Words 

By Ruby

Thanks to Marg Baskin at www.andykavovit.com for the screen cap.

 

Rating/Warning: PG-13 BAD Language, (ugly situation)

Disclaimer: The Magnificent Seven is owned by Trilogy, Mirish and MGM. No money is being made. This fanfic is purely for entertainment purposes.

AU: ATF - Thanks, Mog! :)

Author's Notes: I've been working on this story forever. In fact, I got the idea when I was writing my story, Trouble (1999)...it was a different kind of 'office scene'. And, thinking I'd never do anything with it, I wrote my story, The Chair, using parts of it.

July 6, 2002. I went ahead and put up the original ending to this story. I wrote the whole story back in 1999, but I wasn't happy with it, so I decided to re-write it after Part One. Then, I couldn't decide what to do with it, so I just stopped. But, I know that I'll never get it re-written, so here's the way that I wrote it to begin with (I'm still not real happy with it). It was done back then except for a few transition scenes that I added today so it might seem a bit choppy. And it's not beta-ed, just a warning...<g>.

This story mentions my story Trouble. You don't have to read it to read this one...but it might make more sense.

This does not follow the ATF Bible that has been set up, I've made up a bit of a past for JD. It's pretty much a stand alone, nothing to do with anything else...<g> I've made up the names of the other team members, they don't have anything to do with the other teams and members that have been made up by the other wonderful fic writers.

Feedback is always greatly appreciated and wanted and needed. Please let me know what you think. Thank you, Ruby :) [email protected]yahoo.com

Part One     Part Two

 

Words

By: Ruby

Part One

JD pulled his bike into the spot next to Vin's Jeep. Glancing around the parking garage, he noticed that Vin and Chris were the only two that had arrived already.

Knocking the kickstand into place with his toe, he sat on the idling motorcycle for a few minutes just feeling the power from the engine between his legs. He unbuckled his helmet, tucked his thumbs up under the front and pulled it backwards. His hair was matted to his forehead with sweat and he ran his hand through it, then shook his head to get the hair loose. He couldn't hide his smile, and he felt sort of goofy sitting alone in the garage grinning like a loon, but he was in such a good mood. He'd definitely gotten up on the right side of the bed. Winter was finally starting to fade away and this was the first morning he'd been able to get the bike out.

It had been a beautiful ride. The sun was shining bright and the clouds were moving slowly across the light blue sky. And he was proud of himself - he hadn't broken any of Denver's many traffic laws on his way into work and he was still earlier than everyone except the two early birds.

He cut the engine and, tucking his helmet up under his armpit, started across the garage. He reached down and scratched Cuervo on the head before getting into the elevator.

The elevator was packed with people by the time he got two floors away from his own floor. He couldn't seem to breathe, so he decided just to get off and catch the stairs the rest of the way up. As soon as the door opened, he jumped off. Teams Three and Four had offices on this floor, and since he was still early, he figured maybe he'd stop by and see Tom Blackstone, Team Three's sharpshooter. The two of them had become friends last year and he hadn't seen him for a while.

With his helmet still under his arm, he slowly walked down the hall, whistling. At the end of the hallway on the left hand side, before it split off into a T, a water fountain was situated between two restroom doors. He stopped and, grabbing his hair to keep it out of the water's stream, leaned down to take a long drink.

"Such an asshole."

"Yeah, did you see the way he was barking orders? I mean, who the hell does he think he is?"

JD overhead voices coming from around the corner.

"Well, I tell you what, he has the most dysfunctional team I've ever seen."

"You have to admit, though, that they have a good record."

'Oh, that's just *got* to be us.' JD grinned, 'dysfunctional - good record. Yep,' he smiled, 'that's us.' Standing back up, he stepped back to lean against the wall next to the fountain.

"Good record, my ass. Any one of us could have that record. They just get all the easy cases and can close them quick. 'Sides, with an undercover agent like Standish, that bastard, how could you go wrong. I mean, it's not hard to act like the bad guy - when you *are* the bad guy."

'Hey!' JD wanted to yell at the men. 'Ezra's not a bad guy.' But he kept his mouth shut, wanting to hear what else they might have to say. He figured Buck might get a kick out of hearing the office gossip about their team.

"That prick's as dirty as they come. Did you hear the stories about him and Atlanta? I heard that he was screwing the mayor's wife."

"No!"

"Yeah, really. He was screwing her."

"You didn't hear that."

JD laughed, and had to reach up and cover his mouth to keep from being heard.

"Shut up, dick! I did too hear that. That's not all, either. I heard he killed people for money."

"Nuh uh."

"Oh yeah."

"Well what about that fag sharpshooter Larabee has."

"I don't know, Kirk, I sure wouldn't let Tanner hear you callin' him a fag. I heard he's part Indian. He might be small and quiet, but I wouldn't want to piss him off."

'Me neither.' JD shook his head. If it had been Vin standing here instead of him, these guys would have been dusted already. 'This is kind of fun.' He smiled.

"Speaking of small," another voice spoke up, "what about Dunne?"

At the sound of his name, JD's breath caught in his chest. He knew that voice - it was Tom Blackstone. The men were all laughing.

"I mean, Christ, is he a midget, or what?" Tom laughed.

"Shit, what is he 5'3?"

"And a half." Someone else chuckled.

"You know, he actually thinks that we're buddies."

JD's chest constricted, and he could almost hear Tom shaking his head.

"What a little shit. Christ, he's like twelve or something. I thought they had age requirements for the ATF?"

"I'm not sure he's even old enough to be in the Boy Scouts."

"No. He'd have to be in the Cub Scouts." Tom guffawed.

JD's face burned, he could feel it getting red with a combination of both embarrassment and anger. He was instantly taken back to his years in high school. Being smaller than a lot of the other guys had always been hard and he'd constantly been picked on and his self-confidence had suffered. He'd eventually overcome the feelings from those years, but sometimes they would come back and he would have to smother them all over again.

"You know, I heard that Larabee didn't even want the little prick on his team."

JD gasped. 'He didn't?' His mouth dropped open. There was just no way that could be true, JD knew. But, still... a flicker of self-doubt was born again, and JD couldn't help but wonder.

"Yeah, I heard that someone pulled some strings - some type of sympathy thing. The kid's mama had just kicked it, and he wanted to be on Larabee's team, so they made Larabee take him."

JD shook his head. No! It just couldn't be true. Could it? He turned around, facing the wall, forehead against the cool tile. He was gonna throw up.

"That's what I heard from Doral over on Team Five anyway. Larabee's just waitin' for the chance to get rid of the little shit. Probably have to wait 'till Dunne gets one of the others killed before he can sack 'im, though."

"Yeah, and poor Wilmington gets stuck with the little bastard living with him. I'm sure he *really* likes that."

"Oh, Jesus, Buck," JD moaned into the wall.

"I tell you what, I'm just glad that he's not on our team. What a loser! All of the guys on Team Seven want him gone. You know they laugh at him behind his back and hope that soon the kid will get wise and hightail it out of there. " Blackstone remarked." That kid is the embarrassment of the ATF."

JD didn't hear what was said next. He ran into the bathroom. Ripping open a stall door, he slammed himself down on the floor, just making it to the toilet in time before he threw up his breakfast. He could feel the hot tears running down his face. He threw up a couple more times before resting his head against the cold porcelain bowl. He reached up, angrily swiping the tears from his face. 'Fuck!'

He sat down next to the toilet in the little space between it and the side of the stall, forearms on his knees, staring at his hands. The words played over and over in his head.

'Larabee didn't want the little prick; he *had* to take him.'

'Just waitin' for him to get one of the others killed.'

'What a loser.'

With a moan, JD leaned his head down against his knees.

*****

"Where the hell is he?" Chris asked, standing in front of the conference room table, wanting to get the meeting started. He glanced at his watch. "Buck, is he sick?"

Buck shook his head. "No way. He left before me; he was in a real good mood. Took his bike, and I saw it in the garage. He's here, Chris."

"Then where in the hell is he?"

*****

Finally, JD slowly stood up, gingerly stretching tired, cramped leg muscles. He walked over to the sink, carefully avoiding his reflection in the mirror. Cupping his hands under the flowing water, he splashed cold water on his face, getting rid of any traces of the tears. Then he viscously ran a rough paper towel over his face. He sniffed and looked at himself in the mirror, his eyes red and swollen, his cheeks chapped.

How could everything go so wrong so fast? Yesterday, hell, this morning, things had been fine, wonderful even. He'd had a new family. A best friend. But now, it was gone. They'd been lying to him, placating him, keeping him around because they had to. And if he really thought about it, he could see where maybe...

Like when he'd first come out to Denver. He didn't exactly get a warm welcome. And when he'd applied for the position on Chris's team, he'd practically been laughed out of the ATF building.

And his looks really didn't help him at all. He knew that he looked young. Dammit, how could he forget? He was reminded all of the time. Carded when he wanted to buy a beer. And when he worked a beat back home, people would laugh right in his face when they saw his badge. But, sometimes that worked in his favor and he would be underestimated by the bad guy. That's how he learned never to judge a book by its cover.

But it was his fellow officers who really got to him after a while. And so it was with the people in Denver when he'd applied for the job here. He'd applied through the mail, and had recieved a warm reply. But when he got out to Denver and met them face to face, the tone changed. Dammit, he was old enough to be a Federal agent, and if he didn't look like it, that wasn't his fault, now was it? He'd tried to fix it by growing a bit of a beard, but a 'bit' was about all it came to and somehow it managed to make him look even younger.

So that's how it was when he first got here, no one would hardly give him the time of day, but then suddenly things seemed to go his way and Wham! he got the job. Now that he thought about it, how *did* that happen?

He was such a fool. He'd seen it, in the looks he recieved from the others. Same thing, different place. Not right out hate, mind you, just a look like he was out of his league, like he didn't belong with the rest of them. And he *knew* that he didn't belong, that's why he worked so hard every second of every day.

He wanted to belong with this group of men, even though he knew he wasn't on their same level. But he'd tried and thought that at least he'd proven that he could do the job. That he did have a place with them. That he *was* a good agent. That he was a good friend. A good man. But, he swallowed, he'd been wrong.

Their feelings had never changed. It hurt worse here, though, because these men had pretended to be his friends. They'd let him believe that he was one of them. At least the guys back home hadn't even acted like he was a friend, but these men sure had. And to think that he'd let them trick him, let them laugh at him behind his back, how very, very stupid he felt. And now in this stark-white industrial bathroom, it was all coming back at him full in the face. He shook his head. 'Fuck.'

He could feel his face getting hot again, his ears burning. He was not going to cry again. No way. He was a man, no matter what *anyone* said. And he was NOT going to cry.

He could feel the tears welling up. He couldn't even stop himself from crying!

Balling up his fist, he punched the ceramic-tiled wall with every ounce of force he had. He heard the bones in his hand crack. Pain slammed into him and he fell backwards against the sink.

"FUCK!"

Grabbing his hand, he quickly brought it up to his mouth. "Great!" Just what he needed now. How was he going to explain this?

He quickly walked out the restroom door, tripping over his helmet where he'd dropped it in his rush to get into one of the stalls. He was surprised that no one else had come along and picked it up. He had to let go of his hand for a second to reach down and snatch it up. Dizziness swept through him and he grabbed for something to stop his quick descent to the ground. Unfortunately, he used his broken hand to try and grab onto the drinking fountain. Yelping in pain, he landed hard on the ground, dropping his helmet. He heard footsteps coming towards him and he tried to get back on his feet.

"You okay, kid?"

Someone was standing in front of him. JD felt like he was hearing the words through cotton, and he looked up into the concerned face of Team Three's leader.

"Dunne? You okay?" The man was squatting in front of him now.

JD blinked, trying to get the man's face to come into focus.

"Larry, call Larabee, tell him that his kid's down here and he's sick. Better tell him to bring Jackson too. The boy doesn't look so good."

JD caught a few of the words. Larabee. Kid. Boy.

He shook his head, trying to clear it. Pulling his knees under him and tucking his hand under his armpit so they wouldn't see that it was broken, he tried to stand. The pain from hiding his hand overwhelmed him and he was sure he was gonna puke again.

"Jesus," a voice spoke from above him. "I've never seen anyone that green before."

A hand on his shoulder stopped his attempts to gain his feet.

"Just stay still, JD. Chris is gonna be here in a second."

JD thought he heard compassion in the voice. 'Yeah, right.' He scoffed. Just someone faking that they liked him, just like the rest. But JD knew better now.

"No," JD grunted out, shaking the hand from his shoulder. "I don't need anyone - 'specially not Chris Larabee. I'm fine." He slowly got to his feet, swaying a bit. The man stood up with him, his hand on JD's arm.

"Come on kid, you're sicker'n a dog. Just wait a sec for your boss to come and get'cha. Yer gonna puke, or pass out, and neither's gonna feel too good."

"No. I'm fine!" JD hissed through clenched teeth. He started walking for the stairs. He didn't hear the elevator chime.

 

Part Two

Vin sat at his desk, quietly typing and sneaking looks at the elevator door. It had been twenty minutes since Chris and Buck had trotted to the elevator to head downstairs. He glanced up to see that Ezra was also watching for the elevator doors to open. Ezra had been the one to answer the call a few minutes ago. Larry Tyler from Team Three was on the phone, telling them that JD was down there on their floor and that the kid was really sick. He'd asked for Jackson - that wasn't a good sign.

When Ezra calmly informed the rest of Team 7 of their youngest agent's dire situation, Buck had practically jumped up out of his chair, knocking it backwards. He'd yelled for Larabee and Chris came to his office door with a hard glint in his eyes. Vin could tell that their boss was about to reprimand Wilmington for yelling his name across the state of Colorado, but the look on Buck's face must have stopped him.

"Kid's sick," Buck stated. "He's downstairs. They said to bring Nathan."

"Shit," Chris expelled, glancing at Nathan's empty desk, while walking with Buck, Ezra and Vin towards the elevator.  "He and Josiah aren't due back for a few hours."

Buck shook his head. "Damn kid would pick the day Nathan's not here to get himself sick," he said lightly, but his voice shook with worry and he wasn't fooling anyone that he wasn't scared.

"Come on, Buck, let's just get down there and see what's wrong before we call out the coroner." Chris replied.

Vin heard the quick intake of breath that came from Wilmington. "Jesus, Chris," Tanner hissed in Larabee's direction. It hadn't been too long ago that JD was in the hospital with a serious gunshot wound. The kid had pulled through, but it was rough going for a while and more than once the men were prepared for the fact that JD would die. Buck still hadn't gotten over it.

Larabee glanced over at Buck whose face had instantly paled. Wincing, he shook his head. "Sorry, Buck. Wasn't thinking."

Buck swallowed and nodded once. 

The elevator dinged and the doors started to open. Chris turned to Ezra and Vin. "You guys wait here. We'll call if he's... " He glanced at Buck. Sighing, he just stepped into the elevator.

*****

Vin glanced once again towards the elevator and was surprised to see JD slowly walking towards them. "Kid?" he asked getting Ezra's attention in the process. Both men stood and walked over to JD.

JD walked slowly towards them, his head down and his hands tucked under his armpits. They couldn't see his face, but his body movements told them that something was definitely wrong.

"Mr. Dunne?" Ezra asked. "JD," he asked again, his voice sounding worried as he bent over to get a look at the kid's face. "Good Lord," he hissed, grabbing JD by his arm. "Get the kid a chair," he ordered Vin, while leading JD towards their desks.

Vin helped Ezra sit JD down, and then, with his index finger, gingerly lifted the kid's chin. "Shit," Vin almost yelped when he saw just how pale and sick the kid looked. "JD?" He squatted down to try and look in JD's eyes. "JD, can you hear me?"

JD glanced up at them, seeming to see them for the first time. He flinched and moved back into the chair.

Vin and Ezra shared an uncomfortable glance. "Kid, you okay?"

JD glared at Vin, his lip raising in a semi-sneer. "I'm not a kid," he grunted out while he stood, swaying. 

"Yeah, ki...JD, I know that," Vin tried to appease, looking at Ezra for help. Ezra shrugged and turned his gaze back to JD.

JD quickly moved over to his desk, sitting down hard in his chair. He looked up and his eyes narrowed when he saw that the two men had followed him. "Leave me alone," he harshly whispered. "I'm fine and I don't need you!" He reached out his right hand and then quickly tucked it under his armpit again, his face paling even more. Reaching out with his left hand, he turned his computer on, sending one more withering glare towards the two ATF agents who were watching him closely.

The elevator dinged and all three men looked up to see Chris and Buck exiting the doors. JD quickly looked back down, staring at the keyboard in front of him.

Larabee and Wilmington walked up to JD's desk, both men looking worried and a little pissed. 

"JD?" Chris asked, his voice tight, but concerned. 

The kid didn't look up and Chris glanced at Buck, then Vin and Ezra. All four men looked back down at JD, their brows furrowed with concern.

"JD?" Buck asked. "Did you just hear Chris?"

JD's mouth turned down into a frown and the men saw his shoulders slump. He turned red-rimmed eyes up to them. Buck took a step back. The kid's face was pale, his cheeks bright red with what looked like fever spots. There was a green tinge to his skin like he was on the verge of being sick, and if he moved too much, he would be.

"Christ, kid, what in the hell happened to you?" 

JD glared at Buck, then glanced at Chris, his eyes instantly going back down. "Nothin'," he lied. "I'm fine."

"Yeah, you look fine, kid," Chris snorted.

"Like you care!" JD hissed under his breath, without raising his head.

"What?" Chris squatted down next to JD's chair, his hand on the metal arm. "What did you say, JD?" 

"Nothin'," the kid replied, standing up quickly, his chair rolling backwards. "Why can't you just leave me alone?" he yelled as he stepped backwards, his body swaying precariously with the movement.

Chris looked over at Vin and Ezra. Both agents shook their heads at him, glancing at JD and shrugging. 

Buck was on JD's left side and Chris on his right. Vin and Ezra stood in front of him. JD looked like a cornered animal. His eyes darted from one man to the next, looking for a way of escape.

"I do care, JD," Chris told him, his voice rough. 

"No, you don't," JD's voice quivered, his eyes really meeting Chris's for the first time. "I know you didn't want me on the team, you had to take me."

"What?" Chris's voice got as close to a squeak as it ever would. "What in the hell are you talking about?"

"Nothing!" JD yelled, stepping past Chris, heading towards the door. Chris reached out and grabbed JD by the hand, he was unprepared when JD yelped and instantly fell to the ground.

"Son of a bitch!" Chris cried, trying to grab JD before he hit the floor. Chris and Buck gently eased him to the ground, laying him down and squatting next to him. JD's eyes were closed and Buck instantly put his finger on the kid's neck, feeling for a pulse.

"He's out," Buck spoke while looking the kid up and down for injuries. He glanced up at Ezra to see that the undercover agent was on the phone, with the ambulance, he hoped.

Chris gingerly reached out for JD's right hand, knowing that JD had crumbled to the floor the second he'd squeezed it. He held it in his hand and gently turned it over. The knuckles were black and blue and Chris would have bet his ranch that it was broken.

"What in the hell is going on here?" Chris asked no on in particular, as he watched Buck worry his bottom lip while staring at the kid's prone form.

*****

Chris paced the emergency room's waiting area. Buck was talking with one of the nurses, trying to get some information on JD. Ezra was on the phone, trying to pull Nathan and Josiah out of their meeting early. They needed the two men there. 

JD's wound wasn't life threatening, that's not what was worrying Chris and the others. What worried them was the look that had been on the kid's face. The lost spark in his eyes.

Something had happened - something besides the broken hand. Why would he think that Chris didn't care? I mean, the kid should know by now that he was family, right? Chris sighed, running his hand over his face. He glanced at Vin, who leaned against the wall, watching everything. The sharpshooter's face was dark, his eyes filled with worry. Chris stepped over to him, standing next to him to mirror his lean against the wall.

"Wonder what in the hell is goin' on?" Vin asked.

"Well, they gotta set that hand, if it's too bad, he'll need surgery." Chris answered. 

"No," Vin looked up at him, "I mean I wonder what's goin' on."

"Yeah," Chris nodded, "I know." 

"I mean, you didn't see him, Chris. He looked like his damn heart had been broken. I've never seen him look like that. It was as if someone had ripped his soul out and all that was left was a hole." Vin's eyes were dark, disturbed.

"Yeah, I saw it too. He's hurtin'. Christ, I don't know what's going on." He looked away, shaking his head. "Why all of a sudden would he think I didn't care?" He shook his head again, trying to get the thought out of his mind. He sighed, rubbing his mouth before looking back at the sharpshooter. "I don't know what's going on, but we'll find out, Vin."

"Yeah. We will." Vin spoke, his voice harsh, determined. "And if anyone fucked with 'im, I'm gonna kill 'em."

Chris glanced at Vin and saw in his eyes that there wasn't any question that he would do it. "You and me both, pard." Chris squeezed him on the neck. "No one but us messes with our kid." His mouth turned up in a half smile.

"Yeah." Vin grinned.

*****

After a long wait, they brought JD out in a wheelchair, his hand in a white cast, his head down, his black bangs covering his eyes. The kid didn't answer their questions. When they got outside, he stood slowly and climbed into the back seat of Chris's Ram. Staring out the window, he let the pain killers take effect and drifted off into oblivion.

*****

Three days had passed. Three long, hard days. Buck Wilmington was a frazzled mess. His best friend wasn't talking to him. The kid was holed up in his room, only coming out to grab a sandwich or a bowl of cereal.

Buck sat at his desk, a forlorn expression on his face. He'd left the kid at home today to come back to work. He didn't know what to do. The guys had all talked about it and thought it would be best to give the kid a few more days to recover before drilling him about what had happened and trying to work it out.

The ladies' man heard a gasp and looked up to find the men staring at the doorway. He looked over to find a very pale JD Dunne standing there.

"Kid, what in the hell are you doing here?" Buck yelped.

JD glared at him. "None of your business, Buck." He walked by on his way to Chris's office. 

Buck jumped up and started towards him. Before he could get there, the kid had slammed open Larabee's door and was already inside, with the door slamming shut behind him.

*****

Chris looked up from his report when his door was thrown open. He was surprised to see JD standing there, looking like death warmed over. "Come on in, JD." He quipped as he sat back in his chair, motioning to the leather chair in front of his desk.

Dunne stood where he was. "I want to transfer out of here, Mr. Larabee. Back to Boston."

Chris raised his eyebrows. He honestly hadn't expected that. He frowned as he watched the kid stand there swaying, his face white. "Sit down, Agent Dunne. We'll talk about it."

JD walked stiff-legged over to the chair and sat down.

Chris reached into his bottom drawer and looked for the transfer papers, trying to stall for time while he thought about what he was going to do. Finally, he pulled the papers out. Looking back at JD, he said, "Tell me something JD, why do you want to transfer out of here?"

His lip curling up in a snarl, JD answered, "I don't want to be where I'm not wanted." He looked hard at Chris. "And I don't want to have a job that I don't deserve."

"What?" Chris asked, confused.

"I know, Mr. Larabee. I know that none of you wanted me on the team, that you hired me 'cause you had to. That it was a 'sympathy thing.' 'Cause my mama had just died..." His throat caught and he had to take a moment before he spoke again. " 'Cause I wanted to be on your team and the ATF felt bad and made you take me." He brought his eyes away from Chris's and looked down.

Chris sat, dumbfounded. Finally, after he got his mind working again, he spoke. "JD, I didn't hire you because I had any sympathy." Chris winced when JD glared up at him. "I mean, yeah, I heard about what happened to you and sure, I felt bad for ya, kid, but that's not why I hired you." Chris sighed when he saw the hard look on JD's face. God, he missed 'their' JD - the JD that was here before that morning three days ago.

JD sat in the chair in front of Chris's desk looking down at his hands, his face a stoic mask. Chris chanced a look at him and thought that the kid could give Vin or Ezra a run for their money with his poker face.

Chris picked the transfer paper up and held it for a few moments for JD to see before he tore it down the middle

"Hey! You can't do that!" JD squeaked. 

Chris scoffed. "JD I'm the boss. I can do what I want." 

JD swallowed hard, looking back down. 

Chris threw the pieces of paper into the wastebasket and then picked up a pen. He was reminded of the time he'd had JD in this very office to give him a lecture, and eventually a commendation for his actions during the Merriam case. The kid had been nervous and quick to please then. But now, he just seemed indifferent and it drove Chris nuts to see him like this. If only he could figure out what had happened three days ago. JD wouldn't say anything and when he'd went down to Team Three and Four's floor, no one down there would say anything either. He'd even asked Tom Blackstone about it. He knew that JD and he had become friends. Tom had been evasive and looked pretty damn nervous but had emphatically denied having anything to do with JD's current state of mind.

But someone had convinced the kid that he wasn't wanted on this team, that he didn't belong, that he got here because the ATF hired him for sympathy. Like that would happen, Chris shook his head. But right now it really didn't matter how this happened as much as it mattered how he could fix it.

JD sat staring at his cast but glanced up briefly when Chris cleared his throat. 

"Look at me, JD," Chris said when the kid looked back down.

JD complied and Chris sat back hard in his seat when he saw the look the kid bestowed him. Was this even the same kid that had brought life and a sparkle into the lives of the six ATF agents on Team 7? This JD didn't' even look familiar.

Chris narrowed his eyes. He glanced towards the closed door knowing that the rest of the team were waiting on the other side of that door, hoping that Chris Larabee could turn the kid around.

He started to speak when JD cut him off.

"Listen, Mr. Larabee," JD said as he stood up and started for the door. "I really don't need you to sign those papers. I'll just go above you, plead my case there and they'll get me out of here," he said flippantly over his shoulder.

Chris let the statement slide for now, instead, he asked, "Why do you want out of here so bad all of a sudden?" Standing up, he looked hard at the boy.

"Like you don't know," JD hissed as he turned and grabbed the doorknob, opening the door.

Chris practically jumped across the room, pushing the door closed and grabbing JD by the shoulders, spinning him around to face him.

JD looked up at him with scared wide eyes. 

Damn, Chris hung his head. The last thing he needed was to scare the kid. It was obvious that JD already didn't trust him.

Roughly pulling his arm out of Chris's grasp, JD reached out for the doorknob again. He was almost pulled off his feet when Chris grabbed him and yanked him back over to the chair. "Sit down, kid," he said harshly as he sat down on the corner of his desk.

JD 's face reddened all the way down his neck. He looked furious and Chris was happy just to see some sort of emotion besides apathy.

"JD," he spoke, his voice rough, "we need to get this straightened out, now. I need you to tell me what's going on."

JD started to protest and Chris held his hand up, his eyes flashing fire. "Not want...need. Right now. You will tell me what the hell has been going on these past few days. And you'll do it now!

JD squirmed in his seat before swallowing hard and glaring at his boss. "Mr. Larabee, I don't think I have to tell you what's going on. I already know that you don't care, that you don't want me around. So why would you care about what's going on with me?" He spit the words out, sneering, but Chris could see the hurt and pain behind the angry front.

Chris blew out a deep breath as he rubbed a hand down his face. "See, JD that's where you're wrong, dammit! I do care about you. I've cared about you since the first day you got here. I don't know where you got this crazy ass idea that I don't, but I'm going to set the record straight here and now."

"It won't matter," JD said from under his bangs as he picked at a thread on his pants. "I'm not going to believe you." He looked up. "You've tricked me before into thinking that you guys cared, and then you just laugh at me behind my back." He looked back down as his voice roughened. "I also know that you didn't want me on this team." He looked back up. "I know that. Im not the stupid little kid you think I am," he hissed, his eyes flashing.

Chris jumped off the side of the desk. Towering over JD's chair, he leaned down, hands on the chair's wooden arms, his face right in front of JD. "Look, JD, I don't think that you're a kid. Yeah, we might call you that, but it's not a reproach. It's...well...it's a term of endearment. Now as far as the 'me not caring thing', that's bullshit and you should know it."

"No, I don't' know it!" JD yelled, trying to stand.

Chris pushed him back into the chair. "I don't know which bastard around here fed you this shit but they've obviously done a very good job of convincing you. Now, it's my job to UN-convince you!" He stood back up, shooting JD a warning look when the kid tried to stand. "Sit your ass back down there and listen to what I have to say! I'm still your boss!" he barked.

JD glared at him and Chris almost laughed. The glare was getting better, but it still didn't compare to his own. "First off, JD, everyone on this team wants you here, needs you here. And I'd have thought you'd been here long enough to realize that. But someone has really pulled the wool over your eyes."

He sat back down in his chair, staring hard at the kid. "Secondly, JD, about the 'kid' thing. If you really don't like it, we'll drop it. But, like I said, it really is more a term of endearment than a rip. Do you think if I, if we, didn't like you we would stick you with a nickname, or tease you? Just doesn't happen kid... JD."

"Okay, third...this SHIT about you being hired because I felt sorry for you...well, let me just tell you son, it's bullshit! That does not happen. I hired you because you were qualified. Hell, on the computer, you were overqualified. You shoot a gun well, you have a quick, smart head on you and you are one hell of an agent."

JD's eyes were bright as the kid looked down. 

"JD." Chris stood up and walked back over to his chair leaning down again. "Kid, I'm telling you the truth. What you do with it now is up to you."

JD sniffed as he swallowed hard and looked up at him. 

Chris could see that JD wanted to believe him but was fighting it. Suddenly, JD's hard face crumbled and he looked down, furiously wiping a tear from his face.

"God, Chris, I..." he looked up, the hatred gone from his face. 'Their' JD was back. "God...I..." he swallowed hard and Chris squatted in front of the kid's chair facing him, eye to eye.

JD wiped his face again as he shook his head. "I wouldn't ever have believed it, but they..." he looked up quickly and then away. "They were so convincing. And I've always been...well..." he paused for a moment before he looked up at Chris, "a bit unsure of myself. And what they said, it drove a hole into my heart. They said that Buck didn't want me at the apartment. They said that I was an embarrassment to the ATF. They said that you had to wait 'till I got one of the others," his voice cracked, "killed before you could get rid of me. And, oh God, that's the last thing I would ever want." He looked away. After a moment, he sniffed and looked back. "When I heard them say those words - the exact things I've always been terrified of, well, I just, it was like I snapped. And I would have believed it too...hell, I had believed it, until you..." He sat for another long moment before he sighed. "I went a bit insane there for a while." He smiled shyly at Chris. "Ya ever do that?"

"Sure," Chris raised his eyebrow, grinning evilly. "We all go a little crazy sometimes." 

JD couldn't stop the laugh that escaped at the 'Psycho' reference. "Yeah," he said, "but I went more than a little crazy," he laughed then, a self-recriminating sound. "And then it sort of snowballed and I thought that you guys had all been just laughing at me behind my back." He looked at Chris. "Believe me, I know exactly what that's like." He shrugged, his face sad. "I've always been a little smaller than the rest of the guys, a little smarter, a little different. And different never bodes well for fitting in."

Chris nodded sadly.

"And the thought, the thought that you guys weren't really my friends - I don't think I've ever felt that lost and betrayed, like a piece of me was gone." JD looked away, his face red, ashamed. "I mean, you guys are...are...well, you're my family." He looked at Chris, continuing quickly, "Oh, I know that you don't know it, but, in my heart you're my family..." he shook his head, "and family just don't do that."

Chris swallowed hard as he reached out and clasped both of the kid's forearms, careful of his broken hand. "JD, whoever said those things..." his eyes flashed and he said quickly "and you don't have to tell me who right now, but we'll talk about that later." He nodded reassuringly. "Whoever told you those things...what they said...it was just 'words,' that's it. Just words, not facts, not even the truth. Just someone's opinion. That's it. An opinion." He sighed as he looked in the pain-filled eyes looking at him so trustingly now. "But still, even though that's all they are, they still seem to hurt worse than any damn bullet ever could."

JD nodded sadly.

"And nothin's worse than having someone laugh at you, not with you, but at you. And that's the difference, JD. We'd never laugh at you. We're always laughing with you, and we don't ever mean any harm."

JD swallowed hard and reached his good arm out of Chris's grasp so he could wipe the tears from his face. "I know, that, Mr. Larabee...I think I always knew it, but..." he looked down. "But when you hear it, and they weren't even talking to me, I overheard them...and..." he shook his head. "It was just so hard." He looked quickly up at Chris and then away. "And one of 'em was a frien-" he gulped as he jerked his head back towards Chris. "I mean, it wasn't no one," he quickly amended.

Chris smiled sadly. Suddenly, he understood, but instead of voicing his knowledge, he said, "You don't have to tell me yet, kid. We'll talk about it again. But, I do think you should go out there," he cocked his head towards the office door, "and talk to your friends. I know there's a friend of yours out there that's been dying since that day."

JD nodded. "Poor Buck," he sighed. "I've been so..." he looked up at Chris. "God, I've been such an asshole."

Chris threw his head back, barking out a laugh. He looked back at the kid. "Nah, JD, you were just hurting."

JD raised his eyebrows, grinning. "Chris, I was an asshole," he stated succinctly.

Chris laughed again as he stood, bringing JD up with him. He pulled the kid in for a quick fatherly hug and then pushed him out at arm's length, looking at him hard. "You're okay, kid. Don't ever let anyone tell you different," he spoke lightly, but he meant it.

Swallowing hard the lump in his throat, JD smiled sadly. "I'll try."

"You just come and tell me next time anything like this happens, got it?" Chris spoke sternly, his rough voice betraying his emotion.

"I will, Mr. Larabee." JD nodded emphatically. 

Chris turned him towards the door. Reaching out, he grabbed the kid's shoulders in a one-armed embrace. "Don't forget, son, we'll be talking again about 'who' brought all this on."

JD shot him a determined look. "They...those words don't matter anymore, Mr. Larabee. What matters is the words that were spoken in this room today." He smiled.

Chris nodded and smiled as he reached out and pulled the door open. Might not matter to you, kid. He thought to himself. But it matters to me. And it won't go unanswered. He nodded his head again, an evil grin on his face as his mind worked over what he would do to the instigators of this situation.

The two stepped out of the office into the bullpen to find five concerned faces watching them. 

Chris leaned in and asked quietly. "Is this what you got when you came out of my office after our discussion about the Merriam case?"

JD looked over at him, his smile blinding. "Nope, Mr. Larabee. Then, I just got a commendation." He choked up as he looked back towards the bullpen. "Now, I got my family back."

the end

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