe just shoot the bastard right between the eyes.


As JD stirred, he was far too aware of the pain he was in. He heard a familiar voice close to his ear and forced open his eyes to match the face to the sound.

"Don't try to talk, kid, got plenty of time for jawin' later. Doc says you have to rest easy for a day or two, just to give your face time to heal a little, okay?"

JD thought he nodded, but he couldn't be sure.

"Broke?" he asked, his voice a hoarse whisper.

Buck shook his head, "No...just real banged up. Got yourself a little bullet wound, but that's not bad, gonna be okay soon, just needs resting, too."

Again a slight nod and after a small intake of fluid, the young agent drifted back to sleep, soothed by a strong hand resting on his head.


Two days later and JD was considerably stronger, though in pain due to his flesh wound, damaged ribs and battered face. With a heavy heart amidst the light banter that was developing, Larabee stood.

"Would everyone leave, please?"

Each man looked up in surprise, yet at the same time began to stand to leave, looking back at JD who seemed a little concerned. Chris looked at Buck.


Acknowledging the instruction, Buck left also, looking toward his injured friend to offer support, even though he didn't really know from what.

Once the room was emptied, Chris walked slowly toward the youth and at first stood at the bottom of JD's bed, looking at him.

"We need to talk."

Dunne swallowed. In his heart he knew what was coming; he'd just hoped it had never come to anyone's attention. He watched his team leader, his 'hero' walk around to the side of the bed and sit down on a chair. Chris got comfortable, first opting for both feet on the ground, his elbows resting on his knees as he leaned forward toward his clasped hands, then he sat back, his left ankle resting across the top of his right knee, his arms draped lazily over the angled joint, and all the while not once taking his eyes off his youngest agent.

"First, let me say this, and be warned, it may be the only nice thing you'll hear from me."

JD felt himself start to shake but he managed to maintain his composure.

"I've been a poor team leader...I should have seen what was happening... been more observant...Lord knows, all the signs were there, not to mention the concerns of your teammates."

He paused for effect, watching the emotions that played across the younger man's face as he tried to maintain his self-control.

"While you've been in here I've been doing some research of my own...oh yeah. I can use the internet, too...just prefer not to. Then I spoke to a psychologist who works for the agency...all confidential, of course. Things have finally started making sense. All that exercising, problems sleeping..."

JD looked shocked.

"...oh, come didn't really think Buck wouldn't tell me, did you? Tiredness yet not sleeping, irritable, hardly eating, and one illness or muscle pull after another. JD...when were you going to seek help? When one of your teammates got hurt...or died because you failed them?"

The youth could barely speak for the emotion in his throat. "Ch...Chris... I..."

Larabee held up one hand. "Nu uh...this is my time now. If you're not one hundred percent going into a situation and you don't tell anyone, you could compromise any one of us...not to mention yourself. I understand you thought you had it under control, except, that's it, isn't it? Your mind was telling you you were strong, writing checks your body couldn't cash, and you allowed your teammates to believe it, too, and that's the part I'm having trouble with.

"This team is close, JD...we're like family, and I'm stunned that you would put this team...your risk like this."

Chris was desperately trying to ignore the huge tears pooling then dropping from long black eyelashes. He needed to do this...JD needed him to do this.

"The psychologist explained this disorder to me, and it's his explanation that's kept you on this team up to now, because until I spoke to him, I was ready to kick your butt out of the Federal Building and all the way back to Boston."

At those words, Dunne could no longer hold in the sob he'd been trying to contain, his face a mixture of despair and horror. Chris had now moved from the chair to the bed.

"I've arranged some counseling sessions for you while you recuperate from your injuries, and a month's trial when you get back, if I see any return to this behavior...I will kick you off this team."

He stood and approached the head of the bed as he looked down at the distraught youth. "I think I know what drove you to this, and that's another reason I'm giving you a second chance. It's up to you now Agent Dunne."

Chris straightened and without looking back, left the room, his heart aching at the soft sobs coming from the boy in the bed as he clicked the door closed,

As he met the gazes of five good friends, his features softened. Each man was visibly shocked at the demeanor of their reputed hard-assed leader. Chris looked at them.

"We need to talk...but not here."


JD swiped at his eyes and glared at the IV attached to his arm. This would be gone tomorrow...and so would he.


As the six men sat in the hospital restaurant, coffees in hand, five of them waited patiently for the sixth to speak.

"I'm not sure JD's in this hospital right now because of what I'm about to tell you, but I have to consider it may be a possibility. We've all noticed his obsession with exercise, poor appetite, tiredness...well, it would seem it's a disorder, quite a debilitating one, and it won't necessarily go away by itself. He needs help, support...patience and understanding. Having said that, I've just pretty much told him I'm ready to kick him off this team."

Larabee paused for the anticipated onslaught of questions and angry remarks and wasn't disappointed.

"Mister Larabee...surely not."

"The boy's been battered for God's sake."

"Brother that seems mighty harsh."

"Are you crazy, cowboy? Why in the world would you say that?"

"Is that it, Chris? Is it where this is really going, you looking for an excuse to let the kid go?"

He waited patiently and answered the final question from Buck.

"No, of course I don't want to let him go...I wanted to jolt him out of this and give him something to fight for." The blond focused on Buck. "Do you realize what started all this?"

The ladies' man swallowed, "No...what?"

"That day...out on the ridge when you fell."

There was an audible groan from Ezra, Josiah, Nathan and Vin. Buck frowned.

"What...what am I missing?"

Chris sat back to allow his team to vent...they needed this.

"He feared he failed you," Josiah said, leaning across to squeeze Buck's shoulder.


Ezra put down his cup and answered. "Being smaller than yourself he was unable to take the strain successfully, the result of which would have been the both of you plummeting to your deaths had help not arrived."

"He was terrified, Buck," Nathan added, "He must have thought he failed because he simply wasn't strong enough to save you by himself that day."

Vin joined in, "And then you tried to take his control tried to release yourself to try and save him...without realizin' it you made him feel weak and useless..."

"...and that drove him to want to get stronger...more fit...oh my could I have not seen that...what is wrong with me?" Buck sat back hard in his chair, running shaky fingers through his dark hair.

Chris offered a tight smile. "Nothing's wrong with you, just saw it differently. You saw yourself trying to save someone you care for from dying because of you...JD saw it as you accepting he was too weak to help...and so he felt he needed to get that it never happened again...that if there was a next time...he'd be able to save you...or any one of us."

Buck covered his face. A minute or so later, he stood. "I gotta go talk to him...make him understand...he did good...I...I don't see him as weak..."

"Buck." Larabee put a firm hand on his oldest friend's arm. "Let's just go say goodnight...he needs to think on this some. How about we do this tomorrow?"

Buck looked at his friends' faces; they all clearly thought it to be a good idea too.

"'K...let's go say goodnight."


When they arrived back at JD's room the youth was asleep. Buck strode across to his friend's side and watched him sleep for a few moments. He looked so sad. The tall man leaned in, whispering.

"Goodnight, God bless li'l bro...I'll be back in the morning."

With that, they all left for home. JD heard the door close, but kept his eyes shut as he sighed deeply...tomorrow, it would all go away.


Larabee was first to arrive only to find JD's room empty. He put down the items he'd brought in to cheer his youngest agent up and sat down to wait patiently, guessing JD must have gone for tests. Today would hopefully be the fresh start that was needed. Today...gone was the hard- assed team leader threatening to throw the young agent off the team, today was to be Chris Larabee, friend and older brother, or whatever the hell it was JD thought he should be. Today was a day for healing and renewing trust and friendships.

Next in was Buck, closely followed by Vin.

"Where's the kid?" Buck wondered.

Larabee shrugged. "Can't be too far...tests probably." He pointed, "Looks like his IV's gone."

Tanner grinned, "That's a good sign, yeah?"

"Very..." Nathan answered as he entered JD's room. "Mornin' all...where's JD?"

"Tests." Buck, Chris and Vin answered together.

"Tests for what?" Josiah joined in. "Morin' brothers."

"Mornin' Josiah...not sure," Buck replied.

They all found seats.

A pretty little nurse came in and greeted them all, blushing slightly. She rather liked tending to this patient, he was cute and so were his friends.

"JD in the bathroom?" she asked the men.

"Tests." All but Chris answered.

"Tests? I don't think so...the doctor took him off the IV this morning and he's taking his meds orally, now. Are you sure he's not in the bathroom?"

She knocked and opened the door just to be sure.

Chris stood. "When was he last checked?"

The nurse reviewed his chart, " hour ago. I was just coming to ask if he wanted a drink. The chart states it was the doctor himself that checked him. I'll go see what's happening."

A look from Chris had Nathan standing, he nodded his understanding and followed the nurse out of the room. Ezra had now joined them in JD's room.

" would appear some people are in rather a hurry this fine morning." He looked back to where Nathan had just brushed past him.

Buck was on his feet and rifling through JD's nightstand, "Kid's gone AWOL."

Ezra frowned, "Do you mean as in...'left the hospital'?"

Buck stood bolt upright, and looked straight at Chris as a thought crossed his mind. "He wouldn't up and...nah..." He swallowed, "He...he wouldn't would he...Chris?"

Before the blond could answer, the nurse returned with the doctor that had been overseeing JD's treatment. The team stood to hear what he had to say.

"I have neither discharged nor arranged tests for John today. He seemed a little subdued earlier, but that's hardly surprising considering his injuries. I have people checking the communal areas, public bathrooms and camera footage as we speak. I'll have to get back to you, please excuse me."

No one knew what to do...half expecting the youth to walk in any moment... instead, it was Nathan.

"I've been with security. There's a shot of JD leaving the hospital's south exit about forty minutes ago."

"Where did he get clothes from?" Buck was pacing now.

"Looks like he was wearing his own jeans and sneakers with scrubs as a shirt." Nathan said with concern.

"Okay...we're wasting time," Larabee ordered, "Josiah, Ezra, put out APBs with a description...he could be anywhere, so the search area is vast and tell DPD to stake out Buck and JD's apartment until I say otherwise. Let's go."


He could barely put one foot in front of the other but it was okay...he was here now. Choosing a small tree not too far from the edge, JD half-dropped, half-fell to the ground, lying on the grass for a while to catch his breath.

He must have fallen asleep as when he woke, JD realized the sun had changed position and was warmer now. He scooted to the tree and sat back against its sturdy trunk, basking in the warm sunshine and enjoying the view. Once again, his battered body called for sleep.


They were at a loss. The six men had searched all the places they could think of, but had found nothing. Neither had the local police. Resting against their vehicles each man wrestled with two thoughts, where to logically search, and the fear that something bad had happened.

"What did you say to him?"

Chris looked at Buck, not needing to ask what he was referring to. He himself had begun to question whether his little 'chat' with his youngest agent had prompted this sudden disappearance.

"I didn't tell him to leave, if that's what you're implying Buck."

"So what did you say?"

The rest of the men were looking intently now. Larabee sighed.

"Too much."

Wilmington closed in. "Care to elaborate?" His tone was bordering angry.

"Not particularly. " Chris kept his eyes fixed on his oldest friend, "Though I do recall saying something about kicking his scrawny butt back to Boston if he didn't shape up."

Buck groaned, "He wouldn't try to get back there, would he?" His question was directed at no one in particular.

"Hardly," Ezra answered, "He has no money or possessions on his person."

Nathan stood upright, moving slightly away from Josiah's SUV. "He's hardly in his right mind though, is he?"

"What are you suggesting?" Buck said defensively.

"Only that he's not well and on painkillers, hardly a combination for clear thinking is it?"

Wilmington turned back to his oldest friend.

"Chris?" Buck implored.

The blond tried to remember what he had said. "I told him I was disappointed with him for not being up front with us and for putting his team members...his danger. I said I had help lined up for him while he recuperates, and that I knew what had started all this."

Everyone stared blankly at the ground, trying to put their biggest fear to the backs of their minds...had their youngest lost the will to fight back? Was he capable of...ending it all? Sanchez suddenly stood up from leaning against his SUV.

"There's one place we haven't been yet." Josiah had a look of a man suddenly clued-in. All eyes turned to him.

"Where?" Chris asked.

"I may be completely on the wrong track, brothers, but...would he, do you think, return to where all this started?"

Vin leapt down from where he had been sitting on the Ram's hood. "Worth a try...can't hurt ta look."

Despite the feeling they may be clutching at straws they jumped in their vehicles and headed for the place the team had visited the day Buck almost fell to his death, the day JD had decided he had failed.


As the young agent rested against the tree, a soft warm breeze ruffled his hair. An insect buzzed around his nose for a second but as he swatted at it his eyes flew open and he was transported back to that day on this outcrop when he felt he had failed miserably to single-handedly save his big brother from falling to his death. The only reason Buck Wilmington was still alive was because his five other teammates had been there to help.

Emotion washed over him as he realized what a total and utter failure he had become; even trying to build his upper strength had caused him injury and the team stress. Well, one good thing...only he had been injured, but Chris was right, he had put his friends,, in unnecessary danger, and that was unforgivable.

God, he ached. Every nerve in his body seemed to be on fire. Despite sweating profusely, Dunne was shivering, causing him to ache even more. Why the hell had he come here? It was something Chris had said... about getting his head sorted...or something like that. That had prompted the thought of 'returning to the scene of the crime', except that now he wasn't sure he could ever get back down, or if he even wanted to.

Not that it mattered; Chris had made it pretty clear he was a liability to the team, so it wasn't like he had anywhere else to go right now. As weariness and emotion began to get the better of him, JD closed his eyes and started to drift off. He dreamed of a warm body protecting his back from the harsh texture of the tree bark while strong arms enveloped him making him feel safe. He nestled into the comfort offered, deciding he kind of liked this dream, when a voice penetrated his tired mind.

"You alright there, squirt?"



The vehicles went as far up the mountain track as they could go, the team then jumping out to proceed on to the outcrop, long legs and sheer determination carrying them quickly to the ridge.

As he scanned the ground, Tanner was instantly pulling Wilmington by the arm, and in a minute or so they spotted the prone figure in the distance only feet from the rim. Before Chris could issue a warning, Buck was jogging toward the young man he considered his little brother, halting as he came alongside the tree. Seeing the youth was either asleep or unconscious, and without a second thought, the tall man gently shifted the smaller body, placing his own torso behind JD as a support, and wrapping his arms around to ensure the support was complete. As he felt the boy stirring slightly, Buck rested his cheek against JD's hot sweaty head and asked if he was okay, smiling as he was rewarded with the whispered sound of his own name.


The team held back as they watched Buck settle into one of his classic 'mama bear' positions, allowing him his moment before they checked on the kid for themselves. After a minute, Chris decided time was up and approached the pair, crouching down to speak.

"Buck?" As he said the brunet's name, hazel eyes blinked open, but before the blond could even smile a greeting, JD dropped his gaze to a spot somewhere on the grass.

"'M sorry, Chris." His voice was weak and raspy.

Larabee placed a hand on the youth's arm. "JD...coming up here was crazy..."

Buck glared; Chris raised his free hand to halt any angry words.

"...but I feel partly responsible. I only chewed ya out to push you into wanting to fight, I never wanted to make you feel bad about yourself."

JD moaned softly, "Not's me...too weak to even see when I'm screwing up. You were right, I don't deserve to be here...I let you all down."

"Sounds like we need another talk," Larabee said, trying not to scold, "And what I should have told you before is...we're all here ready to help any way we can."

JD sighed and looked sincerely into his team leader's eyes. "Chris, I... I just don't think I can do this anymore."

While the team shuffled awkwardly at JD's words, Buck squeezed the younger man gently.

" you just stop that, y'hear? Shit, kid, there isn't one of us here who hasn't screwed up good at some time. And you're only twenty got years of screwing up ahead of you."

JD snorted softly, Buck continued.

"There's one thing we all noticed about you, kid, hell, 'specially Larabee, but if you tell him I said that I'll deny it."

The blond grinned as he watched Buck in full cheerleading mode.

"That one thing is inner strength. A man can be as strong as Atlas, but without inner strength...he's just a guy that can lift heavy objects. Whatever you may think about the events of that day, surely did save me. You hung on long enough for help to reach us and you made me believe you would never let me go. I personally don't take those things too lightly, and you shouldn't either."

Buck heard a soft sigh as the hot, clammy body resting against him relaxed totally as JD finally gave in and passed out. The others moved in and took the strain while Buck scrambled to his feet. In minutes, they had reached the vehicles and were on their way back to the hospital, each man ready to begin a new chapter, realizing now that self-worth was clearly more than simply a state of mind and was something never to be casually dismissed.


Waiting was hard. Still on light duties, JD had not been allowed to go with the team to set up Weston and his men, not even in the surveillance van. He had paced, hovered near the phones, gone to the break room to check the news, paced some more and generally sat on his hands to stop himself from calling anyone.

So when the office phone rang, he cursed himself for jumping so hard.

His eyes closed in relief as Buck's relaxed voice drifted through the receiver, a smile grew as he heard the big guy tell him Vin had shot the bastard in the head just before Weston had taken out Chris. Buck suggested JD go home and the team would meet him there when they were done.


At the CDC, JD ordered Chinese food and had it ready to reheat as soon as his surrogate family returned.

He sat back on the sofa and closed his eyes. Weston's demise meant they could finally close the book on the past month and for that, JD was relieved. While the case was still open, JD had found it difficult to erase his previous problems, despite the team being one hundred percent behind him and him making every effort to get back to normal.

Vin had been wonderful, helping him continue following a training schedule but ensuring he didn't overdo it. JD had apologized to Tanner for his behavior; the Texan had just chuckled and challenged him to a game of hoops. He couldn't believe the guy's patience and understanding... Vin was a special man...someone to look up to.

Chris had been every bit as supportive as he had promised. JD smiled, Larabee was the toughest team leader in the department, yet was fiercely protective of his men. Any other leader would have cut his losses and dumped him, but not Chris, if anything, it had made him more determined to steer JD right. To Dunne, the man was a legend.

Josiah had been particularly kind, constantly available to offer help. He loved talking with Josiah and helping him occasionally with his charity work, the man was someone JD truly admired.

Nathan was right there with the health advice, finally happy that JD was gaining a little weight. The easterner would never take that kind of devotion and loyalty lightly.

Ezra had changed. JD had never felt closer to the man. They had always connected, but lately it had been on a higher level. JD put it down to recent time spent together when Buck, Chris and Vin had been on a stake-out not long after JD had been released from the hospital and Ezra had offered the young man accommodation for the night. They had ended up talking all night; it had been one of the most memorable times of JD's life.

And Buck...God, how he loved that man. Nothing was too much trouble for Buck and it would be easy to take advantage of him, but JD could never do that...well maybe just a tiny bit...but not so much as to hurt the man...he would rather die than hurt Buck. Buck was like his other half. The man knew exactly what JD needed even before JD knew himself... Buck meant everything to him.

Dunne sighed, almost had been hard, but with the strength of six good men, he had learned yet another lesson in life and lived to fight another day.

The apartment door was being unlocked and six excited voices drifted through the quiet apartment. JD grinned, more than a little relieved... six men back men together again.

Job done.

The End