Main Characters: JD, Chris, Buck, Orin Travis
Summary: A face from JD’s past dredges up some murky disclosures and shakes Team Seven to the core.
A nod to Criminal Minds
Thank you, Nancy, for so kindly hosting my stories.
In conference room one, on floor eleven of Denver’s Federal building, AD Orin Travis closed the latest, and concluded casefile of ATF Team Seven, and then glanced around at the seven men sitting with him. He looked long and hard at Team Leader, Chris Larabee, before resting his gaze on team tech JD Dunne.
“We’ve talked about your hacking, JD,” he said, as sternly as he could project without really feeling it.
Dunne shrugged, innocently. “Sir, I swear, all I did was pick up background information to aid our investigation. Nothing I did would be used in court, because it wasn’t significant to the final outcome.” He glanced toward Vin and Ezra. “That was down to those guys' undercover skills - I just made sure we knew all that they could be walking into.” He noted the raised eyebrows of both Travis and Larabee.
JD sighed and raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, I admit, just to piss him off I changed Cruess’s ATM password, and froze his accounts . . . and canceled his credit cards.” He glanced at Buck when the brunet laughed, before disguising it as a cough.
Orin’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “Nevertheless, when you came to us to be trained, strict guidelines were laid down in reference to your considerable hacking abilities and their standing in this bureau.”
JD swallowed the lump rising in his throat and looked disappointedly at his senior officer. Calmly, he closed his laptop. “Sir, you once asked me if I would consider using my particular expertise under any circumstances, and I replied that if it meant the difference between my team members walking into a situation ill-informed and at risk, and me hacking to prevent that from happening then, yes.”
There was a pause.
“I believe what you actually said was ‘hell yes’,” Travis reminded.
JD chewed the inside of his cheek before answering. “True.”
“And I have your assurance that, as always, your ‘efforts’ were unobserved.”
About to answer with a cocky ‘are you kidding me?’ the young tech detected the warning glare from Chris and nodded. “Absolutely, sir.”
Travis smiled. He really liked this kid. Not a day went by that he didn’t pat himself on the back for bringing him to Denver. Providing he didn’t contravene the Bureau’s guidelines on hacking, JD was an asset to the team, and the team was pure gold to the bureau. The AD stood and smiled.
“My congratulations to you all for yet another thorough and successful assignment, gentlemen.” Orin’s grin widened. “On a different note, this Friday night I am to be ‘roasted’ by fellow retired judges, and various high ranking officials and dignitaries. It’s at the Denver Hilton, 7:30 sharp, no dates, please, numbers are restricted, and black tie is mandatory.” He glanced at Vin. “Bow tie, actually.” Picking the case file off the table, he walked to the exit. “Evie and I look forward to seeing you.”
Watching him leave, no one moved for a long several seconds.
“Aww hell. Bow tie?”
They all stood and Chris laughed. “And tux, Tanner.” He glanced around at them all. “Don’t knock it, boys, that invitation’s gonna piss off a lot of top brass.”
“Roast?” JD queried while they headed for the bullpen.
“Not a pig on a spit, son,” Josiah chuckled.
JD rolled his eyes. “No shit!” He scowled at Buck’s flip to his head. “What?”
“Have respect for your elders, boy!”
JD stepped up the pace to gain distance before walking backwards to speak. “I know you’re old and think you deserve my respect, Buck, but the day you shared the tale about the triplets and the ‘catch the frozen jello shots’ game, you kinda lost ground a little.”
“Frozen jello shots?” Vin’s eyes lit up.
“You told him *that* story?” Chris groaned. “Even I’m not old enough to hear that one.”
Buck chuckled long and deep.
“I need more details,” Vin begged.
“Trust me Mister Tanner, you don’t,” Ezra assured, convinced it would be prudent never to know, despite not having heard the tale himself. JD nodded enthusiastically in agreement.
“Half a story isn’t fair,” Nathan protested. Chris watched the bickering group enter the bullpen. These guys in tux and bow ties with a room full of high ranking officials, and a free bar? What had Orin been thinking?
The following Friday evening was in full swing, and events had been memorable. Orin Travis, his wife Evie, and their guests, were treated to a sumptuous dinner and a hilarious ‘roast’, to celebrate a thirty-five year Federal career as first, a judge, and then Assistant Director of the Denver ATF.
It was an invitation-only affair and, not unexpectedly, several dignitaries were more than a little surprised by the inclusion of ATF Team Seven; however, as the evening wore on, the connection between Orin and the seven men became startlingly clear, they were more than just colleagues, they were friends.
So much so that, JD Dunne, aided and abetted by wife Evie, and Travis’s daughter-in-law Mary, who was unfortunately out of town for the occasion, had worked his technical magic and put together a spectacular slide show of the man of the hour’s present and past, right back to the diaper years.
Well past the witching hour, the only ones left in the Denver Hilton’s Platinum Room, were Orin, Evie, and Team Seven, who were all rising to meet their cabs and go home. Being the weekend, Chris was staying with Vin overnight, and then all seven teammates were spending Sunday at the Larabee homestead to go horse riding and watch a ballgame.
As they stepped outside, Orin’s bowtie was the only one that remained knotted; the others were draped loosely around their owners’ necks. Vin and JD had gone one step further; their ties were in their jacket pockets, and those discarded jackets were now hooked onto fingers and draped back over their shoulders. While the concierge called forward their rides home, a mildly inebriated Evie Travis stared around at them all.
“You boys are just wonderful,” she crooned. “I love you all!”
Orin laughed. “Yes dear, I think they figured that out ten pecks on their cheeks, back.”
Noting a line of cabs moving down the street toward them, the group stepped forward and away from the hotel front. An audible and familiar ‘crack’ caused the team to instinctively drop to their haunches, while dragging Orin and Evie down with them. Even as the group squatted, they drew their guns. Evie screamed on seeing Orin sitting on the pavement, heavily spattered with blood, and holding his arm.
“Oh my, oh my - he’s hurt, Orin’s hurt!”
Aware of her cries, the team scrutinized the rooftops for any sign of the gunman, while attempting to protect their senior officer and his wife. Buck realized JD was still standing.
“Damnit, JD, get down!”
Still scanning the area, Vin and Ezra stayed low and walked on their heels to behind an ornate column and a trash receptacle.
“Oh Orin,” Evie sobbed. “You’re bleeding!”
Josiah and Nathan joined the pair. Orin stared at his bloody shirt, then at Nathan. “It…it’s not all mine.”
Chris was positioned just in front of him and Evie, and turned sharply to his boss. “What?”
“JD!” Buck hollered at the unmoving form.
Nathan frowned while he quickly examined the AD. The team’s EMT glanced between Chris, and Orin’s gore-spattered shirtfront. “All I can see is a gouge across the arm.”
The sound of approaching sirens pierced the night air.
Vin and Ezra moved further forward, and in that split second Buck took advantage of the cover to get up and next to JD. He grabbed the boy’s arm and turned JD toward him. “For Pete’s sake Kid, get down!”
Buck balked to see ashen features, and a growing red stain spreading from JD's right shoulder and toward the center of his chest. Glassy eyes stared back at him.
“Buck,” JD rasped. “I uh, I don’t feel so good.” No sooner had the words escaped his bloodless lips, JD’s eyes rolled, then closed. His head lolled back, and as his jacket fell to the floor, he went limp and dropped like a stone.
With a wail, Buck barely caught him, forcing the pair to the ground together as Buck took the brunt of the fall.
Tanner’s heart raced on seeing JD’s collapse. He swiftly moved in to protect the downed pair. Chaos reigned all around them while, as if in slow motion, he watched Buck cradle JD close and talk softly to the motionless youth. Cops arrived, and stayed low as they moved in before frantically calling out instructions to waiting paramedics. Chris moved to Buck and JD and pressed his jacket hard into JD’s injury to stem the flow. Noting blood dripping over Buck's pants and pooling on the ground beneath JD, Chris eased the young agent to one side and cursed.
“The bullet went straight through.” He moved his jacket to the oozing wound at JD's back.
Informing Larabee that they would follow on soon, Vin and Ezra took off across the square to find out where whoever fired the shots was positioned.
Buck placed his large hand over the entry wound. “Hang on, Kid…it’s not too bad, okay? Just keep breathing, that’s my boy, hang in there, just hold on.”
Chris stepped back to allow the paramedics to work, and squeezed Buck’s shoulder as the big man smoothed back damp, black tendrils of hair on the head of the kid they all considered far more than just a teammate. Larabee watched the AD and his wife being taken to an ambulance, and yelled out an order for Nathan to go with them.
As soon as JD was ready, Buck followed his gurney into the ambulance. His disposition advised that no one objected. So that he could escort Orin to the hospital, and before he jumped into the front of an ambulance, Chris instructed Josiah to stay and liaise with the DPD and wait on Vin and Ezra. With a nod, Josiah watched as the vehicle raced away running full lights and sirens. Chris ran shaky, bloodstained fingers through his blond hair and blew out a breath. *‘What the hell just happened out there?’*
After racing up the short, narrow stairway from the top floor to the roof of the building Vin had targeted, Tanner and Standish burst through the doorway in a spectacular series of tuck and rolls before taking cover behind a large silver vent and pipes. Once they were confident that the area was clear, guns in hands and pointing toward every crevice and corner, the pair cautiously walked the roof until they reached an area opposite, and overlooking the Hilton. Vin squatted on his haunches and examined shoeprints and spent shell casings. Ezra stared out across the square. Travis had been a sitting duck.
“I must assume that if JD hadn’t stepped forward at that precise moment the shot was fired, Orin would be dead now.”
Standing up, Vin nodded. “Just need to figure out the who, and the why.” Using a pen to carefully scoop it up, he passed a hollow casing to Ezra for bagging. The southerner didn’t miss the slight of tremor in the Texan’s hand. Vin's adrenalin was pumping, as was his.
“Simple then,” the southerner countered, turning sharply when cops, soon followed by CSI, swarmed the roof to join them. Vin sighed deeply as he glanced around. The shooter was long gone. The pair left the officers to bag any remaining evidence, dust for prints, and take the necessary photos. Their goal now was to get to the hospital and check on their friends. After picking up with Josiah, the three men headed off to Denver General.
Sometime later, Josiah, Ezra, and Vin located their three teammates in the surgical waiting room. Buck looked like hell. He was smeared in blood, and stooped over in a chair. Chris didn’t look much better, but he was pacing, not sitting. Nathan was stretched out in a chair and leaning his head back against a wall. All three looked up when their friends entered.
“What’s happenin’?” Vin asked, softly, the trepidation from earlier returning with a vengeance.
“He crashed,” Buck rasped out, his head and shoulders remaining hunched over.
“What?” Josiah queried.
Chris approached them. “JD went into shock. His blood pressure bottomed out and he crashed.” He noted their eyes widen. “It’s okay, they got him back and stable. He’s in surgery, now.” Chris closed his eyes momentarily as images and sounds of crash calls, and Buck pounding on the ER doors assaulted his mind.
Larabee snapped out of his musings and looked at Ezra. “Sorry, long night.”
The southerner nodded his agreement. “AD Travis?”
Nathan answered. “A deep gouge to his upper arm. He and Evie are shocked, but okay.”
“Is someone with them?” Josiah asked.
Chris nodded. “US Marshals arrived just after we did. Looks like they’ll be taking the Judge into protective custody until further notice.” He watched Josiah walk up to Buck and sit next to him.
“Buck, let’s get you cleaned up, son.” He scrutinized the wan brunet. Buck’s hands were ingrained with dried blood, and his face and hair smeared and streaked with it from distressed swipes to them over the course of the night.
With a nod of understanding, Nathan stood and left to arrange for scrubs so that Buck's stained clothes could be removed and bagged for evidence.
Josiah noted that Chris wasn’t faring much better. He glanced toward Ezra who nodded to the profiler, and with a promise of refreshments, left.
After a few minutes silence, Chris kicked into commander mode. “Sit rep."
Vin shook his head. “Nothin’ of use so far. Shooter was long gone.”
Chris pursed his lips. “With such a high profile event, it wouldn’t take much to set up a hit. Travis was a walking target the moment he entered that hotel.”
Tanner nodded. “This is gonna take some figurin’ out. Travis could’ve made a number of enemies over the years.”
“He’s already working on a list,” Chris injected. “The FBI and the US Marshal's Office are looking into recent releases from prison related to Orin's Federal days, and any major events he may have been involved in lately that could instigate an attempt on his life.”
Ezra re-entered the room with coffees, and Nathan with a nurse in tow carrying fresh scrubs. All but Buck looked up. Taking a pair of scrubs for Buck, Josiah removed two large evidence bags from his pocket and handed one to Nathan, before gently guiding Buck toward a restroom. Thanking the nurse for his, and only needing a top, Chris changed right there in the waiting room, while continuing his conversation with Nathan, Vin, and Ezra.
When the waiting room door creaked open, they all moved for their guns. The agents relaxed when Evie walked in, accompanied by an armed man dressed in a suit. He nodded to the agents, and stood by the door to wait. Tears flowed as the woman tried to apologize. Ezra comforted her.
“My dear lady, apologies are unnecessary, and especially between friends.”
“Poor JD. And Orin…” she looked at Chris. “I’m so afraid for him.”
“He’s in good hands,” Chris soothed. “And JD’s a tough kid, he’ll be fine.”
“I hope you’re right. Damned if I could live with myself if you’re not.”
All in the room were surprised when Orin Travis walked in with his two ‘minders’. Evie approached and scolded him as she touched his strapped arm. “What are you doing up, you old fool.”
“Less of the old, woman,” Orin stated, a twinkle in his eye. Taking up a seat, he glanced around at them all. “Is JD still in surgery?”
“Apparently, JD’s spontaneous move in front of me meant that he took the hit, and the bullet passed clean through him, and his jacket. Its deflection ensured I received only a flesh wound." Travis adjusted his arm support, more for something to do than discomfort. "I’m sorry.”
“That kid’s got a fondness for walking into the wrong place at the wrong time.” All eyes turned to a weary Buck as he and Josiah re-entered the room, the former now in blue scrubs. Buck’s and Orin’s gazes met. “I’m glad you’re okay Judge, and Chris is right, the kid’s tough, he’ll be alright.” The conviction in Buck’s voice warmed their hearts. A doctor in scrubs entered the room and all attention turned to him.
“I have news on John Dunne.”
Chris and Buck approached and introduced themselves.
The surgeon smiled. “I know ‘lucky’ is not a word you want to hear right now, but John’s been very lucky indeed. The shock and blood loss caused some problems, but he stabilized nicely once we cleaned him up and got some fluids into him. The bullet’s pathway missed anything vital, just nipped some muscle and tendons. The damage has been repaired, and he’s had two units of blood, type specific. With a combination of rest and physical therapy, we’re confident the young man will be fully functional in a month or two.” He smiled wider as several hands took turns to pump his.
“I've arranged hydrotherapy. The results are quicker, and more comprehensive. I must stress the word ‘rest’. It’s imperative he does so, and to do that he needs to be with someone 24/7 for a week or two.”
“No problem,” six men said together.
The surgeon nodded. “He’s been in recovery for a while, but I’m afraid no one can see him yet. Due to the meal and alcohol he ingested before he was injured, he’s very sick just now…not unusual after anesthesia.”
“I’ve seen him sick, I don’t mind,” Buck pleaded.
“He’s also distressed and disoriented about how the rest of you are doing, I really don’t think . . .”
The doctor knew of these men. After a pause, he nodded. “Very well, but I did warn you.” Buck was already heading in. Chris watched him go. Turning to the others, he smiled knowingly and followed the brunet in.
It was difficult for the two nurses to help JD and prevent him from damaging his injury while he vomited. When a tall, good-looking man in scrubs took over, they looked to the doctor. Seeing him nod, they smoothly backed off.
Buck enveloped the smaller man, effectively closing them off to the world. “Hey buddy…ole Buck’s right here.” He smiled when JD’s fingers clutched at his shirtsleeve.
“Oh God, Buck…make it stop.”
Noting the doctor inject something into JD’s IV, and then nod, Buck smiled. “They’ve just given you a shot to help you. It’s just the anesthetic making you sick, Kid…that and the meal from earlier.” He moved in closer. “Next time you get shot little brother, don’t eat first.”
JD choked out a weak, gravelly, squeak. “Next time!? Oww!” He was sick again, but it was just a little liquid, and Buck relaxed, it was almost over. He smiled, but barely moved when Chris leaned in and placed a straw to JD’s lips.
“Just a sip,” the blond warned. "Get that taste out of your mouth."
Doing as he was told, JD sighed and leaned his head into Buck. “Is everyone okay?” he whispered as his eyes closed.
“Absolutely,” Buck replied. One arm and hand embraced him, as his other hand cleaned him up. “Go to sleep.” A minute or so later, Buck eased JD down in the bed and straightened up. Chris removed the cardboard sick bowl, handing it off to a nurse. The pair looked at the remaining staff. “Thank you,” Buck said, gratefully.
“We’ll be moving him to a regular room soon, but he’ll be on monitors for twenty four hours,” One nurse explained as she saw them out. “I’ll let you know when and where.”
In the waiting room, five men and one woman stood when Chris and Buck came in.
“He okay?” Vin asked.
Buck smiled. “Yeah. He’ll be in a room, soon.” The group watched as the Marshals closed in and spoke quietly to Travis.
A little wobbly as he stood, the AD spoke. “I’m heading out. We’re going to a safe house, for now, but I want to be kept posted.”
Larabee nodded. “You have my word, Judge.”
As they left, Travis turned back. “Give JD my best.”
“Will do, sir,” Buck assured.
Chris went back to control mode. “Ezra, Josiah, Nathan. Get down to DPD and give these soiled clothes to CSI; your statements to DPD, and then get some rest. This may not be our case, but it doesn’t mean we’re not going to work it.” He turned to Tanner. “Liaise with forensics. I want to know every detail, down to what color underwear that bastard was wearing.”
With a dimpled smile, Vin nodded. He went to speak but Chris beat him to it.
“I assume you’ll all want to see JD into his room first, though, right?” He smiled at the reactions. Chris had seen the question coming. He glanced at Buck. “How're you doing, Pard?”
Buck sighed. “The kid was having such a great night.”
“We all were,” Vin slipped in. “Right place, wrong time, huh?” He made a move to the tired brunet and guided him to a chair. Ezra pushed a coffee under Buck’s nose.
Buck nodded and took a sip. “Thanks." His expression saddened. "Man, seeing JD’s face as he stood there.” He looked up at Chris. “The kid didn’t even know he’d been shot.”
“Well, he sure knows now,” Chris replied. He squeezed Buck’s arm. “Let’s be grateful for small mercies, huh? It’s gonna hurt like a bitch for a while, but better that than the alternative.”
Buck took another sip of coffee. “Yeah.”
An hour or so later, six men entered the dimly lit, room 311. In the bed, JD was half-propped up and asleep, his upper torso bandaged and his shoulder supported. A heart monitor blipped, while a nasal cannula hissed gently, and a blood pressure cuff wrapped around JD’s good arm vibrated when it inflated. An oscillating fan to one side of the bed ruffled the young tech’s dark hair. Buck looked at the nurse.
“Why the fan?”
“John’s running a temperature. The doctor’s not too concerned, and the antibiotics will kick in soon and ease the symptoms.” She smiled. “The fan is just a precaution. He’s receiving fluids and a low dose of morphine through his IV, so he’s a little in and out of it right now. The sickness has abated, but Doctor advises he only receives ice chips until further notice.”
Buck nodded. “Thank you, ma’am.”
“Is everyone staying?” the nurse asked as she turned to leave.
“For a little while,” Chris answered. “Is that a problem?” His words were more of a challenge than a question.
Looking around at six handsome and clearly concerned men, she smiled. “It will be if I hear you from the nurses’ station.”
“You won’t.” Chris smiled, and opened the door for her to leave.
“Quit harassing my nurse, she might get, pissed, and she has needles.”
Six men grinned and approached the bed. “You’re awake,” Buck said, softly.
“Well, if I’m dreaming this pain, I won’t be impressed,” JD uttered tiredly, grimacing as he tried to get comfortable. “God, I’m cold.” He turned his face away from the fan to avoid the breeze, "and thirsty."
Chris picked up a cup of ice chips and dropped a few onto JD’s tongue. Buck turned to a tap on his shoulder. Ezra handed him a damp, linen handkerchief that he had run under the faucet in the bathroom to one side of the room.
"JD may be cold, but his brow would suggest otherwise."
“Thanks, Ezra.” Moving in, Buck patted JD’s face and neck with it.
“Mmmm, thanks guys . . . nice.” JD closed his eyes and fell asleep.
“I don’t like to think of him in pain. Should we tell someone?” Vin asked.
“It’s not as bad as he’s feeling, Vin. JD’s a little disoriented and any pain is amplified right now,” Nathan explained. “Still, I’ll mention it on the way out.”
Chris watched Buck’s facial expressions as he ministered to the injured agent. He made eye contact. “Stop re-living it, Buck. He’s doing okay.”
Buck stared at his hands, noting the blood still under his nails. “Don’t make it any easier.”
Chris took a seat. “I know.” Several minutes later, all but Chris and Buck had left. Knowing DPD would pull an all-nighter on this, the other agents, still in their tuxes, made their way to headquarters as ordered.
Two weeks on and JD was begging to return to work. He had visited with Travis several times, and now the AD was back in work with a permanent escort until the threat was considered concluded. Arranging to meet the guys in their favorite watering hole, Watson’s Bar, or more affectionately known as ‘the Saloon’, JD sipped on a glass of milk while he waited. A figure made his way to where JD was seated, and at first, JD didn’t acknowledge him.
On hearing a hacking alias he’d dropped long ago, JD’s head shot up to see who had spoken. His jaw dropped open. “Oscar?” Standing, JD reached out his right hand, his grin as wide as his face. “Man, I haven’t seen you in over five years. What brings you to Denver?”
They shook hands. Oscar Kerchovsky pointed to JD’s strapped arm. “What gives?”
JD shrugged. “Aah, nothing much. Didn’t duck fast enough. You still with Boston DEA?”
The pair hadn’t talked since high school, but had originally kept a loose track of each other when it was discovered they both joined the police force. They sat down.
“Nope, got hauled over to DC. I’m with the FBI now.” Giving his drink order to the waitress, he smiled at JD. “I’m guessing you’re no longer with Boston PD.”
JD nodded. “With Denver ATF. Almost a year, now.” He narrowed his gaze. “You seem surprised.”
Thanking the waitress for his soda, Oscar shrugged. “You were the best hacker around, Johnny. Loads better than me. I figured the FBI would’ve snapped you up by now.”
An odd shudder went through JD’s body. “I had the chance to go there, but I came here, instead.” He leaned in. “I wanted field action, and to work with the best.” He grinned. “And I got it.” The young agent sipped his milk. “You sound like you regret your decision.”
“Decision?” Oscar scoffed. “Yeah, right.”
Not really understanding the comment, JD shrugged it off. “You still work in IT?”
“I do now. I switched for a while, became a sharpshooter for my team. Was real good at it, too. Managed to shake off my ‘tech geek’ image for a while. Then the call came. Next thing, I was in Washington.”
JD nodded and there was a pause while they both sipped their drinks. “So, you didn’t say why you’re here.”
“Aww, just visiting family. I had some time and thought I’d look you up. You uh, you don’t mind, do you?”
JD waved the comment off. “Hell, no. It was just a surprise seeing you after all this time, is all.” Spotting the rest of his team arriving, he beckoned them over. “Hey guys, this is Oscar Kerchovsky. We were in high school together.”
Oscar stood and was introduced to each man, noting that the one called Tanner declined to shake hands with him. He shook Chris’s hand. “Great to meet you, sir. I’m a big admirer.”
“So was I,” JD chuckled, as they all took up seats. Oscar remained standing.
“I, uh, got to get back. It was great to see you again, Boston.” he grinned. “Sorry, it’s Sheriff now, isn’t it?” His grin widened at JD’s animated, if silent attempts to shut him up. Waving goodbye, Oscar left.
JD smiled nervously at Chris’s scrutinizing gaze.
“Sheriff? What’s that about?”
Sipping his milk, JD shrugged.
“High school?” Vin asked.
JD nodded. “We were in the same class, but he’s several years older than me.”
“A fellow hacker?” Ezra enquired.
After a pause, JD bobbed his head. “Once, yeah.” His features saddened and they waited. Buck cracked.
“Kid? What is it?” He was surprised at the shimmering gaze he received.
“It’s not really a time in my life I enjoyed.”
“Your mom?” Josiah pushed.
“Among other things,” JD answered. Glancing around at them all, he knew he was about to share something he'd hoped he would never have to bring to mind again. But these men were like family to him. He could trust them.
“Ironically, the last time I saw Oscar was one of the worst nights of my life.” He drained his glass and rested a forearm on the table. “Being jumped ahead a few years, and kinda small for my age was bad enough, but being known as a ‘super geek’ was worse.”
“You played sports, right?” Vin asked.
“Sure, but less and less once mom got sick. I just couldn’t put in the training time. Computers were my salvation, but being so isolated, and withdrawing into my schoolwork and IT, it didn’t take much to attract all the wrong attention from the kids in school. One day, to get the bullies off my back for just for a little while, I did something dumb, and bragged I could beat down any firewall, even the Pentagon’s.”
“What happened?” Nathan asked. There was an awkward hiatus.
“He went ahead and did it,” Chris stated. It was in JD’s personal records. All but Buck and Chris looked shocked.
“And were they impressed?” Josiah queried.
“For all of five minutes,” JD choked out.
“What then?” Ezra pushed, gently; not missing Buck’s fingers curl around the youth’s slender wrist.
JD composed himself. “And then, they picked me up, carried me down two flights of stairs and through the main hallway, stuffed me in the janitor’s broom locker, and left me there ‘til the janitor finally heard me and let me out.” He hung his head in shame, missing the heartfelt glances pass around the table.
“Assholes,” Vin hissed.
Head still down, JD was talking, but clearly seeing another time and place. “I was in there so long I’d wet my pants. When I got home, Mom was frantic with worry." He angrily swiped at his eyes. "Next morning, there were cops in suits all over the school looking for the hacker that cracked the Pentagon.”
“Did the authorities ever figure it was you?” Nathan asked.
“No, but I confessed.” JD offered a sad smile. “A cop that liaised with our local youth center convinced them to let it go if I showed them how I did it, and so I did. I never heard any more about it. Scared me half to death though. I thought for sure I was going to jail.” His gaze drifted toward the door. “Serves me right for trying to show off.” He sighed. “Seeing Oscar today dredged it all back up. To this day, I can still smell the disinfectants from in that room. I thought I was gonna suffocate.”
Vin’s blue eyes glistened. He knew all too well how it felt to be intimidated when young. He couldn’t bear to think JD had experienced such cruelty, too. “Then you got tough and moved away from the dark side,” he drawled, a small smile breaking through.
JD grinned. “Something like that, yeah.”
The rest of the evening was subdued, ending on Chinese take-out for seven, back at the CDC. Later that night outside the apartment block, Chris turned to Vin as they went for their vehicles to head home.
Tanner nodded before Chris had uttered a word. “I’ll let you know what I dig up on Kerchovsky as soon as possible.”
Buck carried the last of the crockery into the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher. He smiled when JD entered. “Y’okay, Kid?”
“Sure. I was just gonna make some hot chocolate. You want some?”
Buck smiled, “Yeah, why not?”
Sitting together at the kitchen table, the pair sipped on their drinks. Buck reached over and squeezed JD’s wrist. “For what it’s worth, it may have been the worst time of your life, but if it hadn’t happened, you might never have become a cop, and we might never have met.”
JD’s eyes twinkled. “Was that supposed to cheer me up?” They both laughed. Buck swiped the last chocolate chip cookie. “Hey!”
“That’s what you get for sassing me, boy!”
Standing, JD rinsed his mug and placed it in the dishwasher. As he passed Buck, he squeezed his shoulder. “’Night big brother.”
Buck’s grin was a dazzler. “’Night little brother.” Hearing JD’s door close, Buck waited five minutes then dialed his cell. He listened to the confirmation of Kerchovsky being checked on, and then smiled. “Thanks Chris, I owe you one.”
Another week on and JD was due back in to work the next day. Orin Travis and six of Team Seven were in conference room one. Travis was speaking.
“As of today, the US Marshal's Office is standing down as my companions. Thanks to your help, they feel any and every probable suspect has been cleared in one way or another. Your last case, Monty Cruess, was the only one who might gain from my demise, but came up empty, and anyone who might have once held a grudge, is either dead, or in prison.” He stood. “I want to thank you for all you’ve done for myself, and Evie.” He took a breath. “I’m proud to have you as part of this division, and proud to call you my friends.”
Once he left, Chris glanced at an agitated Buck. “Okay, what’s crawled up your butt and took a bite?”
“Aww, it’s nothing. Just that guy Oscar, called this morning, wanted to meet up with JD before he heads back to Boston.”
“This bothers you, Buck?” Josiah asked.
“Only that JD seemed more settled recently, after their last meeting. I was just hoping this wouldn’t bring him down again.”
“I truly believe sharing with us helped, Buck,” Ezra said, sincerely.
Chris observed the conversation. His eyes flicked to Vin.
“So far, everythin’ Kerchovsky has said checks out. He left high school around the time of JD’s incident. He went on to Yale, while JD went to MIT. Where the guy went between high school and Yale is a mystery. I’m still runnin’ a background check on him for that.”
“What are you looking for?” Nathan queried.
Vin shrugged. “I guess I’ll know when I find it.” He tapped his chin. “One thing, his DEA team leader, Chet Watson, died a few months back. Shot to the head.”
“A hit?” Buck wondered.
“Still unsolved,” Vin confessed.
The big man smiled at Chris. “I’d be happy to compile a profile on him, Chris.”
Larabee nodded. “Thanks.”
“His finances appear to be in tip-top condition,” Ezra offered.
Chris smiled. He hadn’t asked for that, but wasn’t surprised. They all looked up when JD unexpectedly walked in and tossed a folder onto the table.
“Yeah, well, here’s more news for you, remember those school bullies I told you about?”
They all nodded.
“They’ve all died over the last six months.” He watched their reactions. “What? I’m a cop. Did you really think I wouldn’t wonder why a registered Federal sharpshooter turned up here, now, and shortly after an attempt was made on AD Travis’s life?” Sitting down, he chewed his lip. “I just can’t find a link between him and the AD - yet, or to the murder of these men, either.”
Buck winked and punched JD lightly on his good arm.
“You think he killed the bullies?” Chris asked.
JD sighed. “I hope not, but,” he looked down at his hands. “May God forgive me but, after that night, in my *head*, I’ve taken 'em down more than once.”
“Big difference between thinking it, and doing it, son,” Josiah soothed.
JD swallowed. “Is there?”
Chris waited until JD looked up at him. “Yes.”
JD sighed. “Back then, at breaking point and faced with an opportunity, I wish I could be so sure,” he whispered, causing all around him to shake their heads. They were sure, even if JD wasn't.
“Did Oscar say why he switched to the FBI?” Vin asked in an attempt to ease the tension. “Seems kinda odd to go from active sharpshooter to IT whiz.” He noticed JD’s eyes glaze over.
>> “You still with Boston DEA?”
“Nope, got hauled over to DC…I’m with the FBI now.” …
…“You were the best hacker around, Johnny. Loads better than me. I figured the FBI would’ve snapped you up by now.”
“You sound like you regret your decision.”
“Decision?” Oscar scoffed. “Yeah, right.” <<
“Yo, JD!” Buck was waving a hand in front of the young agent’s face. “You with us?”
JD smiled, shyly. “Sorry, was thinking back on something Oscar said.”
“Which was?” Chris pressed.
JD looked at them all, confusion in his eyes. “I got the feeling DC wasn’t a career move of his choosing.”
A heavy silence hung in the air.
“Where is Kerchovsky now?” Chris asked.
“He was heading for the airport,” JD replied. “He’s going back to Boston.”
Ezra took his cell, stood, and walked to a corner of the room. Minutes later, he turned to them all. “You may want to alert AD Travis, and the US Marshal's Office.”
“Why?” Chris asked.
“Kerchovsky never boarded his flight.”
Eight days later found both JD and Travis fully back in the office. Oscar had disappeared off the radar, despite JD’s relentless attempts to track him; and Travis refused to allow the threat to disrupt his life, although he did send Evie, Mary and Billy away to his sister’s home in California for a while.
The AD and Team Seven were in a briefing of a case started while JD was still out on sick leave. Dunne didn’t mind, he was busily ensconced in a video room. In a bid to locate Kerchovsky, JD was running facial recognition software over retrieved footage from the city’s cameras. Rubbing his eyes, he decided to hit the vending machines for a break. Being close to ground level, and finding very little choice in the machines on his level, he headed down to an area close to the security entrance.
Officer Bob Packer was a veteran of thirty years. Having been shot in the line of duty, he was about to be invalided out of the DPD when an opportunity arose to apply for a position as security personnel for the Federal building. He knew everyone personally, which was no mean feat for a twelve-storey building, and was decorated for preventing a terrorist attempt on the building several years earlier. Noticing JD's appearance at the rear of the lobby near the elevators, he acknowledged a wave from the young agent.
Turning back, he eyed a man who entered the lobby. Bob had only commented to his wife Margaret that very morning, on what a beautiful day it was, so he couldn’t help wondering why the visitor was wearing a heavy topcoat. The man produced a Federal ID at the checkpoint.
“Empty your pockets please, sir.”
The man smiled and complied.
“I need to see your gun, please.” Bob held back any reaction when the man seemed to consider this.
“Actually, I’m running late. Any chance you could ask Agent Dunne of ATF Team Seven to come down and briefly meet with me?”
Bob smiled and reached for a phone. His hand hovered close to his gun. “Just one minute, Agent,” he re-read the ID. “Kerchovsky.” About to dial, he remembered JD was perusing the vending machines at the back of the clearance area. He waved. “Agent Dunne!”
Hearing his name, JD turned to respond. His heart thudded in his chest when he saw Oscar standing next to Bob.
“Got a visitor for you.”
Nodding, JD put on a smile and approached. “Oscar! I thought you’d gone back to Boston.”
“Had a little business to conclude first,” the DEA agent called back.
As JD scanned his ID to move through the security barrier, he whispered to Bob. “Call Larabee, now.” He shook hands with Oscar to distract the man from Bob’s call. “This is great. Got time for a coffee?”
“A last drink, Johnny?”
JD frowned. “Last drink? Oh, before you go back, you mean?” He balked when Oscar opened his coat to reveal a belt heavily laden with explosives, strapped around his body. “Oscar?”
Drawing his service weapon, Kerchovsky fired in the air, causing those around him to duck, and cry out. He called out for no one to move and took two steps back so everyone could see why. “I have enough explosive here to wipe out this building, so no heroics.”
JD straightened, his ears ringing from the gunfire. “Are you crazy?” he hissed.
Oscar smiled, a tear escaping his dark brown eyes. “I’ve never been more sane in my life.”
Enjoying a coffee at the conclusion of their meeting, Orin pointed to a sealed envelope next to Tanner. “Anything of interest, Vin?”
The Texan picked up the large manila envelope. “Not sure. It’s from Boston. I had them snail mail me, in case Kerchovsky was monitorin’ communications. One of the secretaries handed it to me on the way up here.”
My God,” Orin commented. “Are we becoming that paranoid, now?”
“The man’s a known ex-hacker.” Chris smiled, thinking of JD. “If there is such a thing. Can’t hurt to be cautious.”
“Care to share?” Buck urged. Vin nodded and opened it. Reading the contents, he sighed, and then frowned.
Tanner looked at Buck. “Damn.”
“What?” Chris was getting edgy, now.
“He may have been real busy.” Vin passed the papers to Chris before hurrying out of the room. After a minute, Chris looked up from reading. “A list of people Oscar’s known since high school have died in the last six months.”
“A list?” Ezra asked.
Chris nodded. “The only names I recognize are Team Leader Chet Watson, and the bullies JD mentioned recently.” He and the others looked up when Vin re-entered the room, dropped a file on the table and opened it.
“Ha!” He pointed to an inventory. “I recognized some of those names. Between talking to the high school, and JD, I found out the names of the guys who were on the football team at that time. Most of them are on that list.”
Josiah huffed. “And possibly the female names were ex-cheerleaders?”
“Vin, when did Kerchovsky transfer to the FBI?” Chris asked.
Tanner flicked through his file. “Seven months ago.”
Josiah growled. He clenched his fists tight turning his knuckles white. “There’s the stress factor.”
“Excuse me?” Nathan asked.
“If Oscar’s responsible for these murders, and we’re assuming that he is, the question is, ‘what set him off?’”
“A change in jobs,” Buck injected.
“And a forced one at that, it would seem,” Ezra reminded.
“But why now?” Travis wondered. “He hadn’t seen the people from school in years, surely?”
“Who died first?” Chris asked.
Vin read. “Watson.”
“His profile build-up shows a clever individual, from a low-income background. The pressure was on him to win a college scholarship as his mother couldn’t afford to pay,” Josiah spoke from memory.
“Sound familiar?” Buck worried.
Sanchez continued. “He transferred to another high school before graduating and winning a college scholarship. He had very few friends, only previously meeting JD at a police-run, community youth club.”
“And became JD’s hacking buddy?” Nathan concluded.
“It would seem so,” Josiah agreed. “After college, he applied to Boston Police Academy and worked in IT, before excelling in firearms. He joined DEA Team Five one year after being assigned to Boston PD - recruited as sharpshooter. It would seem his time with them was a happy one, for the first time in his life, he felt as if he ‘fitted in’.”
“JD said Oscar didn’t seem happy about the career change,” Ezra noted. “Does he keep in touch with his old team? Has he made new acquaintances?”
Josiah shrugged. “There’s no more information on him from then.” Vin nodded his agreement. He had found nothing more on the guy, either.
“Then, are we suggesting his hit list is of people he became disgruntled with from high school to the present?” Travis rounded up.
“People he felt had let him down.” Josiah said, softly.
“When did he feel you let him down, sir?” Nathan asked. There was a long pause as the men waited for Orin to make a connection.
Buck shot to his feet. “It’s JD!”
Chris stood. “Damn!”
“He doesn’t want Travis, he wants JD.” Buck looked around as they did the math. “Don’t you see? He shot the right guy!”
“What could JD have done to him for Oscar to want to kill him?” Nathan asked.
Vin stood. “JD did say he hadn’t seen him since the attack that night.”
The men packed up. Chris spoke. “Whatever, it looks like the guy has something bothering him, and he’s still here in Boston. Where’s JD?”
“Floor one, archives and video evidence room,” Buck called, almost out the door. Chris’s cell ringing stopped them all in their tracks.
“Larabee.” He listened and stared at the others. “We’re taking control, got that? Anyone else interferes with my orders; I’ll have their balls on a spike.”
An alarm sounded. The US Marshal guarding Travis, poked his head in the door. "Terrorist alert.”
“We should be evacuating,” Travis stated.
“We are, all except the security lobby.” The marshal touched a hand to an earpiece. “There’s a guy in there with explosives strapped to him.”
“Chris, you all leave now, with the rest of the staff,” Travis ordered as they exited the room to a hallway of anxious, hurrying agents and personnel.
Larabee turned to face him. “Sir, the call was from Bob Packer. The man in the lobby is Kerchovsky.” He glanced at Buck. “JD’s with him, he was the one who told Bob to call me.”
Flicking a gaze at Buck, Vin unholstered his Sig and snapped in an ammo clip. “Let’s go,” he growled, huskily.
JD stared at the man before him. He could feel the sweat gathering on his brow and upper lip. Hell, even his ass was sweating. On a leather belt below the explosives strapped to Oscar, was a device with a button. JD noted Oscar’s right hand hovered over it, his thumb occasionally touching it while doing so. He needed to grab that hand, somehow.
“What gives, man?”
Oscar’s features crumpled. “I’m so tired, Johnny.”
JD forced a smile. “Well, let’s go get a drink and a seat . . .”
His shout caused a few cries of fear from those lying flat to the floor.
“I’m tired of having no choices, of being ‘out of the loop’ most of my life.” He sighed. “I’m tired of people ridiculing me, and letting me down. I want them gone. I want me - gone.”
JD took one small step forward. “Do you mean dead? Like you wanted Travis? What did he do to you?”
“Travis?” Oscar laughed, but it was a cold, hard sound. “I wasn’t shooting at Travis. God, you really are naïve, aren’t you? I thought you were a detective. I was trying to kill you.”
JD paled, the sweat from his brow dampening his bangs. “Me?” he croaked.
“Didn’t you ever wonder why I left high school? Didn’t you even care?”
JD nodded. “Well, sure I . . . ”
“No, I swear, I asked about you, but no one would say. But, that was years ago.”
“Yeah, it was, but it still hurts like it was yesterday. You wanna know why I left? I left because of *you*!”
JD frowned, hoping his genuine bewilderment was coming through. “What?”
“My so called *best friend*.” Oscar started shifting from foot to foot. JD’s confusion grew. When had they become best friends? Oscar was just a kid from school he saw occasionally, and at the local youth center. With his mom so sick, JD hadn’t socialized outside school hours, except for that one night each week at the center.
“Did you enjoy humiliating me?” Oscar spat. ”Was it worth the notoriety?”
“What are you talking about? When?”
Kerchovsky leaned menacingly in. “That last day I was at the school, when we stayed behind to do some IT work. I went to get us a soda, but on the way back, one of the football jocks told me you needed me out by the playing fields.” Oscar paused for a moment, his hand again closing in on the detonation button.
“Oscar, please. What’s this about? I remember that night.” He swallowed, how could he not? “But I never went to the playing fields.” JD hoped he had distracted him.
“Oh, you’re saying that now because you don’t want to die.”
“No, no I’m not just saying it. Please just, just tell me what happened, tell me what I’m supposed to have done,” JD begged.
“You know what you did!” Kerchovsky snarled. “I went. My buddy, my *pal* needed me, so I went to meet you, only you weren’t there.”
“Who was there?” JD rasped his brow knitted in apprehension.
Oscar looked exasperated. “Like you don’t know! Only half the school, the football team and all the cheerleaders, that’s all. They taunted me, laughed at me, called me a freak. Then . . .” he began to tremble. “Then they stripped me naked, staked me out in the middle of the field and left me there - all night.” He was crying now. “You never even came to help me. All night, Johnny, I was there, alone, all - freakin' - night!”
'Oh God' JD felt his knees wobble on realizing that while he had been locked away by the same bullies, Oscar was facing his own nightmare. Tears formed, but before he could speak, a sound behind them had Oscar point the gun in his left hand.
“NO! Stay back!” His right hand was dangerously close to the button.
JD’s heart was breaking. He knew his team was behind him, knew Vin would have a head shot lined up, but this guy, JD could so relate to this guy, all that pain, so much frustration and disappointment. If his mom hadn’t needed him so much, and with his attention taken with concentrating on college, and police work and, God forbid, if he hadn’t found these six wonderful men to be friends as well as colleagues with, this could have been him. Couldn’t it? JD’s eyes closed and his head jerked in tiny movements left and right, as flashes of memory assaulted his mind. He gestured behind him with his hand to warn his teammates to back off. He stepped directly in front of Kerchovsky to ensure his safety, while vivid, bitter memories momentarily transported him back in time.
>> “Man! You did it, you really did it!”
JD grinned and spun around in the chair to face the dozen boys behind him. “Told you I could.” He turned back briefly to shut down the computer.
“Now we got a problem though, shortstuff.”
“What?” JD felt uncomfortable about the chuckling going on around him.
“The Feds might turn up, they might find you.” The boy turned to his friends. “We gotta hide him, guys!”
“What? Noooo!” Despite his fierce struggles, JD was carried down through the almost empty school and to the janitor’s room. Inside and still struggling, he watched the boys open a gray locker and pull out the brooms and mops within, before stuffing JD in there. “Please, no, don’t, I have to get home!” He heard them slip the bolt, and then leave the room, still laughing.
JD hammered on the door. “Please, let me out! I have to get home!” <<
Chris’s face was a mask of annoyance as he watched JD obscure his view of Kerchovsky. “What the hell is JD doing?”
“Blocking my shot,” Vin hissed, his focus and aim unwavering.
“If we survive this, I’m gonna kill him,” Chris growled. Any other time, that would have been funny, but not today.
Larabee turned to Buck, shocked to see anguish in the man’s eyes. ”JD’s not been sleeping too good lately. I’m pretty sure it’s about what he told us in the Saloon.”
Larabee turned his eyes to the Heavens before glaring back at Buck. “You should have told me, Buck.”
Chris’s head snapped back to the scene before them. “This ends here. Tell me what you see.”
Composing himself, Buck peered at Kerchovsky through binoculars he’d grabbed from an adjoining office, to catch occasional glimpses of the belt. “No remote, no dead man’s handle, just a detonation button, but his hand’s right over it.”
“Just need one shot.” Vin assured, his focus never leaving JD.
“Why are you upset? Are you that afraid of dying?” Oscar accused.
Snapping back to the here and now, JD stared for a moment to get his bearings, before shaking his head. “The night you were assaulted, so was I.”
"No, I’m not. The same boys stuffed me in the janitor’s locker. You had just gone for soda, I was showing off on the computer to get them off my back.” He ran a shaky hand over his face. “I hollered for help for hours. The janitor came eventually, I'd wet . . . ” he paused.
“I was a wreck and I just ran straight home. I couldn’t go back to school for weeks. When I did, you were gone. I called your home, but just kept getting your machine. In school, I was in trouble with the Feds for hacking.” He looked Oscar in the eyes. “I got screwed around, too.”
There was a long pause. At first, JD feared Oscar wouldn’t believe him, but as the armed agent’s mind mulled over the declaration, his expression softened. “Jesus.” Kerchovsky breathed. “For real?”
Dunne nodded. “I swear. Come with me and I’ll prove it to you.”
Oscar remained unmoving, his thumb over the button. “How did you get through it? I went to pieces.”
Relived that they were maintaining a dialogue, JD explained. “My mom was real sick remember? She needed me. It kept me focused. Just after I graduated the police academy and started with Boston PD, she died.” He paused for a moment. “I wanted to get away, start out fresh. The FBI contacted me about an IT position, but I wanted field experience. I wanted to really feel like I was making a difference out there, and not just pumping out statistics. So I came here to interview for Larabee’s team.”
JD smiled. “I’ve never looked back.” He adjusted his stance slightly when Oscar moved. “Why can’t you ask to be reassigned? I’ll help you, if you want. And I’ll try and keep in touch more.” He frowned as Oscar snorted out a laugh.
“Reassigned?” He shook his head. “You poor sap, you really don’t get it, do you? We’ve been tagged, little man. We’re hackers, and good ones. Talent like that, especially yours, is earmarked from the day of detection. Once we joined the police force, our fate was sealed. Even if we hadn't they were coming for us, or else.”
JD looked at him in horror. “What are you talking about? Or else what?”
“We’re on a list. My number’s up, yours will be too. The FBI owns you, Johnny. You hacked the Pentagon, they own your ass, just like they own mine.” Oscar stroked his thumb over the button.
JD shook his head, a knot of fear growing in his stomach. “I turned the FBI down.”
“Yeah, they let you think that. Travis helped them out, just like my team leader Watson did. Travis promised, if Larabee liked you, he’d let you work off your energy here, then transfer you at a later date. Watson told me he’d been asked to do the very same thing.”
“No!” JD’s eyes welled up and he pointed at Kerchovsky. “No! No, you’re wrong; Travis wouldn’t do that to me, Chris wouldn’t do that . . . ”
“It’s done! I’m living proof, and I know at least four others it’s happened to over the past five years; and you’ll know them too, when I tell you their old hacker monikers.” He glanced down at the button, then back at JD. “Don’t you see? Tagged means owned. We’re just commodities to them, they need information, we can supply it.” A maniacal stare caused JD to pale.
“This place is about to go ‘boom’, but we can have the last laugh, Kid. Come on, let’s stick it to them together, you and me, like the old days. Let’s give them an information overload they’ll never forget.” He raised his gun and pointed it at Officer Bob Packer. “Starting with him.”
Trembling as the news seeped right through to his bones, JD kept eye contact; and slowly nodded. Oscar was lost to him; he’d passed the point of no return. Heartsick, but knowing what he had to do, the young agent held out his free hand for a handshake. “Yeah,” he whispered, “like the old days.” Oscar smiled as his fingers moved from the button, and the pair clasped hands.
JD looked him in the eye. “Oscar, I’m so sorry.”
As he apologized, JD stepped to the side and quickly squatted. Three shots rang out, one, from Oscar’s gun. Something hot and wet hit JD’s bent back and his still extended arm, but he couldn’t let go, he had to ensure the body fell backwards. While people screamed all around him, he was unable to hold back his own horrified cry.
Vin barely breathed. Armed Feds were all around, while SWAT was outside, but all had confirmed a shot was dodgy while Kerchovsky could press the button. Vin trusted JD, he knew the kid would come through, so he waited.
And as JD moved, Vin fired a double tap to Kerchovsky’s head.
JD was still crouching when strong hands pulled him upright. He blinked and saw Buck. Panic set in as something heavy and warm slid down the back of his shirt. He pulled frantically at the garment. “Get it off me! GET IT OFF ME!”
“Take a breath,” Buck urged. “Come on, let’s get you cleaned up.” In seconds, despite having to maneuver around JD’s sling, the gore-splattered shirt was off and on the floor, and Ezra’s jacket draped over the quaking boy’s shoulders. Soon, all but Vin and Chris were in a conference room on the ground floor.
Head bowed, JD thanked someone for the coffee he was handed, or at least he hoped he did, he certainly said it in his head. While his drained body rested, and his mind raced, someone helped JD into a fresh tee shirt, while Ezra wiped at one side of his face and hair with a damp cloth. He was grateful for both acts, but didn’t want to dwell too much on the latter. It was when Travis, Tanner, and Larabee walked in, that the shaken junior agent raged into life, much to the surprise of the men around him. Sliding off the desk he was perched on to rest, JD flew furiously into Orin’s face.
“Do you and the others involved sleep well at night? Huh? What is it, some power kick you all get off on when you screw with an agent’s life, his emotions, his sanity?”
While the other men stood stock-still and shocked to the core, Orin’s features reflected realization. “Kerchovsky told you?”
JD nodded, swiping the sweat from his eyes that dropped from his heavy, damp bangs. “Oh yeah. he told me everything. When do you plan to ship me off, huh? This week, next week, do I get another year of false promises and ‘playtime’ for the eager puppy, sir? Well?”
“JD,” Orin tried; his heart heavy to know his youngest agent had learned of things this way.
JD raised a hand in warning. “Don’t, I can see in your eyes that Oscar wasn’t lying.” His emotions and earlier events were overtaking the young tech as one giant tear rolled down his cheek. Buck finally found his feet would move, and grasped JD’s shoulder, but the youth absently shrugged him off and glared at his friends.
“Nice set up. So, is that how you jokers saw it? Keep the eager little hacker on a leash until he wore himself out and his new owners got to sit on him until they got tired of him, too?”
Chris stepped forward. “JD, what the hell?”
Dunne moved his head to look at Larabee, before turning back to Travis. “I trusted you, I thought you believed in me, that you wanted me here.”
“JD, I do,” Orin insisted.
“Don’t lie! I know it now; I’ve been targeted from the day I signed up for the academy. Turning down the FBI was never an option, they just let me believe that, so I could get in some field experience and be less restless with them.” He laughed, but there was no humor in it. “The thing is, if they’d been honest with me, I might’ve come to an agreement with them. I mean, we’re all on the same side, right, RIGHT?”
He began to pace, his fingers pushing hair out of his face. “Just then, at the end, I understood where Oscar was coming from. After his teenage years being filled with taunts and loneliness, he’d finally found his place in life, friends, a job he loved, respect. But in one sweep of a pen, it was all taken away, and he never even got a chance to contest it, while he realized a man he cared about, and trusted, had been setting him up from day one.”
JD choked back a sob. “And now I learn you’re doing the same thing to me.” He finally looked up to see the anxious faces of his friends, his hurt-filled gaze rested on Chris.
“I look up to you. How could a man like you agree to something like this? Do you really have that little respect for me, for my feelings, and personal goals?”
The blond was genuinely thrown for a loop. “JD, you’re acting crazy. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m crazy?” JD hissed, fury in his features. “I’ve never been more sane in my life.”
Whether it was events catching up with him, the utter devastation of feeling so betrayed, or the fact he had just repeated Oscar’s words, every emotion simmering under the surface came to the fore for the young agent in that instant. Chris reeled backwards from the force of JD’s push, only remaining upright because Vin caught the blond. JD glared back at him.”Well, at least *my* integrity’s intact.”
Furious and confused, Chris moved to react, but the Texan held tight.
“Good Lord, son…”
“What the hell…?”
Stunned, the seven men watched, first the altercation, and then Dunne remove his badge and gun before thrusting both of his most prized possessions into Travis’s hands.
“Stick them where the sun don’t shine. If I can’t make my own career choices, then I don’t want to be here anymore. Tell *that* to the FBI, *sir*.” With a final swipe to his hair, JD crashed out of the room.
It took a long few moments, but finally Buck spoke, his voice high, and tight with emotion. “What the hell’s going on?” Normally, he would have chased after the kid, but he desperately wanted to understand what had just happened.
“Start talking,” Chris challenged Orin as he removed himself from Vin’s grasp.
The AD gave them a quick overview of what JD had learned. Chris was beyond furious. “You played us both?”
“No!” Travis insisted. “God no. I never forced you to take him on, Chris. That was down to you. In truth, no one believed you would, and the kid would go back to Boston and accept the FBI’s offer. But you did. You saw in JD that first day, what we all saw within his first week. The powers that be allowed you to take him, felt it would be good to let him get it out of his system, while learning from the best. Agreeing to that was my error, but if there is such a thing, it was a good error.”
He now addressed them all. “I formed this team to be unique, with agents to match. Different, bolder, to take on the more complex, and yes, likely dangerous assignments. JD fitted perfectly, unattached, no family ties, skilled, while still being fresh-faced and enthusiastic. I hadn't met another cop like him for years. I knew if Chris approved, we could harness all that, even if it was only for a short while." He lowered his head.
"What I hadn’t considered was the human factor, the reality that such undertakings would form strong bonds, and stir deep feelings.” He stuttered, his own emotions rising.
“I hadn’t appreciated how much I would grow to care about you all as individuals. I’ve never formed close friendships with field colleagues before. The closest I got was getting to know Chris. As soon as I realized that JD must remain here, I set wheels in motion. It’s been a tough process, over almost six months, but I finally got word a few weeks ago, just before he got shot, that if Chris and I agreed to continue to take responsibility for him, JD would remain on the FBI recruitment list, but would not be called upon unless he requested a transfer himself. His hacking skills are still very much a sore point with the authorities, and they don’t want a loose cannon in their ranks.” Orin sighed. “I hadn’t even decided how and when I would disclose all this to JD, let alone you.”
Six men stared at their AD, their eyes reflecting betrayal and anger. Chris shook his head, and without losing eye contact with Travis, he removed his own gun and badge and added it to JD’s. Without speaking, he left the room. Seconds later, Orin was staring at seven guns and shields. The AD looked intently after his team, his friends.
With the bomb squad having secured the area, and given the ‘all-clear’, the group of six agents instinctively made their way to their office, hoping JD had gone there, but he hadn’t.
“CDC?” Chris queried.
Buck shrugged. “I damn well hope so.”
Chris pondered for a moment. “Okay, we all need to talk. Let’s get out of the city and head to the ranch.” He glanced at Tanner. “Vin, you got clothes there, right?”
The Texan nodded.
“Okay, the rest of you, grab some things, while Buck, Vin, and me try to find JD. When I contact you, meet us at the ranch, agreed?”
They all approved. “I just need to talk to Rain,” Nathan said.
Chris nodded. Grabbing their jackets and keys, they all headed out.
In his bedroom, JD perched on the edge of his bed. His fingers were interlocked and twisted into his hair as he effectively doubled over for his good elbow to rest on his knee. An open box of mementos from his home in Boston rested on the bed next to him, and JD rocked gently as Oscar’s last moments played repeatedly in his mind. Suddenly jumping to his feet, JD clawed off his clothes, and hurried into the shower. The hot water tumbled over him, and he closed his eyes to prevent seeing the dried gore that was trapped in his hair, running with the water in rivulets down his body, before swirling down the drain.
But closing his eyes just made the haunting images of earlier return. Oscar; Travis; pushing Chris; his own emotion-driven fury as all he had built and achieved over the last year was swept away in just a few words of declaration, and a confession. Sensing everything slipping away, JD’s back slid down the shower wall and, with the water bouncing around him, he curled in on his misery.
On entering the apartment he shared with JD, Buck was just about to call out for the younger man when Chris gripped his arm, and pointed toward the shower. Hearing the water running, Buck nodded, and while he headed that way, Chris and Vin went into the kitchen to make coffee. Buck knocked on the bathroom door, but when no answer came, he tested the lock. It opened, and he walked in.
“JD?” Buck paled on seeing JD’s huddled form inside the steamy cubicle, and being bombarded with spray. “Jesus, Kid!”
Opening the partition, with the water still running he stepped in, hauled the younger man to his feet, and pulled him close. JD fisted the back of Buck’s shirt and wailed.
“Buck, I . . . ”
Buck held tight. “Easy now. Come on, let’s go talk.” Reaching behind the youth, Buck turned off the shower and eased them out of the cubicle. While JD stood, shivering, Buck grabbed a bath towel and wrapped him up in it.
Wondering how things were going, Vin knocked and walked in. He was moved by what he saw. He and Buck made eye contact. Vin nodded and, taking JD by the shoulders, guided him into his bedroom to change. Buck hastily shucked his wet clothes and shoes, jogged up to his bedroom, and threw on some sweat pants and a top before joining Chris, Vin, and JD in the living room.
The sight was heartbreaking. JD was similarly dressed to Buck, and sitting on the sofa. His good elbow was rested on his knee as he cradled his head in his hand. Vin was sitting cross-legged on the floor to one side of JD, and Chris was sitting opposite him, balancing on the edge of Buck’s recliner. The blond reached out and curled the fingers of his left hand around JD’s right wrist.
“JD, I just want you to hear this. What you and Travis were talking about, I didn’t know.” He smiled thinly when JD lifted his head enough to look at him with one eye. “I hope one day you can believe me, but you know, I’ve never lied to you, and I’m not lying now.”
Glancing at Vin, JD could see the sincerity in his eyes, too. He sniffed. Straightening, he rubbed absently at his healing shoulder wound. “Why me? I’m no one special.”
Chris’s smile grew a little. “You have a gift that scares the shit out of the authorities. They’d never admit it, but they’d rather have you with them, than against them.”
“But, like that? With no choices, no dignity? Just - ’go there, Dunne!’ and that’s it? Fate sealed? I can’t live that way, Chris.”
“Well, you won’t have to, Kid,” Vin chimed in.
JD shuddered. “Oh yeah, I quit." He groaned. “Jeezus, I quit.”
“Quit, or stay, Travis told us he'd already cleared you to stay with us, if you have a mind to,” Vin continued.
JD shook his head. “I’m not sure I could work for a man who kept something like that from me,” JD sighed.
“That’s how we felt,” Buck agreed as he maneuvered further into the room, “So we quit, too.”
“What?” JD winced at the squeak he emitted. “Are you all crazy?”
“You’re not the only one with principles, Kid,” Vin stated.
The three men witnessed a rare moment, JD rendered speechless. Finally, he broke the silence. “Are you all crazy?” He picked up his coffee and took a gulp. The three men noticed his hand shaking. “Shoot, what a mess. I’m so sorry, please, this is about me, don’t take it personally.”
“JD.” Chris’s tone had the youth look up instantly. “I love what I do, we all do, but while performing my duties, I found something no less important. Friendship. Each one of you has laid your lives on the line for the job, and for each other, including me.”
“So have you,” JD reminded.
Chris raised a hand. “Let me finish.”
“I agreed to work with Travis because I trusted him. He’s a good man, both personally, and professionally. Today, he told me he broke that trust, and in doing so, broke yours in me. I don’t take that lightly, JD, no more so than you could accept what he had done to you. You stand by your friends, and I stand by mine.”
He glanced at Vin and Buck. “And so do five other men. This isn’t over. Will we go back? Who knows, but what I do know, is that things have changed, and they need to be addressed.”
Sitting down next to JD, Buck spoke, softly. “I’m sorry about Oscar, Kid, but I think you realize he was a screw up long before this. Recent events just sent him over the edge.” He regretted seeing JD’s head drop, but Buck knew these things had to be said.
“The six of us are heading out to my place to get our heads together. You in?” Chris asked.
JD looked up. “You want me out there after I yelled at you, and pushed you?”
Tanner chuckled, making no attempt to hide his mirth. Buck grinned at the Kid, Chris just stared.
“I’ll give you that one, but you ever do that again, I’m gonna take the hand that pushed me and stuff it up your ass.”
JD stared back. There was a pause. “Fair enough.” The three agents laughed, gratified to see JD finally crack a smile.
Buck nudged his roommate. “Come on, we’ve got bags to pack.”
“Need a hand, Kid?” Vin asked as he got up.
“Sure,” JD said softly. He didn’t, but he didn’t like the idea of being alone right now, either.
Just over two hours later, the seven friends were reunited. JD was overwhelmed and touched that all six agents had supported him so vehemently. The six men couldn’t quite grasp that JD was surprised. He explained as they sat on the porch sipping on beers.
“Mom did all she could for me, but one day, things changed and I had to do all I could for her. We lived in a tough neighborhood, and people had their own problems, so I just had to get on with things. I guess I’m just not used to having people around me who actually give a damn about me, or my problems.”
Nathan nodded his understanding. Ezra, Josiah, and Vin could relate, they had spent many lonely years making do, and fending for themselves, both emotionally and physically. Buck too, after his mom died, and again after Sarah died and Chris withdrew into his own, liquor-fueled world. Chris realized he had shunned any show of support at that time, and was why it meant so much to him, now.
JD sighed. “I still can’t believe Oscar wanted to kill me.” He rested his head back against the bench seat he shared with Buck, and closed his eyes. “All that pent up hatred, and for what? Over something he thought I did, which seems like a lifetime ago, now.”
JD was exhausted. Pain and broken sleep had made him bone weary. While the seven sat in quiet contemplation, Buck kept watch over his best friend, just catching the soda bottle in his hand before it slipped to the deck. JD was out cold.
“At last,” Buck whispered. “Lord knows he needs to catch some Zzs right now.”
Chris jolted, reached into his pocket and pulled out his vibrating cell phone. He stared at it before looking up. “Twelve missed calls.”
“Travis?” Ezra asked. Chris nodded.
“What a mess,” Vin reflected.
“For us or JD?” Josiah queried. He nodded at the collective looks.
For all of them.
Next morning, and despite the early hour, no one was surprised JD was up and out riding. They all found escape when horse riding, enjoying the peace, and simplicity of the activity. Buck was flustered for a while about JD using his shoulder too soon, but Nathan’s quiet reassurance brought welcome relief to the brunet’s concerns. While they waited for JD to return, they prepared breakfast.
From the rise just off to one side of Chris’s home, JD looked down over the ranch. He loved it here. A rambling paradise, which reflected its owner’s strength and calm demeanor. It had become like a second home, especially when they were all here, together.
JD inhaled the clear, morning air. Come to think of it, he loved all his friends’ homes. Josiah’s rambling old ex-preacher’s Manse, which he would probably be renovating well into his retirement. Vin’s quirky inner-city apartment in the semi-hazardous Purgatory. A Haven of tranquility amongst the gang bangers, drug dealers and pimps, but also some genuinely warm and wonderful people.
Ezra’s stylish townhouse, immaculate to a fault, much like the man himself, yet always welcoming. Nathan’s and Rain’s little house, full of the most amazing artwork, and bright, colorful furnishings.
And the CDC. JD smiled. It still had its bad weeks, depending on work and how busy it kept them, but not really deserving of its nickname ‘the Center for Disease Control’. It had felt like home from the moment he arrived there, and Buck, like family.
JD tickled Milagro’s ears. He had no idea what the future held, but as long as Buck and his other brothers of the heart were in it, he didn’t really care. While he had them in his life, he could get through anything. With a cluck of JD’s tongue, horse and rider made their way back to the ranch.
JD walked Milagro into the stable, not missing the car parked on the drive, on his way in. Curiosity got the better of him, and with an apology to his beloved horse for the quicker than usual brush down, JD maneuvered his sore shoulder, and headed for the house. When he walked in, he couldn’t decide if he was surprised or not to see Orin Travis seated in the living room. The AD stood from his seat amongst the other six men, and approached.
Orin gestured for him to sit. Taking his lead from the gazes of his friends, JD did so. Once they were all seated, Travis began.
“Gentlemen, I’m unaccustomed to begging, however, I’ve always prided myself on being honest, and prepared to admit when I’m wrong.” He focused on JD.
“Son, when you applied to our division, I knew nothing of you, except for what your personal records stated, and, I might add, they made interesting reading at that time, but more on what you’d achieved *before* joining the force than during. Based on your experience, and knowing what an exacting leader Chris is, I didn’t expect him to take you on, so when the FBI declared their interest in you joining them sooner, rather than later, I saw no reason to discourage you from interviewing for the team.” Unable to relax, Orin paced.
“That was my first mistake, to allow the FBI to influence my opinions at that time. JD, I initially disregarded you as the individual you are. Your personality, your passion, and your remarkable abilities, accompanied by a fast and inquisitive mind. Thankfully, Chris didn’t dismiss you. I remember our conversation after you interviewed one on one with him. He was exasperated, and amused. No matter how many times we looked at how other candidates had presented that afternoon, and no matter how often Chris kept stating you were too young and how it would be a complex undertaking to train you while on the job, he kept referring to something you had said, or done.” Orin smiled. “It was quite remarkable, and safe to say you left a lasting impression.”
Larabee was nodding, and Orin noticed they were all smiling, except JD. He appeared to be struggling.
“From day one of the seven of you being together, this team has worked. Not only am I proud to have you under my authority, I, and my family, are proud to call you friends.”
He now addressed them all. “If you choose to resign, I will respect that decision, but if it’s based on this old fool’s short-sightedness in not disclosing a truth from the start about a situation that became intolerable once I grew to care for, and appreciate the young man in the center of this dilemma, then I’m begging you to reconsider.” He turned to leave, pausing, before turning back.
“For what it’s worth, I have the FBI’s new declaration in writing. While keen to have you join them, John, they recognize having you as a Federal Officer anywhere, rather than lost to private enterprise, is a worthy forfeit. Please remember that during your deliberations.” He placed a hand on JD's shoulder.
"I know Kerchovsky's revelation hurt you, but the man was deluded. Yes, he was targeted by, and transferred to the FBI, but not by force, despite what he said. While there, he became unbalanced, and what was simply an eager Federal Bureau taking on a young man they had watched grow in experience, for him became an act of betrayal by all he'd known in both his youth, and professional life." Travis offered a sad smile.
"No agency wants an agent working for them under protest, son, but that doesn't mean they won't try to recruit those they've had their eye on over time."
As Travis headed for the door, a fast exchange of looks settled the debate. “You can assure me the transfer thing will never raise its head again unless I choose to do so?” JD asked.
Orin turned. “You have my word. Clean slate.”
“And no one will be penalized for resigning?” JD was genuinely awed that his AD would go to such lengths to admit he was wrong, and attempt to put it right.
Orin offered a wry smile. “Resigned? I’ve received no resignations. Although, I understand my best team is on a ten day, paid sabbatical as from yesterday, so I’m a little short-handed right now.” He stepped closer to JD.
“The FBI is not the enemy, son. Pressure was placed on them to put you, and others like you, under their watchful eye, just as Chet Watson and I were pressurized into a situation we both regretted once the human factor kicked in.” He approached JD. “I have some good acquaintances in Quantico who are due to visit the city soon to give a lecture. Would you meet with them?” He raised a hand to halt the look of alarm on JD’s face.
“Just a meeting. I’d like you to see the FBI as people, not just the faceless bureaucrats Kerchovsky made them out to be. Clean slate, remember?”
JD glanced around at his friends. “All of us?”
Orin smiled. “Absolutely.” He noted the others agreeing. Extending his hand, he was gratified to see all of them stand to shake it. “I’ll let you know when they’re here.”
“You’re welcome to stay for breakfast,” Chris offered. “It’s only cookout, but there’s plenty to go around.”
Travis chuckled. “I thought you’d never ask.”
One evening, a few weeks later, a hush descended on the Capital Grille restaurant and bar when the seven handsome agents of Team Seven walked in. It took only seconds to locate Orin Travis, who waved to them from a table dead center of the floor. Moving in, JD felt a pang of nerves on seeing Orin sitting with one female and two males. Buck made a noise in his throat.
“Whoo, check out the lay-dee, what a fox.”
Ezra half-turned to him. “And way out of your league, trust me.”
Buck grinned. “We shall see.”
Taking the lead, Josiah extended his hand to the handsome black man standing to take it. “Derek, how wonderful to see you.”
The man grinned. “Josiah, looking good, man.”
Travis gestured. “Boys, this is SSAs Derek Morgan, and Emily Prentiss, and Doctor Spencer Reid.” Some shook hands, some merely waved. Buck and JD sat down next to each other, sandwiched between Spencer and Emily. Buck beamed at Emily.
“You know,” he crooned. “I might just think about transferring out to Quantico. Looking at you has to be better than looking at these six ugly mugs every day.”
Emily smiled and Buck felt his heart skip a beat. “Buck, it is Buck, right?”
The brunet put a hand to his heart and winked at everyone. “She already knows my name.”
“Oh, I do. Funny you should say that, I was thinking of transferring out here to Denver.” She smiled at Chris. “Seems like there might be an opening on your team, soon.” They all laughed. Spencer looked concerned.
“You, you’re thinking of leaving the BAU, Emily?”
JD waved off the comment. “Nah, she’s just teasing.”
Reid smiled, shyly. “Oh, I missed it. I do that a lot.”
Grinning, JD nodded. “Me too.” He watched Reid move in closer.
“Is it true you cracked the Pentagon?”
Blushing JD sipped his water. “Uh, yeah. But that was some time ago.”
Spencer smiled and sat back. “Neat.”
“Hey, Kid, JD."
JD glanced up to see Derek Morgan looking at him.
“I hear you feel you had a hard time from the FBI.” He noted JD’s nod.
“I mean, I’m flattered and all, I just hated the fact it was a deal set without my knowledge, or consent.”
Derek flashed a dazzling grin. “We got us a close friend and colleague who’s right up your alley. She’s been on a list for some time, too. You should come out and meet her sometime, she’s a hoot. Then we’ll show you around, just in case you ever change your mind about switching bureaus. The FBI aren’t so bad, you know.”
“Thanks,” JD grinned back. “I might just take you up on that but,” he glanced around at his teammates and friends. “I won’t be changing my mind about switching, I’ve found where I want to be.” He coughed slightly at the rising emotion in his throat when they all nodded, approvingly.
“I know what you mean,” Reid said, softly, receiving his own approving grins from Prentiss and Morgan.
“Kinda pricey here,” Nathan stated as he perused the menu. His comment snapped them all back to the point of being there, to eat.
“Dinner’s on me,” Travis announced, paling when JD and Vin stood, whooped and hi-fived over the table, before sitting back down. He shrugged. “Ah well, let’s kick off with a bottle or two of champagne, shall we?”
“Awesome,” JD grinned.
“Uh, are you old enough to drink?” Spencer whispered.
JD huffed. "No."
Once the glasses were filled, including juice for JD, Travis raised his in a toast. “To you, and all who protect this great land of ours. May God keep you safe, and sane, and may you always know, you are appreciated and respected in all you do.” Acknowledging him, all the gathered agents took a sip.
Buck allowed JD a sneaky sip of his champagne. “Whoo!” JD chuckled. “That’s the good stuff, not like the hooch Buck keeps in his room to,” he air quoted with his fingers. “entertain.”
Prentiss chuckled and smiled at Buck. “You know, now I’m thinking I really should make a point of coming over to see your home while I’m here,” she teased.
“You won’t be disappointed,” Buck winked.
JD drained his glass and poured more juice. “He’s got a round bed. Ow!”
Buck slapped the back of JD’s head lightly and they all laughed. “Quit while you’re ahead, shortstop.”
“They always like this?” Morgan grinned at Chris.
“Worse,” the blond smiled back. “And I wouldn’t change a thing.”
“Hey, Ezra,” JD called out as he peered over the top of his menu. “They got Porterhouse steak. Is it bad that it’s ‘dry and aged’?”
Ezra raised an eyebrow, but before he could answer, Vin spoke.
“They got lobster, too,” he pointed out.
JD looked back at the menu. “Wow, lobster huh?”
As the group placed their meal orders, Travis looked around at his men. It was true that he had taken pleasure in a long and happy Federal career, but he recently realized that, since putting this team together, it was also true that he was enjoying some of the hairiest, but happiest times so far. Smiling, he made a private, silent toast.
‘To my amazing, Magnificent Seven.’