"She thought we were from Candid Camera. She's standing there in a room hip deep with illegal moonshine wanting to know if her hair looked alright and if we'd wait a minute while she went and changed into something a little nicer. Cause she didn't think the yellow she was wearing flattered her complexion. And you know why she was more worried about her hair than she was about going to jail?", Buck Wilmington paused and looked around at his fellow agents, "Cause she didn't think the kid here could possibly be a Federal agent. Claimed he wasn't even old enough to shave yet, so how could he be old enough to arrest anyone? Threatened to turn him over her knee for being disrespectful to his elders when JD tried to cuff her." Buck howled with laughter at the memory.
JD Dunne scowled and slunk a little lower into his chair. He didn't bother trying to defend himself. His so called friends were all laughing too loud to hear him, anyway. Even Vin and Chris were chuckling quietly. He supposed it would've been funny enough, if he wasn't so goddamn sick and tired of people refusing to take him seriously just because he looked young. He was capable of doing a man's job, but even his fellow agents seemed to forget that sometimes. It had been easier when he was a cop back in Boston. People had looked more at his uniform and less at his face. Although, even then he'd gotten more than his share of jokes about going undercover at the local high school and the like.
"Have you and Mr. Dunne considered a change in careers? Candid Camera sounds apallingly apropos for the two of you. And age is no barrier to that particular medium. I will, of course, act as your agent for a mere, oh let us say, twenty percent." Ezra's toothy grin made JD think of a shark. A mean, nasty bloodthirsty one.
"Don't listen to him, JD. I'll do it for ten." Vin shot a sly grin in the southerner's direction. He liked to get Ez's goat. And the best way to do that was to hit him where it hurt - his wallet.
"Ha Ha, you guys. Can we get down to business now?" JD replied grumpily, when the laughter had died down a bit.
"Out of the mouth of babes." Josiah raised his eyebrow and smiled beatifically.
The corner of Chris Larabee's mouth twitched at the big man's words, but his voice was as calm and cool sounding as ever when he spoke.
"Who has the report from the Johnson case?" Chris turned his attention to Nathan, as the other agent passed a sheaf of papers to him.
JD felt some of the tension in his body ease as his companions forgot about him and began discussing their current cases. He stared at the Magnificent Seven poster on the wall of the conference room, only half listening as Josiah and Vin detailed the previous evening's stakeout. Until Josiah started telling the others how Vin had saved a young lady who was about to get her purse snatched.
"You should have seen him, Chris. A genuine hero. Or at least, that's what the very pretty young lady called him." Josiah winked and nudged the sharpshooter who was looking faintly embarrassed.
"Ain't no hero. I was just in the right place at the right time is all." Vin wasn't real comfortable being the center of attention, even if it was just among friends.
"Lucky for her it was you and not the kid here. By the time JD had finally convinced everyone he was an honest to goodness officer of the law, her purse would have been long gone. And so would the perp." Buck snickered and cuffed JD lightly on the back of the head. He frowned in puzzlement as JD just scowled and turned sullenly away. What was wrong? JD usually gave as good as he got, but he'd been quiet all morning. He'd been quiet last night too, come to think of it. Buck shrugged philosophically. Well, he'd find out eventually. JD wasn't the type to keep his feelings all bottled up inside.
"Now ya'll, it aint JD's fault he looks like he should be asking some girl to the prom instead of keeping the peace. I'm sure in another twenty years or so, people will have quit asking him for his ID every time he tries to order drinks at a restaurant." Nathan smiled, showing far too many teeth in JD's opinion. His friends were finding this whole thing entirely too amusing. It wasn't that darn funny!
JD sat and brooded through the rest of the meeting. He could be a hero just as easy as Vin. Or any of the others. Life just wasn't fair was all. Vin got to rescue pretty girls from would be muggers. Chris got to save young Billy Travis from an oncoming car. Nathan did ridealongs with the local paramedics and got to perform CPR on a visiting movie star. Buck got into a duel at the local Renaissance Faire in order to defend some fair maiden's honor. And what did he get? The opportunity to let some woman old enough to be his grandmother make him a laughingstock. Thanks for nothing.
The interminable meeting finally ended and JD quickly gathered up his things. Thank God he had an excuse to be out of the office most of the day. He didn't think he could stand any more of his fellow agent's teasing. Not right now. Right now he just wanted to go pick up the disks that Chris needed from Caleb Larsen and then he wanted to go have a drink after work because, dammit, he was old enough.
JD slowed his Ninja down as he saw the small crowd gathered at the corner of Cal's block. He smelled smoke and as he came to a stop, he saw why. The house on the corner was on fire and there was an elderly lady screaming and crying while a couple of younger women patted her on the back. A dark haired man with a cell phone was speaking into it, shaking his head and frowning at the older gentleman standing by his elbow. As JD walked up, the hysterical woman looked around and spotted him.
"You save her. My beautiful little Annabelle. She's in there all alone!" The woman pointed a finger towards the burning house and JD instinctively turned in the direction she pointed. Why weren't these people doing something? There was a young girl in there. They couldn't wait for the fire department. There was a big brushfire raging nearby and there had been a rash of arson cases lately, as well. The fire department, despite its best efforts, might not get here in time.
"Where in the house?" JD asked tersely.
Upstairs, in the bedroom." The woman sobbed and moaned as she held up a trembling hand to indicate which room.
"I'll get her out." JD promised as he began running towards the house. The front door was open and the fire didn't look like it had spread everywhere yet. He took a deep breath and plunged inside. Faintly he could hear someone shouting, telling him to wait. He ignored the voice. The searing heat took most of his attention. He hadn't realized how hot fire could get. He headed straight for the stairs, feeling as if he were being slowly roasted in a giant oven. He looked down, half expecting to see blisters on his skin. But there weren't any. Yet.
What seemed like long minutes later he finally reached the top of the stairs.
"Annabelle!" He called out and immediately choked on a lungful of smoke. He couldn't breathe. He had to get out of here. He felt the beginnings of panic claw at him.
Ok. He had to calm down. Find the girl and get out. JD walked rapidly down the hall. Behind him the fire burned its way steadily up the staircase behind him. He could feel its heat. He'd have to lower her out the window. Shit. He wouldn't think about that now. First he had to find her. He hurried into the bedroom, which wasn't quite as smoky as the hallway, and stopped, gasping for breath.
"Annabelle?", he called again. No answer. He bent down and looked under the bed. Then the closet. No one. The smoke was getting thicker as the fire crept closer and closer. He had to find her now.
"Annabelle?" JD shrieked hoarsely. He was starting to feel weak.
"Meow?" A small white kitten peeked out from behind the curtains. It had been sitting huddled up in the corner of the window sill, too terrified to move.
"Annabelle?" JD croaked in disbelief.
Cursing, JD gingerly picked up the kitten and tucked it under his arm. A glance out into the hallway confirmed his earlier impression. The fire was headed this way. He backed into the room and went over to the window again. He opened it and looked out, coughing and choking weakly as he breathed in the relatively fresh air. The ground looked a long ways away. But the fire looked far too close for comfort. It had already reached the door of the bedroom. And JD knew which thing scared him more.
"At least you ain't black," he muttered to the cat, "so maybe I'll only break both legs instead of my neck." With that, JD began crawling carefully out the window, holding tightly to the trellis on the wall outside as he climbed down. He was about halfway there when he heard an ominous cracking sound. Then the next sound he heard was his own groan of pain as he hit the ground. And an indignant squall from the nearly forgotten kitten under his arm.
"My baby! My little sweet Annabelle." The elderly woman rushed over to JD and snatched the kitten up ecstatically.
"Are you hurt? I tried to tell you it was a cat, but you were already inside so I guess you didn't hear me. Either that or you're incredibly brave. And stupid." The pretty young woman who'd been one of the people comforting the old lady knelt down beside JD and peered closely at him.
"You want me to call your parents and tell them to meet you at the hospital?" The young woman held up a cell phone.
"No." JD snapped, before lapsing into a fit of coughing.
The girl, who looked about JD's age, his real age, not the one everyone kept thinking he was, patted him soothingly on the head. JD gritted his teeth.
"You'll be fine. I can hear the sirens right now."
The fire trucks and an ambulance appeared within a minute or two, lending credence to her words and JD lay there, glowering as he watched the firemen clear the area and begin battling the blaze.
"Hey, don't I know you?" The stocky, dark haired EMT stared assessingly at JD as they loaded him efficiently onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
"Yeah. That's right. He's one of those ATF agents. Partners with Wilmington. Tell him to call me sometime, willya kid? Name's Karen." With a wink, the slender green eyed woman climbed in and shut the door.
JD sighed. At the moment he didn't know which was hurt worse - his pride or his ankle. Catch him trying to play hero again. Hah! Next time he'd probably get real lucky and save someone's pet fish from drowning.
"Mr. Dunne, my congratulations on your newly obtained status as Boy Wonder, Gotham City's most recent hero. It appears that the fair Annabelle's owner is none other than the current mayor's grandmother." Ezra drawled, strolling into JD's hospital room with a newspaper held in one well manicured hand. Unfolding it with a snap, the southern agent placed it on the tray next to JD's bed.
"Let me see that." Buck snatched it up before JD could look at it. "Awww. You're a gen-u-ine hero, JD. Just like that Bat Masterson fella you're always talking about. Maybe they'll name a cat food after you." Buck snickered, exchanging grins with the other agents scattered around the room.
"Shut up, Buck." JD said half heartedly. He wished they'd all go home. Or stop talking about it. Or something.
The old lady, Sylvia Porter, had been by to thank him earlier. And the mayor as well. That had been nice. But he wished it had been about something really important. I mean, he was glad the cat was ok and all, but he just wanted to forget the whole mortifying incident. It had merely been another in the long line of stupid stunts he'd pulled trying to prove himself. When was he going to learn? He'd never be a hero like he wanted. Like the rest of his friends were. JD felt a flicker of guilt as he thought of Mrs. Porter.
"I know that it is only a cat to most people. But she is more than that to me. My family is all gone except for my grandson. But politics keep him busy." She'd shrugged and looked sad for a moment. "Annabelle is never too busy. Thank you."
She'd patted his cheek gently and left. She'd been so dignified, so sincere, that JD had been ashamed of his desire for more. Knowing he'd made someone happy should be enough. But it wasn't. And getting his picture in the paper was nice and all, but it wasn't really what he wanted either. He used to think that's what he wanted - to be famous and have everyone think he was brave. But he didn't really care about that stuff anymore. The only people he wanted to be a hero to were right in this room. Well, and Casey, too. He wouldn't mind her looking at him with stars in her eyes. Instead, she'd just yelled at him for being so stupid and getting hurt. Then she'd reminded him that they were supposed to go fishing this weekend and then she'd left to go to class. Not exactly the reaction JD would have wished for.
"Hey JD, you hungry for some real food. Cause my belly feels empty clear through to my backbone." Buck poked JD inquisitively.
"No. Ain't hungry."
Chris stared thoughtfully at JD for a few moments before catching Buck's eye and giving a quick nod towards the door. Buck frowned and then gazed down at the silent, abnormally still figure of the young agent. Then he nodded abruptly and got to his feet.
"Vin, why don't you go with Buck and get us all something to eat. Ezra can drive you." Chris cut off the southern agent's automatic protest with a glance. Buck and Ezra filed out the door, arguing amicably about whether they should get pizza or chinese. Vin raised his eyebrow as he passed by Chris, but the older man merely shook his head slightly in response. The sharpshooter smiled briefly and then he too, was gone.
"Well, I believe I am in desperate need of a cup of coffee. How about you, Nathan?" Josiah got to his feet as he spoke. He'd always been rather good at picking up on hints. And Chris Larabee wasn't exactly what you'd call subtle.
"I could use one." Nathan tried not to shudder at the thought. He'd swear the hospital was using some toxic compound in place of actual coffee. Maybe he'd try the hot chocolate. How bad could that be?
"JD?" Chris said, wondering if JD had even noticed the others had left. The young man seemed sunk in gloom. Chris would have expected him to be bursting with pride, trading insults with Buck and just being unbearable in general. He wasn't sure what to make of JD's silence. But he knew it wasn't anything good.
"Yeah?" JD stared up at the ceiling.
"Did I ever say congratulations? Getting your picture in the paper and all. You must be real proud." Chris wasn't quite sure how to go about getting JD to tell him what was wrong. Maybe he should have had Nathan or Josiah or Buck or Vin do it. Hell, anyone but him. But no. He was Team Leader. It was his responsiblity.
"Yeah. Proud." JD said bitterly.
"What's wrong, JD." Chris asked, deciding to just ask the kid instead of dancing around the issue.
"Nothing. I just don't want to talk about it anymore. Don't want to hear any more jokes about it. If I'd rescued a person instead of a cat, people wouldn't be laughing. You guys wouldn't be laughing. But since I'm just a dumb kid who can't even convince his teammates to take him seriously, let alone anyone else, I get to go into a burning building and break my ankle to rescue a cat." JD turned to glare at Chris, his eyes flashing.
"Now can we quit talking about this. Please?" the young agent demanded.
"Yeah, we can quit talking about it after I've had my say." Chris sighed and ran his fingers through his hair.
"JD, I don't know where you got the idea that we don't take you seriously. Do you really think I'd trust the lives of my men to someone I don't take seriously?" Chris snorted. "It doesn't matter if it was a cat or a girl or her prized geranium. A hero is a hero. You took action and did the best you could. And you saved something that gives a lonely old woman a whole lot of happiness.", Chris sharpened his voice slightly, "I don't see anything to be ashamed of in that."
JD flushed slightly at Chis's rebuke and opened his mouth to speak, but Chris cut him off before he could say anything.
"And as for us laughing at you, well that just comes with the territory, JD. It's what friends do. Hell, Ezra still hasn't lived down the time he wound up singing at that lounge in Vegas. In drag. And what about the time we tried to teach Josiah how to ice skate?" Chris grinned briefly and reached out to pat the young agent on the shoulder. "You're one of us, JD. And that means taking your lumps with the rest of us."
"When you put it that way, I reckon I oughtta be pretty damn proud of myself then." JD nodded his head slowly. "For being one of ya'll." he added before Chris could say a word. Then he smiled.
"Are you sure you didn't hit your head, JD? Cause that sounds like crazy talk to me." Now it was Chris's turn to smile. And then JD picked up the remote and clicked on the TV and the two men settled down to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer, JD's favorite show. Chris loathed it. But he watched it anyway. An act of heroism on his part. And he noticed with supreme satisfaction that JD didn't flinch even when a commercial for cat food came on. Good. His work was done. Now where the hell were Vin, Buck and Ezra with the food? He was hungry.