Penance

By Helen Adams

An answer to both the August í05 ĎDefenestrationí Challenge, where one of the guys must be thrown out a window, and the September í05 ĎTitleí Challenge, to write an original story with the same title as one of the series episodes.

Moved to Blackraptor November 2009


No scratching, you'll just make it worse.

Nathan Jackson really was a very wise man, Ezra decided, remembering his friend's advice and gasping as his attempt to relieve a nagging itch on his right shoulder resulted in a stab of pain from the left as the motion stretched his skin. Silently granting the team medic an, "I told you so," which he would surely have delivered himself had he been on hand, Ezra carefully climbed out of bed and went to get a tube of analgesic cream from his bathroom cabinet.

Once he had the medicine in hand, he paused, wondering how he was going to apply the stuff without encountering the same problem all over again. Reluctantly, Ezra decided that he was going to need some help. The digital clock next to his bed showed that it was after two oíclock but he could hear the television in the next room playing, so obviously someone was still up. Shuffling to the door, he called softly, "Could whoever is out there please lend me some assistance?"

Almost immediately, JD Dunne appeared. "Sure thing. What do you need?"

Ezra winced at the sight of him, but simply held out the tube. "Iím afraid my stitches are beginning to bother me. I tried to put this on myself, but I can't seem to reach the damaged areas without hurting myself."

"Iíll take care of it," JD replied, his expression a combination of anxiety and penitence that almost made Ezra wince again

Ezra sat down slowly on the bed, trying to avoid the head rushes that any sudden movements seemed to bring about. JD plunked down behind him and waited for him to unfasten the buttons of his loose-fitting pajama shirt before assisting him in sliding the garment down to expose his damaged back.

The moment JD pulled the first bandage loose, revealing the red puckered flesh beneath it, he said the words that Ezra had been dreading. The same words he had spoken what seemed like a thousand times already. "I'm really sorry for all this."

Ezra grunted, not quite able to suppress the shiver that crawled down his spine as the first frigorific dollop of cream touched his slightly feverish skin, his reaction gaining yet another apology from JD. "It's all right. It wasn't your fault."

He wondered how many times he would have to say those words before they both believed them.

It had been a very minor incident, really. JD had been attempting to remove a drunk from Inez's place of business during Team Seven's customary end of workweek visit. JD's punch, quite obviously an attempt to copy his mentor Buck Wilmington's favorite manner of evicting obnoxious patrons, had been badly aimed. Instead of driving the loud-mouthed boor through the door, it had merely thrown him off balance. As he regained his equilibrium, the man had decided to return the favor, flinging a hard right cross at JD's head. The young man had easily side-stepped the punch, but Ezra, not expecting the man to trip over JD's extended foot as he veered aside, had caught the full brunt of the blow and had flown backward into the restaurant/bar's front window.

Under the impact of this accidental defenestration, the window had shattered spectacularly, leaving a dazed Ezra lying on the sidewalk with a lump on the back of his head and a dozen shards of glass piercing the fabric of his shirt. The red stains blooming around each shard proved that the skin beneath had also been perforated and Inez's drunken customer had quickly been forgotten as Ezra's friends had rushed to his side.

An ambulance had rapidly arrived on scene and Ezra had been taken to County General, where it was determined that he had suffered a minor concussion and enough deep lacerations to his back and arms to necessitate over forty stitches.

The doctor who tended his wounds had started to order a room prepared for an overnight stay, but Ezra had been coherent enough to give a flat refusal and insist on returning home to his own bed. His friends, surprisingly, had given in to his demands when the doctor had agreed that he would be just as well off, provided that he had someone stay to look after him for a while. Ezra had been insulted at the insinuation that he needed a baby-sitter but quickly warmed to the idea after he rolled off the treatment table and experienced a wave of dizziness and nausea that nearly sent him crashing to the floor again.

Through the entire ordeal - ambulance ride, diagnosis, treatment, and the trip home - after which Nathan had promptly sent him to bed with a dose of antibiotics and a stern warning to stay put, JD had stuck to Ezraís side like glue. He had hovered over him every moment, holding him still, bringing him water, making sure he was secure for the drive home, bringing him food, and on and on. At first, Ezra had been grateful for the concern, but he had quickly grown tired of the young manís company as it became clear that JD was wallowing in guilt over his role in the accident and was determined to make it up to him.

"Sorry," JD said yet again as his nervousness made him place too much pressure on one wound, bringing a hiss of pain from Ezra.

Trying to distract them both as JD rebandaged the injury he had been working on and moved to the next, Ezra asked, "So, who drew the short straw along with you tonight? I assume it isnít Nathan since I have yet to see him allow anyone else to perform a medical procedure without at least standing by to supervise."

Carefully smoothing a thick layer of cream over one particularly nasty looking gash, JD replied, "Oh, um, Josiahís here but heís sleeping. Told me to wake him for the next shift whenever I got tired."

"Afraid Iíll sneak out if you donít post a guard?" Ezra grated, squeezing his eyes shut as the young man again pressed a bit too hard on his tender back. He pulled away as JD fastened the bandage back in place. "Thatís enough!"

JD did not answer, merely tugging his shirt back up for him and rising to put the medicine tube back in the bathroom.

Ezra sighed. He hadnít meant to snap. When JD returned, glass of water and another dose of antibiotics in hand, it was Ezraís turn to say, "Iím sorry, JD. I didnít mean to be rude."

"Síokay," he accepted, handing him the medication. He waited patiently until Ezra had swallowed the pill, frowning as he watched him crawl back into bed and try unsuccessfully to find a comfortable position. "You got an extra pillow?"

Ezra hesitated. "I hope you arenít intending to sleep on my floor tonight. That would be quite beyond the call of duty, I assure you."

For the first time that evening, JD grinned. "And have you fall over me on your way to the bathroom; maybe bust up something else?" he joked. "I donít think so."

Relieved, Ezra smiled back and told him, "In that case, I believe there is a spare pillow in the front closet."

"Cool. Be right back."

Within seconds, JD returned, pillow upheld triumphantly. To Ezraís surprise, the pad was placed in front of him on the bed and he was coaxed with a gentle tug from JD to lie against it, the extra cushion comfortably balancing him half on his front and half on his side, relieving the pressure on his back.

"Thank you," he sighed. "That feels a great deal better."

JD sat on the bed again, studying him. "You gotten any sleep at all? Youíre looking kind of ragged."

Scooting his new pillow up a few inches where he could rest his cheek against it and look up at JD without changing his position, Ezra slightly shrugged one shoulder. "I donít believe I have any pressing engagements in the morning, so it hardly matters what time I fall asleep."

"I guess," JD said doubtfully, "but Nathan put you to bed almost four hours ago. Youíve been lying here awake the whole time?"

A pained expression that had nothing to do with his injuries twisted Ezraís features. "Put me to bed? Must you phrase it that way? You make me sound like a four-year-old."

JD smiled, the petulant tone of Ezraís voice only giving him further proof that he had guessed right. His friend was tired, but couldnít sleep. "You took all your medication, right?"

Ezra nodded. "Yes, and thanks to your solution, Iím presently quite comfortable."

"Except forÖ"

A surprised look flickered in Ezraís eyes. "How did you know?"

JD shrugged. "You look kind of tense, so I figured there was something wrong. Maybe I can help."

"I doubt anything but time will help," he refused. "My neck is sore and my head aches; undoubtedly a cumulative effect of bouncing my skull on the cement earlier and attempting to hold the rest of my body still once I got here."

"Thought that might be it. Roll forward a little further onto your front," JD suggested. When Ezra did not move, he gently tugged on his arm and ordered, "Come on. Iím not going to hurt you."

Cautiously, Ezra complied, tucking his chin down and hugging the pillow a little closer as he inched his body forward. To his surprise, JD tugged the collar of his shirt back down a little ways and began to massage his neck with firm thumb strokes. "Used to do this for my mom when she was confined to bed during her last illness," JD told him. "She used to get terrible cramps through her back and neck and this always helped."

"Iím sure it did," Ezra sighed, closing his eyes and enjoying the gentle steady pressure. "I appreciate this."

"I owe it to you," he replied, tone ripe with regret. "After all, it is my fault youíre hurt."

Ezra frowned. "Itís not your fault."

JDís hands stopped their soothing motion, resting rigidly on Ezraís shoulders. "Yes, it is! If I hadnít tried to go all John Wayne on that guy in the bar, he would never have hit you. And if he hadnít hit you, you wouldnít have gone through the window, and if you hadnít gone through the window you wouldnít have hit your head or got your back all messed up, you wouldnít have gotten stitches, or feel all dizzy and miserable. If it werenít for me, you wouldnít be here right now!"

As the list went on, Ezra groaned. He couldnít take much more of JDís self-recrimination. Pushing himself upright on the mattress and ignoring the protest of his injuries, he looked the young man straight in the eye. "JD, first of all, itís after two oíclock in the morning, so in all likelihood, this is exactly where I would be under normal circumstances. Secondly, you werenít the one who was hurling verbal abuse and furnishings all over the bar, so what say we just place the blame for the fight where it belongs; on that asinine, whiskey-swilling, temperamental fool whose ham-like fist sent me on my aerial journey toward the sidewalk outside? Thirdly, if you had not gone "John Wayne", as you put it, Iím sure one of us would have. The bastard was asking for a punch in the face, and you gave it to him. The fact that he didnít have the courtesy to go down after he received it was a regretful quirk of fate." Placing a hand on JDís shoulder, he said seriously, "The whole thing was an accident, son. Just a chain of events that none of us foresaw. If you require my forgiveness to end this cycle of blame, then please be assured that you have it."

JD looked rebellious for a moment, but as Ezra continued to stare hard at him he finally accepted the truth. "Thanks," he said simply. The two men shared an understanding smile, then JD gently urged his friend to lie down once more and resumed his earlier ministrations.

"Not that Iím protesting," Ezra murmured, feeling his body relax as the pain in his head and neck slowly began to seep away, "but you do realize that my forgiveness frees you from the obligation of taking care of me, donít you?"

"I know," he said, slowing the movements of his hands but not stopping as he felt Ezra melt a little further into his pillows. "I donít mind this, though. Consider it a favor, one friend to another."

Ezraís mumbled response could have been agreement, but it was hard to say. Within seconds, his slow sighing breaths indicated that he had fallen asleep. JD continued for a few seconds more, soothing him into deeper slumber, then he carefully stood and turned out the light, closing the door softly behind him.

"He getting any rest?"

Josiahís quietly uttered question startled him, but as he looked at the older man sitting in Ezraís easy chair with a concerned expression on his face, JD nodded. "I think heíll sleep well for the rest of the night now."

"How about you?" Josiah asked gently. He gave JD a probing look, then nodded and smiled at whatever he saw.

JD smiled back. "Yeah, Iím gonna be just fine too."

 

The End

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