I Wished I'd
Stayed at the Office

by Judith Freudenthal

ATF Alternate Universe


Chris Larabee entered the office where the rest of his team awaited him.

JD Dunne and Buck Wilmington were challenging each other on their Playstation, which they claimed help keep their reflexes sharp. Ezra Standish was challenging a computer casino game. Vin Tanner was busy playing darts. Nathan was trying to catch up on his medical journals. Josiah was watching the group with amusement.

Chris waited a moment before speaking. His team noticed his arrival and stopped whatever they were doing. Once Chris had their attention he walked around the room handing a folder to each member of the group.

"Today's assignment," Chris said. He couldn't wait to see their faces as they realized what he had planned for them.

JD was the first one to reach the strangest part of the assignment. "Cool!" He said excitedly.

The rest of the team thought Chris had lost it, that he was seeking revenge for something they'd done wrong, or was kidding.

"After the last case, I realized that we all need to work on certain skills. We'll leave in twenty minutes. There are no facilities out there, so make sure you use them before we leave. If you'll be hungry, either eat or bring something with you."

Buck reluctantly cancelled his lunch date with a fellow agent. He'd been looking forward to getting to know her better.

Every member of the team changed out of their dressy casual attire into more rugged clothing. Flannel shirts, jeans and hiking boots replaced oxford shirts, khaki's and dress shoes.

Chris remembered when his team had been required to wear suits and ties. It lasted all of a week before he requested permission for dressy casual. He and Ezra were the only ones that didn't spend most of their time tugging at their collars, or wearing their ties at half mast. JD had not minded at first, but quickly tired of having to wear a suit and tie all day, every day. The fact that they had to take off their jacket and ties for raids, which they went on frequently, had helped their case. Because of their high success rate, one of the highest in the bureau, they had reluctantly been given permission.

"Time's up. Everyone down to the car," Chris said as he motioned for the group to move out.

JD turned off the video game while Ezra turned off his computer screen. Buck grabbed the backpack full of food and drink.

+ + + + + + +

Everyone piled into the two black Ford Explorers. Chris drove the lead vehicle, while Vin drove the second one.

"Vin, what's up?" JD asked his friend.

"He didn't say. I only know what's in the file, and how to get there," Vin said.

"It isn't time for survival training again, is it? We just did it a few months ago," JD said.

"I hope not," Buck said.

+ + + + + + +

Three hours later they arrived at their destination. It was a forested training area belonging to a private organization.

Everyone hopped out of the SUV's and stretched.

"Everyone follow me," Chris said, as he started into the woods.

Buck took the first turn shouldering their backpack.

About half an hour later Chris stopped before an obstacle course that blended into the forest quite well.

"Everyone, including myself, will complete this course. If anyone gets hurt, they will redo it after they heal." Chris didn't want any of his team to get any ideas that they could get out of it.

Chris started out showing the others how it was done. JD went next followed by Buck, Ezra, Nathan, Josiah, with Vin bringing up the rear.

"JD, why are you so happy to be doing this?" Buck asked.

"It beats sitting around the office doing paperwork, or in a boring meeting. Or even on a routine stakeout."

"He has a point," Buck said.

Chris stepped from stump to stump, as if he was climbing a staircase, which each step almost out of reach of the last one both height wise and distance wise. When he reached the top step, he grabbed the rope hanging down and swung around to the next station.

The rest of the team followed behind him. Buck and JD had the most trouble with their balance. Vin moved sure-footed like a cat.

It was at this point that Josiah took the backpack from Chris. Josiah knew that if they traded it off more frequently, it would tire them out less.

The next station involved walking across an unstable rope bridge. One look down made every single member of the team decide not to do that again. The bridge creaked and groaned with the additional weight of each agent as they stepped onto it. When Chris was halfway across, Ezra stepped out, then when he was halfway across the swaying bridge JD stepped onto it. He could feel it shake beneath his feet and fear welled up inside him, but he would not let it stop him. He hoped the bridge lasted long enough for them all to get across. One by one the rest of the team stepped onto the bridge, Vin being the last one to do so. Vin confidently walked across the bridge as he walked across solid pavement.

Meanwhile, Chris had finished going across and was glad to be back on solid ground.

A few minutes later Vin was the last to step off the bridge. He had been the only one who didn't really mind the bridge.

Chris allowed the team ten minutes to rest. Josiah took off the backpack, opened it and handed a bottle of water to each agent, along with a high energy bar.

Each agent had found a tree or rock to lean against as they rested and replenished themselves.

As soon as everyone had finished their lunch, Chris stood.

Buck grabbed the backpack, pleased that it was lighter in weight, and slipped it over his shoulders.

The team headed out for their next challenge.

After a five minute hike over rugged terrain they stopped at the face of a cliff.

"How the hell are we supposed to get up there?" Buck asked.

"Climb," Vin said, stating the obvious.

"Not everyone is part mountain lion, Vin," Ezra stated, not at all happy with this particular challenge.

Chris knew it was time to step in, before any trouble could start.

"You can climb straight up the cliff, if you choose," Chris said, curious to see if any, other than Vin, would. "Or you can follow me around to the side of the cliff."

Vin was looking forward to the task. The last climbing he'd done had been at a wall in a local club, and it hadn't been enough of a challenge.

JD wasn't sure whether or not to try the extreme challenge and follow Vin, or to go with the rest of the group. After some serious studying of the mountainside he decided that he wasn't ready for that intense of a challenge.

Buck, Ezra, Nathan and Josiah all knew that they'd follow Chris as Vin's way was too tough, at least for now.

Chris saw the relief on his team's face as they saw the ropes. They knew it would be tough, but easier than doing it Vin's way.

Chris took the rope closest to the side where Vin was just around the side. This way he could climb and keep an eye on all his team members.

Chris scaled the cliff fairly easily. Buck, Nathan, and Josiah had slightly more trouble with it as they found their footing slipping at a few points along the way. Ezra and JD had the most trouble with it as they were the more inexperienced climbers. They climbed only when required to for survival weekends or a raid.

Vin climbed the mountainside without assistance like a mountain lion. He carefully chose each hand and foothold, making sure it would support his weight. Anyone watching him would think he was part SpiderMan.

He almost beat Chris up the mountain. He reached the top a couple of footholds later.

One by one Chris and Vin watched as the others reached the top, Ezra and JD were the last two to reach the top. JD was stunned that Vin had climbed so quickly. JD knew his friend was a good climber, but not *that* good a climber.

Buck handed the backpack to Vin, who strapped it on without comment.

"Do you want to rest for five minutes now, or ten minutes after the next challenge?" Chris asked, not caring which way the vote went.

The consensus was that they'd keep going.

The agents hiked for the next hour before coming to the other edge of the mountain top.

"Let me guess. We're to rapelle down," Nathan said.

"Yes," Chris said. He would have them work on the fine points of attaching rapelling ropes at another date, back at the academy grounds. He had seen how much they'd needed a day out of the office and had taken the chance to provide both the much desired change of scenery and a varied workout.

"Yes, Vin, you can free climb if you wish," Chris said, having watched his friend studying the way down.

This time it was Vin that had the hardest time with the descent, but he was the only one not using rope.

About five feet from the ground, JD felt his rope go slack. Moments later he found himself crashing to the ground, remembering how to roll upon impact to prevent injury.

Buck and Chris were already on the ground and rushed over to JD's side.

"JD, you okay?" Buck asked, a little worried.

"I think so," JD said ignoring the pain he felt in his left knee. He wasn't about to let them know he was hurt, if he could help it.

Buck and Chris helped him up. When JD put his full weight on his knee it buckled, causing him to grit his teeth. They eased him back down to a sitting position.

"Where does it hurt?" Nathan asked as he ran his hands down JD's leg starting at the thigh.

By now the others were gathering around.

"My knee. I must've twisted it when I fell," JD said, grimacing as Nathan probed it.

"Vin, find something to use as a splint," Nathan said. "I don't detect anything broken, but he might've sprained it. The splint will help ease the pain."

Chris wondered if they should continue on or try and find a shortcut home.

"I'll be okay. I just need to prevent the muscles from tightening," JD said. "I don't need a splint."

"You sure?" Buck asked concerned.

"Yeah. Help me up."

Ezra took the backpack as it was his turn, and because he knew that Vin and Buck would be helping JD.

Buck helped JD to his feet and helped stabilize him as JD took a painful step, then another.

"See. I can do it. Let's continue," JD said, trying to mask how badly his knee truly hurt. He didn't want them treating him like a kid. It was bad enough that he was the youngest by a few years.

JD pushed away from Buck, wanting to do it on his own. As soon as he tried a step his knee buckled. Buck's quick reflexes prevented JD from falling face down in the dirt.

<I probably should've let him fall. Show him that he needs help,> Buck thought, then felt a little guilty. He knew JD was trying to prove, unnecessarily, that he was as tough as the rest of them.

"JD, letting me apply the splint won't make you seem weak. It will show that you know when to accept help. It will help you walk," Nathan said, knowing he was probably the most impartial of the group. "Besides, if you keep trying to walk on it like it is, you could possibly cause serious damage."

"Okay," JD said, reluctantly. He knew Nathan was right.

Buck supported JD's weight while Nathan splinted JD's knee using the two branches Vin had found, his belt and JD's belt as the straps.

"Try a step now," Nathan said.

JD pushed Buck's hand away and tried a step on his own. It hurt but his knee didn't collapse on him. He tried a second step and again it held up. It was a bit awkward, but it would do.

"I think the quickest way out of here is that way," Chris said.

"You need to finish this. I can do it," JD said. He wanted to finish it so he wouldn't have to come back again. He wanted to show them that he was as tough as they are.

"You sure?" Buck asked, knowing what JD was up to.

"I'm sure." JD hoped he wasn't making a big mistake.

"Okay," Chris said, also knowing what JD was doing. If the kid wanted to try and make it through, then that is what they'd do. Chris would take them out, but out via a short cut.

+ + + + + + +

They continued on. The next task being a hike to the next obstacle. They slowed their pace a little so JD could keep up with them without overtaxing himself too much. JD wanted to complain, but couldn't because of the pain, and the fact they were doing it out of friendship, not pity.

An hour later they arrived at the next challenge. It was bungee jumping.

"JD, you can't do this," Nathan said.

"Why not?" JD pouted.

"It probably won't do your knee much good."

"I've always wanted to try this, but" JD didn't know if he should continue. He knew if he didn't they'd tease him until he finished the sentence. "But I never had the guts to go by myself. Or to ask one of you to come with me. I was afraid you'd think I was crazy."

"Chris is the crazy one, if he thinks for one moment that I'm going to jump off that tower with a giant rubber band strapped to my ankle," Ezra ranted. He didn't want anyone to know that he was terrified. <The bridge had been bad enough, but this was ridiculous.>

"Everyone is going to do it, with the possible exception of JD."

"I don't see how that can do much more damage to my knee."

"Okay. Who wants to be first." Chris grinned as every single member of his team went silent, and looked at the ground, or the sky. Anywhere but at Chris.

"I'll go first," JD said. He removed his splint knowing that if the operator saw that he wouldn't be allowed to jump. "Ezra, can I have the backpack?"

"Sure." Ezra took it off and handed it to JD. He didn't know what the kid could make use of.

JD took the bag and unfastened the smallish pocket on the side and removed an ace bandage.

"Why didn't you tell me you had that in there?" Nathan asked.

"Nobody asked. I know better than to go out with the team without at least one of these tucked away somewhere. Someone always gets hurt."

The rest of the team laughed. JD was right.

JD found a rock to sit on, pulled up his pants leg and let Nathan wrap the bandage around his knee. After JD pulled down his pants he stood up carefully, and tested his knee before putting his full weight on it. He took a step, Nathan there to catch him if necessary. JD was pleased when his knee held up.

"I'm as ready as I'll ever be," JD said as he headed for the bungee tower, the rest of the team behind him. He tried to keep the limp down to a minimum so he wouldn't be rejected by the bungee crew.

The rest of the team did respect JD and wished he truly knew that. It was times like this when they really admired him for his courage, whether it came from innocence or his desire to be accepted as being as tough as the older team members they didn't know and didn't really care.

JD was suited up and hooked up to the bungee cord. He didn't get scared until he got his first good look down. He knew he had to go through with it or Buck would never stop teasing him. He could stand the others teasing him, but Buck's always seem to hurt more.

JD took a deep breath and let gravity do its job. The fall was both scary and exhilarating. Before he knew it he felt the cord rebound, and that's when the pain hit. It was a quick sharp stab as his knee was jerked. When the bungee rebound slowed, he was caught and helped down. He staggered at first due to a massive head rush.

JD limped over to where his friends were, with a big grin on his face. "It was great! Scary, but fun."

"I want you to stay off your knee as much as you can," Nathan said. "Try to keep it elevated."

"Who's next?" Chris asked.

When no one volunteered, JD spoke up. "Come on guys. I did it. And with a bad knee."

JD's teasing caused the rest of the team to be embarrassed.

"I'll go next," Buck said, not quite believing he said that. He knew JD was right.

Buck was fine until he looked down and saw how high up he was. Thoughts of JD doing it with his injured knee came to mind. Buck took a deep breath and jumped. It was scary but felt great. The jerk as he neared the ground wasn't too unpleasant. He had the same head rush as he was unhooked.

Ezra was picked to go next.

"No way. I don't care if JD did it. I'm not doing it."

"Ezra, you have two choices. Go like a man, or we'll drag you up there," Chris said, not in the mood to deal with Ezra's tempermentalness.

"You wouldn't." Ezra took one look at Chris and the rest of his friends and knew that they would, and they'd enjoy it. "Okay, okay. I'll go," Ezra said, reluctantly.

He walked to the tower and got ready for his leap. He knew that if he didn't jump one of his friends would come push him off. Also, he'd never hear the end of the teasing if he chickened out, especially since the kid jumped wounded. Ezra said a small prayer then leaned forward and let gravity take over. At first it was pure terror then he began to enjoy it. He thought he was going to pass out when he was turned right side up again and all the blood left his head.

Ezra walked back to his friends, once the world had settled down again. "What a rush."

One by one the remaining agents took their turn.

Vin was the last to go. He climbed up and leapt off the platform, enjoying the chance to soar free. It was the closest to true flight he'd ever get. He loved the rush it brought as he soared, then descended towards the earth. Vin's peaceful adventure ended when his wrist slammed into the ground, sending a jolt of pain through his entire body.

The bungee staff immediately grabbed Vin and lowered him to the ground. The blood rushed to his head as he was righted.

Vin waved off any attempts to help or examine him. He headed for his friends.

"I've never felt as free as I did at that one moment."

"Next stop, Mercy General," Chris said. "Buck, you drive the second van. Vin and JD you're in my van." Chris knew it would be easier for one SUV to stop at the ER entrance than two.

Everyone loaded into the two SUV's. JD needed a little help getting into the car and was assisted by Chris.

About ninety minutes later, they pulled into the parking lot of Mercy General. Buck's SUV found a parking spot while Chris' pulled up in front of the Emergency Room entrance. Nathan helped JD out and escorted both JD and Vin into the hospital while Chris parked.

The ER people recognized them and had all their paperwork already filled out, only needing to add the current injuries.

"Those are new injuries for you both," Nancy said.

JD and Vin had to wait in the waiting area to be seen. JD was given a wheelchair to sit in so his knee could be kept elevated.

About an hour later, both agents were escorted to examination rooms.

"What happened?" Asked Dr. Taylor as he entered Vin's room.

"I guess the bungee cord was a little too long. It spoiled an otherwise perfect flight. I smacked my wrist on the ground and might've broken it."

The doctor examined Vin's wrist.

"You might be right. Someone will be in to take you to x-ray."

Dr. Taylor left to check on his next patient, JD.

"What happened?"

"I was rapelling down a cliff and the anchor broke. I fell about five feet. I think I twisted my knee when I fell."

"Can you put any weight on it?"

"Yes. But it really hurts."

"Someone will be in to take you down to x-ray."

+ + + + + + +

About an hour later both boys were done with X-ray and were awaiting the results. Both agents were going nuts as there was nothing but an anatomical chart or two to read.

Dr. Taylor entered Vin's room and studied the x-ray.

"Mr. Tanner, it looks like you have a distal radial fracture. Someone will be in to take you to the casting room."

Dr. Taylor entered JD's room and checked out his x-ray.

"Mr. Dunne, it looks as if you have a bad sprain and a possible tear in one of the ligaments supporting the knee. We're going to put you in a knee immobilizer. I want you to stay completely off your knee for the next week. Then return for a rexamination. If you don't stay off your knee, you might cause further damage and could wind up in surgery."

This scared JD. He hated going under the knife. He hated the pain that followed.

"I'll stay off it."

Vin was escorted to the casting room where the nurse got out the necessary supplies.

Vin was hoping the cast would stop before his elbow.

"Mr. Tanner, what color would you like?"

Vin thought about it a moment before saying blue. He'd briefly considered black but decided he didn't want to spend weeks looking at such a depressing color. Blue was neutral enough that it wouldn't bother him.

The nurse had Vin roll up his shirt sleeve, as high as he could and then clipped it in place so that it would stay put. She positioned his arm.

"You have to keep your arm in this position until I'm finished or we'll have to start over again."

Vin nodded.

She slipped the stockinette on his arm, having already cut a slit in the cotton tube for his thumb to poke through.

Vin was not at all happy when the stockinette went all the way up his arm.

Next the nurse rolled on several rolls of padding, taking care to make sure the ends, elbow and thumb area were well padded.

When that was done she opened a foil package containing a single roll of fiberglass casting tape. She dipped it in water, squeezing out the extra. Once that was done she started at the wrist, wrapping a securing layer then worked it across the palm and over the back of the hand, wrapping back around the wrist, leaving enough padding sticking out to keep the sharp edges of the fiber from irritating the skin. After one more time around his hand she folded down the extra stockinette to give that end of the cast a finished look, and prevent the rough edges of the fiberglass tape from rubbing on his skin. She ran the tape around his hand and wrist again to both cover and anchor the stockinette in place, then worked her way up his arm. When the roll ran out, she opened another roll, this one a bit wider and continued up his arm, leaving about a quarter inch of padding sticking out. When the second roll ran out she reinforced the elbow with a third roll. She folded down the excess stockinette at the upper arm end to give it the same finished look and prevent the fiberglass tape from irritating the skin. Using the fourth and final roll of fiberglass she started at the upper arm, anchoring the extra stockinette in place and covering it at the same time, then worked her way down to the wrist and back up as far as the casting tape would go. She held the end down a moment with one hand so that it would lie flat once dry. She used the other hand to smooth the surface of the cast, bonding the layers together. She used both hands to shape the fiberglass so that it would be comfortable.

"How long do I have to wear this?" Vin asked.

"Until your appointment in two weeks. It will be removed and you'll either be put in another one for two more weeks or in a short arm cast."

"How long after that?" Vin asked, noticing the cast heating up. He knew it was supposed to but it always took him by surprise.

"I would expect you to be in a cast for the next six to eight weeks."

The nurse helped him into a sling, noting that the cast had set.

Out in the waiting area Vin and JD's friends were anxiously awaiting word. They knew the injuries were not the worse their friends had received, but they still worried.

JD was pushed out in a wheelchair, his immobilized knee propped up, holding onto a pair of crutches.

Vin walked out, his casted arm in the navy sling.

"Can we get out of here?" JD asked. "I'm hungry."

The other six started laughing.

"Sure. What are you in the mood for?" Buck asked.

"Pizza. Double cheese and pepperoni."

"Sounds good," Buck said.

Chris went to get the SUV.

JD was pushed out and helped into the SUV. He was allowed to stretch out across both back seats. Vin climbed into the front seat.