Finding the Way Home,
Means Answering the Call

by Heather M.

ATF Universe

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD knelt beside Casey's chair. He stared in horror at what he'd done. She shied away as he reached up to touch the black and blue cheekbone.

"I did that?" he said in disbelief.

She stared angrily back at him as she replaced the cold compress.

"Casey, I'm so sorry," he said in an anguished whisper.

"I'm sure you are," she replied stiffly.

He looked at her in disbelief. Did she honestly think he intended to do this? "I love you," he said.

"Oh, and I just imagined your fist hitting me in the face," she retorted sarcastically.

"I didn't mean it..." he looked down, shamefaced, when he realized what he was saying. Maybe he didn't mean to...but he had done it.

"I think I deserve to know why, JD," she said flatly.

He looked back at her and then down again. He stared unseeing at his hands as they lay in his lap as he spoke. "I... I've been having these... nightmares... about things that happened in Iraq." His voice dropped to a whisper, "They scare me, even though I'm home and safe, they still scare the hell out of me." He noticed his right hand had curled into a fist. He made a conscious effort to uncurl the fingers before raising his voice to continue again. "There's this especially bad one. I could never remember anything about it, only that it made me so scared that I'd wake up, and then I was too scared to fall back to sleep. It made me afraid. It was always there, waiting for me, when I fell asleep again. I found if I got drunk before I went to bed, I wouldn't dream it, at least I wouldn't remember it if I did. Last night I sobered up a lot before we went to bed and it came back."

He paused for a moment. He uncurled the fist again and then looked up to see that she was listening intently. Looking past the discoloration and the bruising he could see the anger was gone from her eyes now. It had been replaced by concern. He looked down again, "That last patrol, the one where I got hurt, we were ambushed by a sniper. I... I killed him, shot him; it was him or me... I've never had that happen to me before... but I was caught off guard. There was a second guy. He... he was the one who stabbed me, he was on top of me..." JD's voice was nearly a whisper, "It's a memory I... I haven't been able to face; him on top of me stabbing me over and over again. The pain, knowing I was..." His voice broke. He swallowed and took a couple of quick breathes. "It scared me because I knew he'd start stabbing me again. When it happened before I thought... Oh God, I thought I was going to die. I woke up and there he was on top of me!"

JD stopped blinking back tears and swallowed hard as he tried to maintain his composure. He felt a hand take his own and looked up.

"You thought I was him," Casey said quietly. "I heard you yell. I leaned over you to see if you were okay and you woke up. You looked at me, but you didn't see me did you? You saw him. You yelled and hit me because you thought I was him."

He nodded. Looking through his tears into her face he saw sympathy there. "You have to believe me, Casey, I'd never hurt you. I love you." The dam burst and silent tears came. She dropped the compress in her lap and put her hand around the back of his neck gently drawing him toward her until his forehead rested against her own. She whispered words of comfort while slowly stroking the back of his head.

He stopped crying when he realized someone was planting gentle kisses down the side of his face. He wiped his eyes on a corner of his bedcover that Casey was still wrapped in and then sat up to look at her.

Casey smiled gently and reached over and drew her fingers down one side of his stubbled jaw line, stopping at his chin she leaned forward to kiss him.

Drawing back, she smiled again. He leaned over and kissed her, drawing his hand through the hair at her temple to the back of her head to hold her gently as their kiss deepened.

"Get a room, you two," said Buck, grinning from the doorway of the kitchen.

Startled, they jumped back from another other and then smiled knowingly at each other.

"Sounds like a good idea to me," said JD raising his eyebrows in Casey's direction.

"I think I should go home now," said Casey regretfully. "Aunt Nettie is going to be..."

"Yeah," said JD with feeling. "Look, Case, I'm going with you to help explain."

"JD, you don't need to..."

"Yes, I do," said JD firmly. "I did this. I'm not going to hide from Nettie. What kind of man would I be, to leave you to face her alone?"

"JD, think about it. Aunt Nettie will be fit to be tied. You haven't been given the okay to drive yet. She won't like the idea of me driving you back here," objected Casey.

"I'll go with you," suggested Buck, "and then drive JD back."

"What about Belinda?" asked JD.

"She left a half hour ago."

"Buck, you don't have to."

"No, I don't but maybe it'll go over easier with Nettie, with me there."

Both of them looked up at him with big eyes. Buck could be dense at times but even he knew he wasn't one of Nettie's favorite people. She thought he had the morals of an alley cat.

"Wha-at?" asked Buck innocently.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Nettie had been livid, and JD couldn't blame her one bit.

She had tried to send Casey upstairs to change out of her evening clothes, but the young woman refused to leave JD alone with her. Casey explained what had happened leaving out the reason for JD's nightmare. Nettie wasn't sympathetic and was ready to charge JD with assault. Casey said no. She and Nettie were about to get into the shouting match when JD cut in explaining very briefly about the incident in Iraq. The older woman's demeanor softened but she still forbad JD to see her niece again. Casey started to object that she was old enough to see anyone she wanted to but JD cut her off, agreeing to the older woman's terms. He could see Casey was angry that he had given in so readily. He stated flatly that he wasn't going be the cause of trouble between her and her Aunt. Casey said nothing, only glaring at him before she disappeared quickly up stairs, slamming the door to her bedroom somewhere above them.

JD joined Buck in his truck. He gave him a short version of what had occurred. Buck agreed that under the circumstances, it was probably the best outcome JD could have expected and that chances were, given some time, Nettie would realize that JD had never done anything even remotely like this before and she would change her mind.

Buck's words did little to comfort him. He already felt ashamed at having hit Casey in the first place. Now that shame was compounded by the embarrassment he felt telling Nettie about mistaking Casey for the enemy because of a nightmare. What he'd seen in the old woman's eyes was pity. Right now he felt on a par with pus and scum.

Buck asked what Casey was going to tell people at work. JD and Casey had discussed that problem on the way over in the car. Casey was going to tell people she had missed catching a pop fly at a fun baseball game on the weekend. JD didn't think lying was a good idea. Casey had been adamant; she didn't want people thinking JD was the kind of man who beat her up.

At the sound of church bells JD realized it was still Sunday morning. JD insisted Buck drop him off at St. Andrew's on the way home. The familiarity of church, the ritual of mass had always brought him some degree of comfort. Today it had helped only a little, after mass, JD went to confession.

He confessed to the killing of the two men in Iraq and to the incident with Casey. JD moaned inwardly when he realized it was Father Gregory hearing confession this morning. Older, staunchly traditional in his outlook, Father Gregory would not absolve the taking of life under any conditions. That was only for the Almighty, Father Gregory declared. He did however forgive him striking Casey; a transgression that JD felt had warranted a harsher penance than Father Gregory had doled out. JD just shook his head at his poor luck. Why couldn't he have gotten Father Mike or Father Jean-Pierre? It had nothing to do with age but rather their personal views as to the mission of the priesthood in the modern era. They would have been more understanding and helped him find reasons to be comforted. The best Father Gregory could do was to suggest "one of those soldier's support groups."

JD walked the five miles home. The physical activity may have been good for his physical wellbeing but didn't do anything for his emotional state. JD felt dissatisfied, isolated and worth about as much a pile of dog crap. He chased away the thought that being sober sucked.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD picked thoughtfully at his steak. It was Sunday supper and it was just Buck and himself at home. It wasn't that the meat wasn't good; Buck had done it up perfectly. Buck's "secret marinade" had made it very tender and it was the first time since JD had it gotten home that he'd had been able to cut his own meat.

"Is there something wrong with the food?" asked Buck.

JD raised his face from his plate to look at Buck. He smiled, "No, it's really good."

"Of course it is," huffed Buck, "if there's anything I know how to cook, it's how to grill a damn good steak."

JD went back to picking at his food again. After a minute, he heard an exasperated sigh from Buck.

"Come on, JD, spill it!"


"What's on your mind?"

JD stared at his plate for a second before setting his fork down and looking up at Buck. "How did you adapt?" Seeing the sudden frown on Buck's face, JD changed his wording, "you know... after your tours as a SEAL and how did you manage to settle in again when you got home?"

Buck never moved a muscle but JD could feel him tensing up. "If you don't want to talk about it..." began JD hurriedly.

"No! It's not that," said Buck quickly. "Most of the SEAL stuff is still technically classified. What exactly is it that you want to know?"

"It's just that," JD brought up his hand to rub the back of his neck in a frustrated gesture as he shook his head. "Everything here at home is the same but it feels different, then I think, home isn't different, I'm different. I don't fit into my life anymore."

Buck pushed his plate aside and put an elbow on the table. He shook his head thoughtfully as he rubbed his lips against the fingers of his fist. Then he uncurled his fingers and stroked his mustached slowly a couple of times before laying his forearm gently on the table.

"I'm not sure what to tell you. I came home a few times. They were all different. The first time I came home I wasn't even as old as you are now. Life in the military had been an adventure full of travel, hard work and hard partying. Coming home was like coming home from college to see your folks, I guess. The second time was different." Buck's expression darkened, "October of '83 changed all that for me. Chris and I were on duty in Beirut when the barracks were bombed. We lost a lot of friends that day. It was the first time I'd experienced anything like war. Sarah met us at the airport; I remember breaking down in her arms. Never even saw it coming, I guess 'cause Sarah and Chris had become my family by then." His eyes become dewy at the memory. "In her arms, it was the first time I could face what had happened." He stopped abruptly and then lifted his forearm from the table to brush it quickly across his eyes. "I knew Chris had already been thinking about the SEALs for a while; that attack made his mind up for him. I was angry; the SEALs seemed like something I could do to make a difference, so I put my name in as well."

JD watched as Buck got up suddenly, taking their plates and setting them in the sink. "I was still in the military, though. Ma was gone by then; I didn't have any other life to go back to." Buck stood at the counter, his back to JD, head down, leaning on arms stretched out on either side of the sink. "Coming home from SEAL missions were their own special kind of hell."

JD watched as the Buck's shoulders rose and fell with a couple of deep breaths before he turned around to face JD again. "We trained hard. Chris excelled; it was like he was made to be a SEAL. He was smart too and was given command of a unit in record time."

"I'd come home and immediately go on a bender to work out all the crap that I'd built up from the mission. A screaming rip-roaring party seemed to work for me. The others partied too but I topped them all doing stupid stuff when I was drunk. I remember jumping from Chris and Sarah's balcony into the pool at their apartment complex. They lived on the third floor at the time. It wasn't a death wish just the need to push the limits to get the crap out. The others had wives or steady girlfriends, like Chris had Sarah, to help keep them grounded."

"The real hell started when we lost someone. It was hard because we worked and trained so closely with one another. I could cope with the loss of the man. We'd all signed on for that, we knew the score there. It was their families I had trouble with. Wives, girlfriends, mothers... because we were SEALs we couldn't tell them anything about how their loved ones died or why, only that they died in the service of their country. The man they knew; had lived with; had loved: was gone. We couldn't tell the families squat about what happened." There was a degree of vehemence in Buck voice with the last comment.

Buck walked over and sat down again. He looked worn out, as if talking about these memories took a lot out of him. "I don't know how Chris stood it," Buck said quietly. "He was the mission commander; he had to tell them. Most of 'em started to cry before he got a word out." Buck looked up at JD as he explained, "You see, notifying next-of-kin was considered official business and Chris had to wear his uniform. They'd see him in his uniform and they'd know right away."

JD could tell from the look on Buck's face that Buck had gone with Chris at least once when he had told the families about their fallen comrades. Somehow it made JD more thankful than before that Buck had been the one to tell Casey about his being wounded.

"I can't tell you much about it but the last mission was rough. The plan was to leave by sea but we were way behind schedule. Chris was hurt bad, real bad. I pumped him full of pain killer, tied him to my back and dragged him out into the water with me. I swam like hell, hoping he was conscious enough to keep himself breathing." He smiled a little sadly, "I'd promised Sarah, that no matter what, I'd bring him home." Buck went quiet for a moment. JD had noticed a long time ago it was something Buck often did when he talked of Sarah. After a moment, Buck shook himself out of his thoughts. "The four of us floated around out there, huddled together waiting, hoping we weren't too late. After forty minutes we figured we'd missed the rendezvous. The sun was beginning to rise, we could hear boats from the shore approaching. We began to tell jokes; we knew we'd likely be dead in a few minutes and we wanted to go out laughing. Then our pick-up appeared."

"We lost more than half our unit that last time, really good men." Buck took a moment to sigh deeply, his somber as he remembered the men lost that day. "Anyway, Chris' hip was done. Physically, he wasn't able to make the grade anymore. It turned out to be my last mission, too. I was ready to hang it up anyway."

After a long minute Buck raised his head to look at him. His tone of voice was lighter as he continued, "That's when I decided to go to school. It turned out to be the right thing for me to do just then. It was a life I'd never known before and it was a good place for me to make the transition from the military to civilian life. I could take things at my own pace. I had the discipline to attend class and study that I wouldn't have had at seventeen. I was kind of out of place, being so much older than most of the other students, but it didn't seem to matter much. I had some trouble sleeping, a few nightmares. The weirdest stuff was the flashbacks. Something normal would happen and I'd be right back there, feeling the same fear, hearing the same stuff, even smelling the same smells, then gone again in an instant. I thought I was losing it. I took a couple of psych courses to try and figure out what was going on with me. I talked with the campus shrink a little bit. My, oh my, but she had the cutest little dimples above each cheek of the prettiest little behind you'd ever want to..." Buck caught the look on JD's face and moved on. "Eventually, the memories just found a place to live in my head without running me. I just sort of crowded them to the back of my mind by living my life again."

Buck looked at JD, his expression questioning, "Does that help any, kid?"

JD sat staring at Buck. He'd had no idea Buck had done so much and so young. JD knew Buck had graduated from the police academy before he was thirty and this was all before then. It was not just how much, but *what* Buck had done; JD's walking patrol and checkpoint duty sounded pretty lame by comparison.

"Did I answer your question?" asked Buck with a shrug.

"I think what you're telling me is to take things day by day. Life is going to hand me what I need when I need it. I just have to take whatever comes and make the best of it and somehow I'll find a way to fit back into my life."

Buck looked at him blankly for a moment. "I said all that?"

JD offered a semblance of a smile. "Well, you took the long way around, but, yeah, pretty much."

That night JD lay in bed looking up at the ceiling, thinking. Initially, he had felt better after realizing what the nightmares were about. It had been easier to talk to Buck at supper than it had been at any time since he'd gotten home but... What was the "but"? He didn't really feel a whole lot better. Buck related how it took him years to acclimatize to being out of the military and learn how to deal with his baggage from his time as a SEAL. Was this, this "coming home" going to take him years? Was he going to feel like a foreigner in his own life for that long? The thought made him sad, so sad he felt like bawling like a baby. He sniffed, here he was, a grown man and the thing he wanted most right now was the comfort of his mother's arms. He turned onto his side and fell asleep and rather than dreaming of destruction and broken bodies he dreamed of the dark haired, dark eyed welsh lass he called 'cariad'.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Monday morning started like the all rest. Only JD strode right on by the corner store without stopping. After showering and dressing, he sat down at his computer to check his e-mail.

There were usual jokes from Buck; he replied with his usual warning about viruses; there was an update from Ed Bertrand; a reminder, from Nathan, of a visit to the specialist tomorrow; and e-mail from Lennie, Tank and TJ, nothing yet from Sarge.

Lennie told him that he now had Sergeant's stripes and wondered how long it would be before he would lose them. Tank complained about their newbies being 'even dumber than you and Randy'. TJ mentioned his girl had accepted his marriage proposal and that they were getting married as soon as this tour ended. It had JD thinking about the fact that his tour was simply an interruption to his life as he saw it. For Lennie, Tank and TJ, as career soldiers, their time in Iraq was part of their lives.

Finally, an e-mail from Randy! He was at Walter Reed. He'd been there for nearly four weeks, ever since he'd been shipped home...

"...Barb and the girls were already here when I arrived. They visit everyday, staying with me while I work out. The physio is tough but I'm going to need a lot of core strength if I'm going to walk on a prosthetic leg. Barb is 36 weeks pregnant now. She looks great. She says this pregnancy has been a lot different from the others so she's pretty sure the baby is a boy. The doctors tell me it's not likely I'll be ready to go home before the baby is born. That sure pissed me off, I was there when all three girls were born, but I'll find a way to be there for this baby too, if nothing else, it'll give me something to look forward to. They have to go home in a day or two. Everyone in Tweed helped pay for them to stay but the money is running out now. I'm sure going to miss them; they're a little bit of heaven in this aftermath of hell.

Say hello to all those guys from work and give your girl a kiss for me.

Keep in touch,


JD re-read the e-mail. Randy sounded good. He sounded like he had a plan for getting well and getting back home to his family and his life. Maybe that's what he needed, a plan of some kind; a way of measuring his progress.

JD typed out quick replies to everyone.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

"I think the worst might be over," summarized Buck as he looked from Josiah beside him to Chris who was seated behind his desk.

"I hope you're right, Buck," replied Josiah solemnly. "It's one hellish experience to kill a man in hand-to-hand combat and then be stuck under his body for who knows how long."

Both men turned to look at the boss. Chris had listened quietly as Buck had recounted the events of Saturday night. He sat sideways at his desk, elbow on the desktop, eyes closed, index and thumb pinching the bridge of his nose as he listened.

"Chris?" asked Buck.

Chris dropped his hand and rotated his chair to face them full on. "It sounds like he may have dealt with his demons," his words were measured, Buck wasn't going to like what he said next, "but right now we have no way of verifying what he said."

"If you had been there...," spluttered Buck as he jumped to JD's defense. "His trauma was real. He was curled up in a ball on the floor in shock!"

"I don't doubt for a second his trauma is real but you know as well as I do, Buck, under conditions of extreme stress what you think happened and what really happened differs to a greater or lesser degree. Is that all that he's been hiding from? What if there's more? I need to be sure. I don't want something to surface during a bust a year from now, five years, ten years from now and we end up losing a man because of it. It's not just JD's welfare that's on the line here. When he comes back to active duty, I need to know we can depend on him."

Chris met Buck's hard expression with one of his own.

"Josiah, any word yet as to when we can expect those reports?" Chris's impatience was evident in his tone of voice.

"None yet, the last time I spoke to Tom he said he would put JD on his short list, which is about two hundred patients long right now. It's going to take a while."

"Not good enough," snapped Chris. "It's been a month, make it happen and make it happen now!"

Chris didn't wait for an answer, turning immediately to Buck, "Anything else I should know about?"

"JD's got a couple of bills from the specialist. He's expensive. It's going to put a big hole in JD's savings. He's not eligible for compensation from the ATF benefits at the moment. I'll help him out but..."

"...another reason to formalize the referral ASAP."

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD sat bolt up right in his bed. Heart racing, he searched the room with his eyes; he reassured himself that he was at home in his room in own bed. "Oh, God," he thought as he dropped his head into trembling hands. He was breathing hard and sweating. "The nightmare again," he thought to himself. He'd figured that once it was out in the open, the nightmare would go away. "I guess I need a little more time," he decided as he pulled himself to the edge of the bed. He sat for a few minutes with his feet on the floor waiting for his breathing to return to normal. Rising, he stepped on the opposite cuffs of his pajama bottoms until they were off and then slowly eased his undershirt off, taking care not to over tax his healing shoulder and side. He donned a fresh t-shirt and pair of pajama bottoms and returned to bed.

"Why won't this damn nightmare go away?"

He had thought he was making progress. It had been a good day. The appointment with the specialist had gone well. The doctor had said no more bandages, no more sling, It was time to work his healing muscles and tendons back into shape. The doctor had given him a prescription for physiotherapy. It felt like he was finally making progress both physically and mentally.

"Now what do I do?" he asked himself. He knew he wasn't going to get back to sleep, at least not tonight. This wasn't the first time he'd had a repeat of the nightmare since his revelation to Buck. The first time it came back, he thought maybe it just needed time to fade away, but instead of diminishing over time, it was getting worse. More vivid, each time he woke up feeling more terrified than the last. What was he going to do now?

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

He pounded out each step on his walk today. His anxiety level was through the roof.

He'd followed his usual routine, except that he was up before Buck this morning. He hadn't been able to get back to sleep. He hadn't expected that he would. Buck had commented on the circles under his eyes. The comment had been a teasing one but the look in Buck's eyes was anything but.

JD thought about his situation during his walk: the return of the nightmares, his inability to sleep, the worried expression in Buck's eyes. He slowed his pace and came to a stop outside the convenience store. He knew a solution lay inside.

No, he had to do what Lennie said most vets do. What Buck and the others had managed to do. He had to put the experience away someplace in his mind so he could get on with his life. He couldn't do that if he was impaired; besides, if they could do it, then he could do it. He turned and strode down the sidewalk toward home.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

"What do you see, Mr. Dunne?"

"Give me a minute, Ezra," JD replied without looking up, "I just got the dash opened."

"I must thank you for taking the time to assess the problem with my sound system. Those buffoons at the dealership claim there is nothing wrong."

"No problem. Can you move the light a little to the left?"

He lay in the passenger front seat of Ezra's jag with his head under Ezra's dashboard and his stocking feet in the air. Ezra was squatted and leaning in through the passenger door.

"Certainly," replied Ezra, complying with the request. "You heard it as clearly as I did, the static is most annoying."

"Turn the radio on."

Ezra moved away, and the harsh light from the halogen lamp went with him, leaving JD to wait upside down in the semi-gloom under the dash. A moment later the radio came on - static free.

"You've managed to repair it," said Ezra clearly pleased.

"I haven't done a thing yet," replied JD. "Bring the light back here."

JD was blinded briefly as Ezra appeared beside him again with the light. JD reached into the dash and taking a wire in hand, he inspected it by eye then felt along it with his fingers. He repeated the action with a second wire.

"What are you looking for?"

"I'm thinking the guys at the dealership probably did what you and I just did and figured the problem fixed itself. You said the static was intermittent so I'm checking all the wires first to make sure there's nothing wrong with them."

"Are you comfortable, JD, by that I mean this inverted position is not putting too much strain on your injuries?"

"I'm good, thanks," said JD. He glanced over at Ezra, "and thanks for asking me to help with this, I've been feeling pretty useless. It feels good to be able to help someone with something. I know if you pushed the issue with the dealership, they would replace the whole sound system for you."

Ezra smiled, "My pleasure, but the truth is I value your opinion and I thought this would be an opportunity to... ahhh, bond, as it were."

JD sent Ezra another quick glance before moving onto another wire. "...Or are you checking up on me Ezra? Who are you going to report back to?"

Ezra chuckled, "Yes, I am checking up on you but for myself and no one else. I like to confirm things for myself. Thoroughness to detail has kept me alive so far. Mr. Bertrand is a competent Comm Tech, far superior to his predecessors, but let's just say I have become accustomed to your voice in my earpiece."

"I think I've got something here,' said JD distractedly. He reached further into the open panel. "Yup," he pulled gently. After a split second of resistance, he withdrew his hand slowly, holding the end of a length of wire.

He held it out for Ezra to see.

"What are we looking at?" asked Ezra, peering at the wire critically with knitted eyebrows.

"One of the strands of the wire is shorter than the others. It made contact but just. Every little bump in the road and it probably lost contact, hence the intermittent static."

"It's easily repaired?"

"Very. Can you get the wire strippers?"

Ezra left, leaving JD in the semi-gloom once again. JD could hear Ezra rummaging in his tool box.

"What does this instrument look like?" asked Ezra from somewhere above him.

"They're flat with a blue handle; they work like pliers with a series of holes down the centre with yellow lettering indicating the wire sizes."

Ezra knelt back down beside him, holding the wire strippers up for JD to see. "Are these them?"

"Yup," replied JD taking the wire strippers.

"You said 'confirm things for yourself,' what did you mean?" asked JD as he chose the appropriate hole to use to strip the wire with.

"Pardon me?"

"When I asked if you were checking up on me, you said you 'like to confirm things for yourself,' what did you mean?"

"Oh, well, Mr. Wilmington shared your recent revelation with us the other day."

JD shot Ezra a penetrating stare. "That's nice," said JD sarcastically. "Am I a usual topic of conversation in the office?" JD pulled simultaneously on the wire and the wire strippers, he grimaced with pain.

"I didn't mean to cause you any distress my friend," replied Ezra seeing JD's pained expression.

"It's not that. I haven't got enough strength in my left side to strip this wire."

"Allow me," offered Ezra as he took the strippers back from JD and handed him the light. "We've all been aware of your recent tendency to indulge to excess in alcoholic libation. A common habit adopted by those trying to cope with a traumatic experience." Ezra lifted his hands to show JD how he had the wire strippers set on the wire. "Is this correct?"

"Looks good, now squeeze gently so you pierce only the plastic coating around the wire but not the strands of wire underneath," instructed JD.

"Like so?"

"Perfect. Now give it a quick half twist in both directions; then pull," ordered JD.

The plastic coating slid easily off the wire.

"It wasn't that big a deal Ezra, Buck blows everything out of proportion." JD took the wire from Ezra and examined it critically. "Nice work," JD complimented.

"Thank you," replied Ezra. "I like to think that, if necessary, I can hold my own when it comes to manual tasks."

JD smiled to himself; he could swear Ezra was actually beaming with pride. "Okay, one last thing to do; re-connect this wire."

"With reference to your drinking being 'no big deal', I think Miss Welles might disagree with you." Ezra's tone was light; the expression in his eyes was not.

"That was an accident," said JD hotly. He was pissed now. Did he have no secrets from the others? Annoyed and distracted, JD gave no thought to his physical limitations as he reached suddenly up under the dash with both arms.

"Aghhh!" He pulled back suddenly, cradling his left arm to his side. "Oh, god!" he whimpered.

"JD!" called Ezra.

Ezra's tone became more urgent when he saw the white faced grimace. "JD!"

"Let's get you out from under here and sitting up correctly," ordered Ezra. "Here, my friend, let me hold you, good, now drop your legs over the opposite seat," instructed Ezra after he had cradled JD under the shoulders, supporting JD's weight while kneeling on the ground outside the car. Ezra lifted and gently turned the younger man around while rising to his own feet until JD was sitting upright in the passenger seat. Even racked with pain as he was at the moment, JD was impressed with how physically strong Ezra was. Dressed in his tailored suits Ezra physical build might be described as slight but he had supported most of JD's weight while leaning forward into the car, with apparently little effort.

JD closed his eyes and dropped his head back against the seat back as he fought off a wave of pain induced nausea. "Sorry, Ez."

"If there are apologies to be made, they are mine, this was obviously too taxing a job," said Ezra ruefully as he watched for signs of color to return to the white face, "and I fear that I have upset you."

"It's no big deal," said JD, panting now to deal with the pain until it subsided. "I forgot about my side for a second and I stretched too quickly. I guess it was letting me know I can't do that yet."

JD opened his eyes to see Ezra's worried expression. "Will you be alright for a moment? I'm going to get you a drink of water."

JD nodded and Ezra was gone. JD leaned his head back against the seat and closed his eyes. 'The comment about Casey was dirty pool,' thought JD. 'It was the nightmare; not the drinking that was responsible for that. How dare Ezra, or any of them for that matter, judge him? Sure as hell, none one of them was perfect. Chris and Josiah's drinking binges were the stuff of legend.' He wished he hadn't run out of pain meds, Dr. Chong hadn't prescribed any replacements. He wished he could get a good night's sleep. The whisky had provided that much for him. It had been more than a week since he'd had a solid night's rest. Huddled there in the front seat of the car, cradling his injured arm and side, he felt so tired.

"JD," JD opened his eyes to see Ezra's anxious expression. "Here is the water," said Ezra holding a tumbler of water up for him to see. "I have some extra-strength analgesic if you think it is warranted."

"Thanks, Ezra," replied JD before taking the white caplets from Ezra's open hand and then swallowing them with water from what JD suspected was a crystal glass tumbler.

"Ez, you really have to get yourself some plastic dishes," JD scolded weakly handing back the tumbler.

"Unlikely, Mr. Dunne," replied Ezra casting JD a deprecating look before putting the glass into the cup holder and then leaning under the dash and snapping the cover in place. Gathering the tools, Ezra reappeared upright beside JD.

"I could finish that, it'll just take a minute," said JD.

"Thank you," replied Ezra, "but the repair will wait." Ezra returned the tools to the tool box and locked it before sliding into the driver's seat again.

A long minute passed and JD was aware that Ezra was watching him. Ezra then turned his head to stare out of the windshield. "JD." there was pensive quality to Ezra's voice that made JD look at him. "I am not unqualified to comment on the event with Miss Wells." Ezra glanced his way and must have seen the puzzlement on his face. "That is to say, I speak from experience. I developed a habit in my youth, one that I have resorted to on occasion in the past to cope with the stresses in my life. I thought in my youthful arrogance, I could handle it but, as is always the case, my habit handled me.

"Ezra, what are you talking about?" said JD.

Ezra looked his way again. He frowned briefly before answering. "It was... is... an illegal habit, involving the personal use of illicit substances." The words were spoken slowly and deliberately.

Suddenly, the light went on for JD; he couldn't help but stare wide eyed at Ezra.

Ezra, seeing his expression, looked down and then out the window again before continuing. "I re-adopted the habit, albeit briefly, after the affair at Waco. I was dismissed from the FBI in disgrace because of it and I hurt not only myself but someone else at the time. A fine woman, a fellow agent..."

Ezra continued to stare out of the window, while JD looked down and shook his head in disbelief. 'Ezra had a drug problem? Had the world gone nuts?'

JD looked up again and found Ezra watching him. "I urge you, my young friend, conquer this habit. Do what you must before you lose everything of value to you. Get help, I offer you my services if you wish; if not, please, please get help from another source before it's too late."

The anguish in the normally disguised eyes was too much for JD. "I, I, I will Ezra," he stuttered, "Thanks for the offer."

They sat in awkward silence for a while. Question after question ran through JD's mind as he wondered about what Ezra had just admitted to him. 'Did Chris know? How had he gotten hooked in the first place? Was he clean now? He must be... Chris wouldn't have it any other way. Jesus!' he still couldn't believe it.

"Are you feeling better?" Ezra asked lightly, suddenly interrupting his train of thought.

"Yeah, ahh, yes, thanks. I think I would like to go home now, if that's okay."

"Of course," came the reply, Ezra reached over and secured JD's seat belt for him then turned the key in the ignition.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

His arm ached like hell. The ache stretched up over his shoulder, down his side and across his chest. He was getting tired of being injured; he just wanted to be back to normal again physically. Yesterday, he had ramped up his physio routine on his own out of frustration with the slow rate of his recovery. It had hurt so much at the time that he'd thrown up his breakfast. The therapist had given him hell for overdoing it and then Nathan and Buck had torn a strip off him after the therapist had told them what he'd done when they had come to pick him up. He had talked to Casey on the phone last night. Nettie still hadn't relented about him seeing her but she was softening. Casey was ready to move out. She was a grown woman, she didn't need this crap from Nettie, she had said. JD had talked her out of it. Nettie was her only family. He wasn't going to be responsible for breaking them up, but he wanted to see Casey so badly, just to have a sympathetic ear. He wanted to hold her, just to have something nice happen in a shitty day. He imagined making love to her hoping to replace one ache with another more pleasant one. Between the pain and wanting to see Casey, he hadn't slept well again and when he did sleep that same nightmare shown up. 'Yee-up, yesterday had been just a freaking banner day all around,' he thought sarcastically.

He stood outside the convenience store now and stared at the lit up "LIQUOR" sign. Ezra's words came back to haunt him. He turned and started walking away. He stopped. His was a different problem he rationalized. It wasn't an addiction it was a sleep aid. He just had to moderate how much he drank, just enough to fall sleep; enough to stay asleep. He wouldn't take the new pain killers if he had a drink. They only helped with pain, they didn't help him sleep. Moderate use of alcohol helped with both problems. Simple, he told himself, but he'd have to be more careful where he hid the stuff. No more Buck finding it 'accidentally' while collecting the weekly trash. Hell, he could certainly fool Buck.

He turned around and entered the store.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

"Tom! What time is it?" asked Josiah as he stared bleary eyed at his bedside clock.

"Nearly midnight here," was the reply over the phone. "Have you got a few minutes?"

"Just a second," Josiah glanced quickly at the slumbering Vivyenne before throwing the covers aside. He slipped into his robe, retrieved the cordless phone and then made his way to the bedroom he used as an office.

"Tom, how are things?" greeted Josiah as he settled into the desk chair.

"Hectic," replied the military psychiatrist on the other end of the phone, "It's late, but I figured it was the best time to catch you at home."

Typical of Tom Reed, Josiah thought to himself, no apology for a 1:15 a.m. telephone call, his own reasons were the only ones that counted. "That's alright, what have you got?"

"A few questions first."

"Go ahead."

"John Dunne, the profile you sent me, his academic record, it's all accurate?"

"As far as I know; is there a problem?"

"His military record was lacking a few of the details. It's true then, he's a University grad at 19, masters at 20, turned down a scholarship to MIT to care for a terminally ill mother?"

"Yeah, pretty much."

"He's one of this country's leading computer fraud and hacking experts? He could lecture at MIT now if he chose to?"

"I don't know where his computer talents rank but he's the best the ATF has." Josiah realized Tom was on a fishing trip here but there was little he could do about it. Tom was their only contact in the military to get what they needed to help JD.

"He's not used to failure, is he?"

"No, I guess not," Josiah frowned. "What's that got to do with...?"

"John Dunne ever screw up on the job?"

"Nothing serious, just rookie stuff; what are you driving at, Tom?"

"How did he take it when he screwed up?"

"Pretty tough the first time but he's dealt with making mistakes better since then."

"He's made a lot of mistakes then?"

"Well, no. I don't remember anything that was his fault since the first..."

"He's been recommended for a bronze star medal by the lieutenant of his unit."

"Bronze Star?" Now that was unexpected thought Josiah to himself. "Why hasn't he received it?"

"Up until day before yesterday, John Dunne was listed as AWOL."

"What?" Josiah failed to keep his surprise out of his voice.

"You didn't know anything about that either?"

"He's got transfer orders, Tom, I'm sure of it." Josiah's concern crept into his voice; going AWOL was a serious matter.

"I'd like a faxed copy of those orders."

"Consider it done."

"In the meantime, I'll have him officially transferred to my patient list, back-dating it to the day before he was listed as AWOL, hopefully that'll satisfy the brass."

"Thanks Tom," said Josiah leaned on his elbows on his desk. "Tom, what aren't you telling me?"

"You and I both know sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you work, sometimes things get fucked up."


"I have the mission reports here... a couple of things went seriously wrong. If he's not used to screwing up, then I suspect your John Dunne is a very troubled young man." Josiah felt a cold chill run down his back. "I'm going to send you official copies of these reports and his medical assessment from Landstuhl. A copy of the bronze star recommendation is in there, too."

"Tom, don't leave me hanging like this."

"Privacy is an issue here so I'll have copies couriered out in the morning. I want you to review them and get back to me with your thoughts. Okay?"

"What about...?"

A click and Josiah suddenly found himself listening to a dial tone.

Josiah looked at the phone, 'Damn him,' he thought turning the phone off before setting it down on his desk.

He sat back in his chair and stewed for a moment. W. Thomas Reed, the man would never change; everything had to be his way and on his terms; he always had to be the one who wrote the rules. It was probably why the man was only a Lieutenant Colonel instead of a General. It was also why Josiah was still alive today but then, Josiah was probably the reason Dr. Tom Reed was where he was today. They had served together in Viet Nam, and they had brought home the same baggage, what was now recognized as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Many nights, they had held each other while screaming from nightmares and flashbacks and later on from the d.t.'s due to too much booze consumed to beat back Viet Nam's demons.

When they had reached their personal edge, it was either death or do something about it. They decided to do something about it. Josiah's father had helped by allotting them free space in the basement of his church in San Francisco to hold meetings and later therapy groups for other returning vets suffering from PTSS.

Self taught self help was the order of the day. The military refused to formally acknowledge that there was a problem. They read everything they could get their hands on. Tom convinced various psychiatrists and psychologists, knowledgeable on the subject, to come in and speak to groups of vets; Josiah had convinced them to do it for free. Initially the groups that attended were the hard cases. Living on the streets or in flop houses, living hand to mouth, they were the ones without families or the ones that had pushed their families so far away, they couldn't help them. Later on, word spread and those with families and other resources started to come, too. They moved out of the church and into their own building. The Centre as they called it was a twenty-four hour facility staffed by their own. Group therapy where total honesty was the only rule, facing the cold hard facts of what they had seen, what they had experienced and in some cases what they had done.

Josiah, himself, had led a number of these groups; the laying bare of a man's most horrifying fears was not easy to do. The emotional toll was high for everyone in the group but it was a necessary first step on the road to living again. Their efforts weren't always successful, instead of finding their way back from hell, a couple of their subjects found their way into one of San Francisco's graveyards. There were many times Josiah was tempted to find solace in a bottle again.

Tom went back to school eventually becoming a psychiatrist. Josiah had thought him crazy to re-enlist. The Army had never been any help to them. In fact, the Army had denied much of what they advocated. Tom reasoned that getting to a soldier sooner meant a greater chance of success. Josiah had continued to run The Centre, working hard to survive on a shoe string budget to keep the place going, while, with Tom's help, training others as counselors and to lead the therapy groups.

Josiah's life changed dramatically when his father died and he was left as Hannah's only support. He tried to stay involved but Hannah's care became all consuming and within a year he had to leave The Centre behind him.

'What the hell did Tom mean? JD wasn't used to fucking up? The young man worked hard to prevent screw ups. In their business it might mean someone's life if he did, if any of them did for that matter. He sure as hell would never go AWOL; he just wouldn't and that stuff about a Bronze star and then JD being a troubled young man? Damn it to hell, Tom, what was going on?'

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Across town in the living room of the CDC, Buck sat in the dark starring at a bottle of Jim Beam. Less than an inch of liquor remained in the bottom.

He'd arrived home late from work, new information on the latest case had come to light at the end of the day and he, Josiah and Chris had stayed to discuss various options as to how to proceed given the new intelligence. The next thing he knew it was after eight. A call home had gone unanswered. Nettie had finally given permission for JD to see Casey on a limited basis again. That meant Casey was to be home by 10:00 and definitely no staying over. Buck figured they were out together. Buck had stopped to pick up takeout on the way home.

The tell-tale sneakers in the middle of the front hall meant JD was home. The condition of the kitchen told Buck that something was wrong.

He found JD in his room sleeping if off. The nearly empty bottle of bourbon whiskey lay on the floor beside his bed. It was a new bottle. JD had to have bought it. Buck had done a thorough search after the last time. He knew where to look. He had thrown everything out and hadn't brought even a single beer into the house since.

That old dark fear had returned. He'd sat starring at the offending bottle for the past four hours. His thoughts pin-balling back and forth: he thought they had dealt with the problem; everything took time he reminded himself; JD was supposed to confide in one of them; maybe JD couldn't confide in Buck and didn't want to hurt Buck's feelings by talking to one of the others? That thought had stung. 'Why, why were we in this place again?' Buck asked himself. 'Don't panic,' he told himself, 'maybe this is only one time? Maybe this is something else? Maybe this is something worse?' That thought frightened him. 'Maybe, like he had with Chris, he'd have to turn his back on JD and walk away at some point.' That thought caused him to physically shiver in the warm August night. "NEVER!" he vowed angrily, the bottle jumped as he slammed his fist on the table, "Not JD, not my kid, I'll never turn my back on him!'

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD lifted his head out of his hands again. He tried valiantly to focus on the computer screen in front of him and past the headache that threatened to blow the top of his head off. Oh God, why did he do that again? Sure he'd slept through the nightmares but he'd gone too far and had woken up, no, correction, been awakened by Buck to one living hell of a headache. The two extra-strength Tylenol and the gallon of Gatorade he'd downed had done nothing to dull its wrath.

Fuck, Buck, anyway! Why hadn't he let him sleep? Then! Then the man says we'll talk about why he'd gotten drunk again tonight! Buck sounded like he thought he was Chris or his father or something. He wanted to keep the nightmares away and sleep one whole night through for a change. That was all. Now Buck was going to make a big deal out of it! JD pressed the heel of his hand against his forehead miserably, heavy machinery pounded away inside his skull. Even he didn't know why he'd kept on drinking until he'd passed out and he sure as hell didn't want to conduct a post-mortem as to the reason why.

Buck left and he decided he was too sick for his morning walk. He gamely ate some breakfast only to have it come up again. A shower and a shave and now at least he looked semi-human. Nathan would be here in less than an hour to take him to physio. He dreaded Nathan's cross examination as to how he came to be in this condition and the subsequent scolding that would follow. Nathan could be such a pain with his constant nagging as to diet and fitness. Fuck him too!

Bringing his hand back to the keyboard, he typed away. There had been news updates from Lennie, TJ and Tank, things were as tough as ever. There was still nothing from Sarge and an e-mail from Randy. Randy was flying high, he was a father again. What's more, he had been present at the birth. His father and uncle had driven to Walter Reed to pick him up and then driven straight back to North Dakota. His wife's obstetrician had induced her and they had a new son, just as predicted. Brian Allan Randall the fourth, eight pounds, three ounces. Despite his present condition, JD couldn't help but feel happy for Randy.

The next moment, JD couldn't help the tears that sprang to his eyes. They weren't tears of happiness for Randy though, they were tears for himself. He really didn't know what was going on. He thought maybe Randy might know. Randy had been there too, maybe he was having the same troubles. JD was going to tell him what was going on in his e-mail, but Randy sounded so happy. JD couldn't dump his troubles on him at a time like this. He typed a congratulatory message, asked for pictures as soon as possible, told Randy to give Barbara a kiss for him.

After he hit the send button, JD just sat there a while; he felt so alone. He couldn't confide in his friends because he didn't know what was wrong. He'd already dealt with killing those men. It was over, wasn't it? It was just dumb dreams and trouble sleeping. Lennie and the guys had their hands full with the newbies right now. Besides he was safe at home, they didn't need his troubles added to their own. He couldn't burden Randy right now. Randy was on a high with his new son. It would be pretty damn selfish of him.

A message appeared on his screen. It was from Casey, a reminder that her Convocation was Thursday afternoon. Nettie had invited him to attend the ceremony the other night. Buck and Vin were coming as well as Tangee, and Chloe, a couple of her girlfriends, who could make it despite it being a work day. There was a party planned back at Nettie's in the evening when most of Casey's other friends would join them as well.

JD put both hands to his aching temples. He didn't know why Casey's e-mail annoyed the shit of him right now, but it did. Nettie! How kind of her to condescend to allow him to attend his girlfriend's convocation. It was his right, Damn it!

He knew he shouldn't be so upset about her reminder but it just royally pissed him off! He shut down his e-mail without replying. Then turned his computer off and went in search of more Tylenol.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

"Buck, why didn't you tell us JD was drinking again?" Nathan was pissed. He'd arrived back from JD's physiotherapy appointment and strode straight through the office door to accost Buck at his own desk.

Buck sat back and looked up at Nathan. He was glad it was lunch hour and they were the only two in the office at the moment, "...because I was handling it."

"Sure you are," replied Nathan sarcastically. "He was so hung over this morning he couldn't even do half the reps he was doing two weeks ago. We can forget about him making progress if he's not going to eat and sleep properly."

Buck shot to his feet. "What do you want me to do, Nathan?" asked Buck with angry frustration. "He's over 21, he can legally buy booze. How's about I baby-sit him twenty-four seven to make sure he's not drinking. How well do you think that would work, huh? No, you think maybe that might not work?" Buck continued. "Well, how about some ideas from you on how we can keep him from drinking? Come on, Nate, let's hear 'em?" Buck picked up his pen and whipped across the office, it crashed noisily against the side of Josiah's desk.

Nathan stood quietly for a second looking at Buck before walking over and picking up the pen. He looked back at Buck, his own annoyance had disappeared. "Buck... I, I didn't mean, that is, I wasn't angry at you so much as the situation, I'm sorry if I came across as blaming you."

Buck stood with his hands on his hips and sighed heavily. "Nate, I'm sorry too. It's just..., it's just that I couldn't help Chris and I'm no better at helping JD."

"Maybe I was jumping the gun here, maybe things aren't as bad as they seemed today?" Nathan suggested hopefully.

"You weren't, things are as bad as they look."

"Maybe JD just has to reach a point where he's got to decided to quit. In the end why did Chris quit drinking?"

"I don't know," said Buck shaking his head. "I couldn't take it anymore I had to get out. Two years later Chris called me and asked me to join this team. We've never talked about what happened after I left."

Nathan walked over and placed the pen carefully on Buck's desk before looking him straight in the eye. "Buck, if you need a break, just say the word, we're all in this together but don't ever feel that you have to leave JD. I'm not sure that either of you would ever survive that."

Buck looked back at him. Nathan was surprised to see Buck's eyes shining with tears. He said nothing, only nodded and dropped back into this chair. Turning away, Buck leaned over his desk and went back to work.

Nathan returned to his own desk. He stared at the same report all afternoon while his thoughts were with the man across the room and his partner.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The refrain from Pomp and Circumstance reverberated off the walls of Convocation Hall. Still, Casey Wells did not return to her place in line. Her last name began with W; she had a few more seconds to find JD in the seated assembly. She had found Aunt Nettie, Tangee, Chloe and Vin easily among those seated in the balcony but she had yet to find JD. Buck was nowhere to be found, either. She fingered the diamond pendent that hung around her neck worriedly. She had worn it and the matching earrings that she had worn to the formal, the same ones JD had given her last Christmas just before he'd left for Iraq. They were just late she told herself, JD said he would be here, he wouldn't forget.

"Miss Wells, time to take your place in the procession," prodded the processional director firmly. One last glance up into the crowd, Casey sighed and moved towards the back of the line to the W's as those with last names that began with A proceeded forward.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Buck was angry.

When he left home this morning, JD was headed out on his walk. He reminded the younger man that he would be home by 1 p.m. to drive him to Casey's convocation. JD seemed fine then, calling him "Mom" as he turned to walk down the street as Buck pulled out of the driveway. A mid-morning telephone call had gone to messaging; it was enough to cause Buck to be concerned and he left the office at 11:40, earlier than he had originally intended to pick JD up.

Buck arrived home to find JD sitting in his recliner. He had already worked more than half way through a new bottle of whiskey. An argument ensued. Buck, clearly upset with him, asked how he could be so irresponsible as to get hammered on this special occasion for Casey? JD replied that these ceremonies were usually so damn boring; a few drinks could only help him survive it. Angrily, Buck grabbed the bottle, stamped on the raised foot rest of the recliner catapulting JD to his feet. Towering over his friend, Buck ordered him into the shower. Buck's anger must have gotten through to JD despite his inebriation because he made his way to the bathroom with no further argument slurring "tight-ass" just loud enough to be heard.

Buck put a pot of strong coffee on to brew. Then to make sure the kid bathed, he returned to stand outside the bathroom door to verbally encourage and harass JD all the way through the shower. Once JD disappeared into his room to dress, Buck made a quick lunch to go and poured the coffee into a thermos. Twenty minutes later, still no JD. Buck climbed the stairs, knocked on the door. He was met with silence. Opening the door, he found JD fast asleep on the bed in just his towel. Buck's annoyance got the better of him as he bellowed "GET UP". Grabbing a corner of the towel, he yanked, rolling the surprised younger man across the bed and dumping him on the floor. JD sat naked and confused on the floor for a second before Buck bent over, grabbed him under his good arm and pulled him unceremoniously to his feet. "Fuck off," slurred JD as he pulled his arm out Buck's grasp before collapsing back on to the bed. It was then that Buck realized JD was in no shape to go to Casey's graduation and despite Buck's best efforts JD wouldn't be in shape to go any time soon.

Feeling as if he'd failed Casey, Buck left.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The speeches from the Dean of the faculty and the Chancellor of the university were short. Normally Casey would have been pleased but now the diplomas were being handed out. The process was going much faster than she expected it would. The processional director signaled the first graduate move forward to receive his diploma. That was when Casey saw Buck. He was seated near the back of the hall in the uppermost balcony row, but JD wasn't with him. He hadn't made it. He was probably drunk she concluded sadly. Buck flashed her, his patented megawatt smile. She replied with a small smile of her own.

The processional assistants were keeping things moving as the graduates were herded quickly on and off the stage. Emily Tyler's name was announced and she was climbing the stairs up onto the stage when Casey looked up and spied JD. He was standing in the aisle of the gallery up above where Aunt Nettie, Vin and her friends were seated. JD hadn't yet looked her way. In fact, he didn't seem to be looking for her at all. He seemed unsteady on his feet as he stepped back and turned half way around, looking down the aisle way. JD suddenly bent over. Those seated in front of him began to stir, sour looks appearing on their faces as they turned to look up behind them. Murmurs of discontent reached Casey just as her name was announced.

Casey smiled and climbed the stairs even though she was still preoccupied with what was going on up in the gallery. She made her way across the stage, more and more of the spectator's attentions were drawn to the back of the gallery as Casey could hear first Buck's then JD's voices though she couldn't make out the words. She stopped in front of the Chancellor and bowed slightly. The Dean stood beside the Chancellor and smiled proudly at Casey as he draped the hood around her shoulders. Then he prompted the Chancellor with her name. The Chancellor, a matronly looking lady of about sixty, smiled, "Rise Batchelor of Commerce" and handed Casey her diploma as she shook Casey's hand. Casey smiled back, thanked her and moved the tassel on her mortar board so it now hung off the right hand side. Suddenly everyone's attention in Convocation Hall was drawn to the duo in the balcony. Casey recognized JD's voice as it echoed through the hall built for maximum acoustics, "Get your fucking hands of me."

Casey looked up to see ushers moving toward Buck and JD. Vin had joined them now. They had JD between them and were moving quickly toward the stairs. Casey, her face turning red with embarrassment, made her way across the stage listening as the three men made their way noisily down the stairs. "Hey, where are we going?" yelled JD. "I want to see Casey graduate," was the last thing everyone heard as the big wooden doors shut behind the trio. Casey slipped into her seat and tried to become very small as she stared at the floor in front of her for the rest of the ceremony.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

"I never want to see you again!" The words were spoken quietly; dripping into the air around them like acid onto metal. No one doubted Casey's sincerity as tears traveled down her cheeks. She was nowhere near crying; these were tears of rage. She stood with her hands in fists at her sides, her body shaking with anger and embarrassment.

"Casseee, give me a bre..."

"NO! Don't you understand what you've done? You threw up right in the middle of my graduation!" Her arm shot out from her side as she gestured toward the group watching them from the far side of the parking lot. "You embarrassed yourself, me, Aunt Nettie, Buck, Vin, my friends!"

JD just looked her, belched and then farted as he swayed on his feet.

"You don't even care!" she said accusingly. "I can't do this any more." She reached around behind her neck and took the diamond necklace and then the matching earrings off. "Here!" She reached out and when he didn't react, took his hand and dropped the items into it.

"I don't want to see you again; do you understand me? Not unless you get yourself cleaned up."

She turned and strode away from him, toward the others. He watched as Nettie and her friends hugged her. Then she turned and said something to Buck and Vin. They nodded sadly in reply and then each gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. She then turned and linked arms with Nettie and the four women walked off toward Theology Hall, presumable to take pictures because that was where the best gardens on campus were.

He swayed gently on his feet, as he stared at the jewelry in his hand. He tucked it absently into his pants pocket and then looked up to see Buck and Vin walking toward him.

"What do you have to say for yourself?" asked Buck as they approached.

"It wazzn't that big a deal," slurred JD. "Shez juss being a bitch," he reached around to his hip pocket, "after I took a cab to get here for her." A flask appeared in his hand and he lifted it high draining it.

Buck and Vin exchanged glances.

"I sure got to hand it to you, JD," said Vin sarcastically. "You don't do anything halfway. When you screw up, you screw up real good."

JD suddenly launched himself at Vin swinging fists wildly. Impaired by the alcohol JD's movements were cumbersome and awkward. Vin had no trouble ducking the fists while keeping his feet and backing away out of range.

"Take it back you bassstard, take it back!" JD railed at him as he tried to connect with his fists.

Buck grabbed him by the collar, dragged him away from Vin and shook him hard. "That's enough! You've disgraced yourself and us plenty for one day." Buck threw him against the truck none too lightly. "Get in the truck," he ordered savagely.

"Fuck you, Vin" swore JD as he eyed Vin angrily.

"I told you to get in the truck!" ordered Buck taking a menacing step toward JD.

JD paused and threw another angry glare at Vin before turning, walking around the truck, getting in and slamming the door.

"That was mighty interesting," said Vin.

Buck paused for a moment before replying, "It was, wasn't it?"

"You have to tell Chris," said Vin

"I know."

There was something in Buck's expression that had Vin wondering if Buck would report this to Chris. "If you don't, I will," said Vin insistently.

"I'll tell him!" The words were spat out angrily. Buck's shoulders dropped suddenly; he looked away and sighed. "Sorry Vin, this is's just so much like it was with Chris."

"Shit!" swore Vin softly before putting an apologetic hand on Buck's arm. "Buck, I'm sorry. I forgot that you've been here before."

"It's okay," said Buck turning to face the younger man again. "You're right, Chris has got to know."

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

"... when we got home he went to his room played video games and music at 30,000 decibels until I told him to turn it down. He didn't come to supper and when I checked him around eleven he was asleep."

Buck's gaze moved from face to face after he finished. When Buck came to him this morning Chris had decided a team meeting was necessary.

"It's interesting how Casey breaking up with him seems to be no big deal but Vin suggesting he screwed up big time sent him into a fit of rage," summarized Nathan for them.

"Very interesting," agreed Josiah.

"He wasn't just covering up his distress over losing Miss Welles affections, was he?"

"No, he really couldn't have cared less, Ezra." replied Vin,

"He's been late or missing dates entirely with her for a couple of weeks now," said Buck.

"Where's he getting the booze?" asked Chris.

"The corner market on Delaney, he picks it up when he goes for his walk every morning."

"We are the ATF, we could cite them for violations and suspend their license," suggested Vin.

"They're doing nothing wrong and he's over 21, besides he'd just go somewhere else." replied Chris.

"One of us could stay with him around the clock and keep him from drinking," suggested Nathan.

"True, but it wouldn't fix the problem," said Josiah ruefully. "Is there anything else Buck?"

"He had nightmares again last night and then he was up most of the rest of the night."

"It sounds like our young friend may simply be using the alcoholic libation to help him sleep," observed Ezra.

"Speaking from experience I can say it does help," said Josiah to no one in particular.

"So we still have the same problem; what ever happened over there is eating him up inside." Chris crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his chair. "He hasn't talked to any of you?" he asked as he scanned the faces around the meeting table. He was met with five shakes of the head.


"I'm supposed to get that courier today or tomorrow."

Chris scowled and ran his hand through his hair. "I'd like to keep a twenty-four hour watch on him but we have that Conference with all day Homeland Security tomorrow."

"...with all that's going on, couldn't we skip it?" asked Vin hopefully.

"Afraid not," replied Chris. "They want to update us on recent changes to National Security Measures and Buck's got a Power Point Presentation to give."

"A presentation? On what, may I ask?" queried Ezra.

"The Probability of the Production of a Dirty Nuclear Device in the Continental US," replied Buck.

"It sounds riveting, Mr. Wilmington," commented Ezra dryly.

"It sounds nasty," said Nathan with obvious distaste.

"Why you, Bucklin?" asked Vin.

"It's an updated version of a report I wrote for Domestic Terrorism pre 911."

"Homeland Security expects full attendance," stated Chris firmly.

"Even so couldn't one of us miss it to stay with JD?" asked Nathan.

"I'm doubt Homeland Security would look too kindly on the excuse that one of us had to stay with a sick friend," replied Josiah.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

For the first time in a long time Buck was afraid.

He stood at the bottom of steps outside the home he shared with his brother by choice and he didn't want to go in. He didn't want to find what he was expecting. JD passed out drunk. Buck had hoped that facing the fact JD had had to kill a man would have meant an end to his drinking; instead it was worse than before. He had stopped caring about his physical appearance and personal hygiene. He'd stopped going to physio, and stopped walking except to get another bottle of booze to drown himself in. Even losing Casey seemed to have no effect on him. JD just didn't care any more.

Buck started slowly up the steps, each step a great effort. This was just like it had been with Chris; only then Buck knew why his friend was killing himself. For the first time in a long time, Buck was afraid.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Josiah swore.

When he got home the notice was in his mail box. The courier service had tried to deliver the material from Tom Reed to his home today. Tom was supposed to send it to the office. That man would be contrary to his dying day fumed Josiah. Finding no one home the courier service left a notice in his mail box. Josiah was fighting the clock trying to get to the courier depot before it closed at 6:00 p.m.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

The stench hit him the moment he pushed through the front door. It was so bad it burned the inside of his nose. It was an all too familiar smell for Buck. He made his way to the kitchen stashing the groceries on the counter and before opening the window. Air conditioning be damned he had to get some fresh air into the house.

He opened the windows in the living room before making his way to JD's room. The house was so full of the smell of vomit he couldn't get a bead on where the odor was coming from. To his surprise JD was not there. He found what he was looking for in the bathroom. Buck was overwhelmed, even Chris as his worst had never looked so pathetic.

JD was passed out lying on the bathroom floor. His neck was craned at an awkward angle as his head lay propped up against the side of the bathtub. Dressed only in his shorts, foul smelling, stomach turning vomit was spewed against the back of the toilet, in the toilet and on the floor around it. The foul smelling stomach contents were semi-dry, indicating that this had happened some time ago. Remnants of his being sick had dried on JD's chin, chest and the front of his shorts.

Tears sprang to Buck's eyes. They had nothing to do with the sharp odor in the bathroom. He'd been here before, he wasn't sure he had the strength to do this much longer.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Josiah sprinted for the door of the courier depot. The customer service agent was just locking up.

"Please," he yelled knocking on the glass door hard enough to make it shake. "Please a very important package came for me today but I wasn't home to receive it. I have the notice card right here." He held it up against the glass for the customer service agent to see.

"Come back tomorrow," she yelled at him through the glass.

"It's important, it's to help a friend, I'd like to pick it up tonight," he replied through the glass.

The clerk paused. Josiah was hopeful.

"How do I know you're on the level and not going to rob me or something?" she asked.

"I am federal agent, here's my ID." Josiah pressed his ID and badge up against the glass.

She looked from Josiah's face to the ID photo a couple of times. Finally, she inserted the key into the lock.

Josiah slipped through the door and she locked up right behind him. "Thank you, I really appreciate this."

"I remember the package from Brook Army Medical Centre Mr. Sanchez," she said. "My son was treated there."

She moved around behind the counter and walked straight to the package sitting in one of the dozens of identical slots.

She handed the parcel to him and as he took it from her Josiah couldn't stop the little feeling of hope that flared inside of him. Maybe, just maybe some of the answers as to JD's demons lay in this information.

The agent pushed the electronic register toward him

"How is your son now?" Josiah asked as he signed with the electronic wand.

The clerk smiled sadly, "He suffered a brain injury. The doctors say he'll never be the same as before but," she picked up a framed picture sitting on a shelf below the counter and handed it to Josiah. He could see the love in her eyes as she looked at it briefly before handing to him. "...we pray for the best."

Josiah studied the picture of a dark haired young man in uniform seated casually on a stool for the photographer. He had bright blue eyes and a wide smile. Another young life shattered, he thought sadly, before handing the picture back, "I'll add my prayers to yours."

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

JD screamed. Little razors bit into his skin. He tried to get up but strong hands roughly held him in place. Mercifully, the razors were replaced by a cold rain. He spluttered as water streamed down over his head. His body shook and his teeth chattered. The water gradually became warmer. He wasn't drowning but it was hard to catch a breath as water pelted into this face. He shook his head sending water in every direction, the hands suddenly disappeared and he could hear Buck swear bitterly.

Opening his eyes he discovered he was sitting in the bathtub, he looked up into Buck's face. Buck was angry. 'What did he have to be angry about?' JD thought irritably, 'the bastard had just tried to drown him in a freezing cold shower.'

Buck reached over and shut the shower off. JD opened his mouth to protest his treatment. "Don't talk!" snapped Buck angrily. "I don't care what it is, JD, just keep it to your self!" The words were tight, as if Buck were using great restraint. "Clean yourself up and then clean this bathroom up. Then we'll talk."

"Who the hell did he think he was?' thought JD indignantly but JD had no time to retort. Buck was gone in an instant, slamming the door behind him.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Josiah sat glowering resentfully at the telephone. He hated Tom Reed, he always had, he decided. He hated Reed with every fiber of his being. It was tough enough to do this for a stranger but for a friend...

Josiah had read and re-read the reports: the incident report; the medical report; the recommendation for a citation; and finally Tom's own interpretation of JD's case. Then he had telephoned Tom.

"I can't think of anyone better qualified to help this patient," Tom had said. "I haven't done this in twenty five years," argued Josiah, "and don't tell me it's like riding a bicycle." "It's not nearly as easy as riding a bicycle," Tom had replied, "but the fact is Josiah you were the best. When we couldn't even get most shrinks to buy in to the idea of repressed memories you were pioneering methods to draw them out of men who thought they would rather die than to remember what had happened."

"Tom, he's a friend...," Josiah had retorted lamely. "Tough! I have hundreds of men here and hundreds more coming in every month. I don't have the time for one man right now, not when he has help right on his doorstep." Tom had scolded him unsympathetically.

After the short awkward silence that had followed Tom spoke, almost soothingly. "Josiah you were the best, I've often wished things had been different and you hadn't decided to leave The Centre but life gives you what you need not what you want. I understand why you don't want to do this but this man needs you. I'll let you know when the snafu with his travel orders is cleared up. I'm sorry Josiah," Tom had said in a rare display of regret just before he'd hung up.

While searching JD's room for stashes of liquor Buck had found the transfer orders that had sent JD home to them from Landstuhl. Josiah had faxed a copy the next day. Once they had cleared channels the mix-up would be rectified.

'Fuck, how I hate that man,' thought Josiah as he reached over, punched a speed-dial number and waited for the phone to be picked up at the other end.

"Yeah?" was the sleepy, gravelly-voiced greeting.

"Chris? It's Josiah."

"What's wrong..., shit, Josiah, it's quarter to four!"

"I've got those reports from Brook. We need to talk."

There was a brief pause. "I'll meet you in the office in an hour." Josiah smiled. Chris was fully awake now and probably on his way to the shower.

"An hour," confirmed Josiah.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Buck paced up and down the living room, sat down, drummed his fingers briefly on one knee then stood up and began pacing the room again. Buck was angry, he was worried and he was scared all at once. The drinking was way out of control. He just had no idea how to get JD to deal with it. He was fairly certain it had something to do with Iraq, something else must have happened over there. He stopped pacing and put out his hands to lean against the wall unit that housed their TV, sound system, DVDs, CDs and a few mementos. At least with Chris he had known and understood why.

His eyes wandered to the back of the shelf. A framed picture lay face down. It had been put there to make room for a Christmas decoration. When the decoration had been put away, the picture hadn't been set up again. Buck lifted it up now.

It was a picture of the team. JD had a copy on his bedside table. It was the first camping trip after JD and Ezra had joined the team. Chris still looked angry, his hair was long and hung in eyes but he was on the road to recovery back then. Vin had that wary look in his eyes, as if he were on guard against an attack at any moment. Buck always got the feeling back then that Vin might leave without a moment's notice. Josiah had just completed some sort of retreat, his hair was shaved short and it looked god-awful. Nathan, conversely hadn't shaved his head yet and stood unsmiling for the picture, so different from the family man he was now. The changes in Ezra were more subtle. Ezra looked all puckered up, dressed immaculately in Chino's, a collared shirt and sport coat. Now he truly seemed to be relaxed when they went camping; he even wore jeans and a t-shirt, $200.00 jeans and a t-shirt that felt as soft as silk, but it was a step in the right direction. He recognized that he, himself, had changed. In the picture he had his arm crooked around JD's neck to draw him in closer to himself. They had become close very quickly after JD had moved in. Now the man he saw in the mirror each morning, looked haggard, he needed sleep, the first signs of gray hair had appeared at his temples. He knew it was vanity, as he pulled them out. This kid was aging him before his time. Then there was JD. He looked like the stereotypical kid brother in the picture open, happy, sparkling eyes, a big smile, a far cry from the gaunt, shadowed young man who lived with him now.

"Jesus JD, how do we get you back?" he asked out loud.

"Back from where?"

Buck looked up at the sound of JD's voice. JD stood before him now, he hadn't bothered to shave, the sweat pants he was wearing were dirty but at least the t-shirt, though heavily creased, appeared to be clean.

"No where." replied Buck as he placed the picture gently back to where it belonged. "JD, we need to talk."

"About what?"

Buck ignored the belligerent tone. "You can't go on drinking like this, you need help."

"Buck, my drinking is none of your fucking business," JD was immediately defensive.

"It is when it affects me."

"That's your problem."

"It isn't my problem. I deserve to live in a nice home. I've worked god damn hard to get to where I am now and I don't deserve to come home and have it stinking of dried puke!"

"Then move."

The f-you tone of JD's voice was leaning on Buck's nerves. "No, you don't get it. The title of this place is in my name not yours. If anybody is moving, it's you."

"Are you throwing me out?"

"No, I'm not throwing you out. I want you to clean up your act."

"And if I don't?"

"Then I guess you are leaving," yelled Buck as he glared down at JD.

"Fine, I'm gone then," said JD as he glared defiantly back at Buck

"Shit!" In frustration, Buck raised his fists up in front of his face and then dropped them back at his sides. "JD, I don't want you to leave. I want you to get better."

"I don't need to get better!"

"You like getting drunk; passing out and puking your brains out, do you? That's fun, is it? A really great way to spend your day?"

"You don't understand."

"Tell me, I'm standing right here in front of you. I really want to know, explain it to me!"

The belligerent stance was gone, JD looked unsure as he glanced quickly left and right. "You wouldn't understand," he protested lamely dismissing Buck by turning away from him.

Buck reach out and physically turned him around again. "Maybe I wouldn't but I'll try, I promise, I'll try."

"Let go of me," JD yelled shaking Buck's hand angrily off his shoulder.

"Please, JD..., Please, I want to help," pleaded Buck. He was tempted to get down on his knees just to show JD how serious he was.

JD put his hands to his head and turned away and back again and then sat down suddenly on the coffee table. "I don't know," he moaned miserably, "I don't know."

Then Buck was down on his knees beside him. "Okay, kid, okay," Buck gently and tentatively put his hand on JD's back, afraid JD would react badly to his touch again.

JD sat hunched over, "Buck, I don't like living like this but I don't know what it is."

Buck waited, hoping this might be a breakthrough. Then JD shot to his feet. "Fuck!" he swore vehemently and then ran up the stairs, the next second his bedroom door slammed shut.

Buck sat back on his heels mourning the lost opportunity. Eventually he rose to his feet. He made his way up the stairs to his own room moving as if he were in great physical pain. He dropped heavily into bed. The house was so quiet he could hear JD typing away on his computer. A short time later he heard JD leave his room quietly and make his way out the front door. Buck knew the kid thought he was asleep and was trying not the wake him. He lay in bed, waiting for JD to return, but the long days of worry took their toll on the tall man. Buck was asleep when JD finally returned.

~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~


I don't know what to do. I'm fucking up my life here. My friends hate me, my girl broke up with me. I killed those two guys on that roof and no matter how many times I tell myself they would have killed all of us I can't seem to let it go. I can't seem to put it behind me. I don't know what to do. I'm so tired. I just want it all to end.


~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~

Chris tossed Tom Reed's assessment on the conference table in front of him and then rose and stretched in an attempt to work the kinks out of his neck and back. He reached over and poured himself another cup of coffee from the carafe. The breakfast burritos that Josiah had bought at the all night diner lay half eaten and cold now.

Chris wandered over to the window. He sipped the steaming liquid carefully as he watched the first brilliant yellow rays of sunlight streaked high into the sky.

He was aware the Josiah was waiting for him to speak.

"Your Dr. Reed paints a pretty sobering picture." Chris said turning around to face him. "I never thought of JD in quite those terms before."

Josiah said nothing. After a moment Chris returned to his chair. "Let me see if I have this right. JD doesn't make mistakes but to call him a perfectionist wouldn't be accurate. What he has is an almost pathological need to guard against even the smallest failure." Chris looked questioningly at Josiah.

"Pathological might be a bit strong, obsessive maybe," suggested Josiah.

"When you look at his record the way Dr. Reed does, you can see it: academic excellence; overachiever; no job was too insignificant not to be done to nth degree; acute attention to detail - that's why we have secondary back up of every function in the surveillance van. I didn't think much of it at the time, just typical JD, but last October he sent me an outline for tertiary back up of the essential functions of the surveillance van as well as safeguards against EMP."

" in an EMP caused by a nuclear attack?" asked Josiah. "God love us!"

"I can't even begin to understand what he wants to do to secure our computer system," admitted Chris ruefully.

"The thing to remember is that it's not so much failure that's the problem but the need for him or his work not to be the cause of failure," said Josiah. "We've had busts go sour but never because of a screw up on his part."

Chris pushed his hand through his hair. "Okay, let's back up here a minute, what about his mom? She died young and he couldn't do anything about that. Did he fail then?"

"No, that was beyond his ability to control. It is likely, though, that his need to do well originated with his mother. He's intellectually gifted and like most gifted kids he probably figured out what was going on around him at a much younger age than most of us. He saw how hard his mother had to work just to keep them together. He loved her. He wanted her to know she was successful, so he worked hard, to please her, to make her proud, to reward her for all her struggling and hard work. The cancer wasn't his fault but he felt helpless, she was dying and he couldn't change that. Knowing JD as I do, he probably vowed to himself that he would never let himself feel that helpless again. He doesn't expect to foresee and prevent all problems in life but he will do everything, even remotely within his realm of expertise, to prevent a tragedy."

"Hence the overkill when it comes to his job," summarized Chris.

"That overkill, has saved our asses more than once," replied Josiah soberly.

"So it has," agreed Chris ruefully, every one of them, at one time or another, owed their lives to JD's attention to detail.

Josiah nodded, "Tom surmises the feelings of helplessness associated as they are with his mother's death pushed him to impossibly high expectations of personal performance." Josiah leaned forward and looked at Chris intently, "We both know that pressure like that, does not bode well for a soldier."

Chris looked back just as intently, "A soldier's greatest fear is doing, or not doing, something that causes another soldier to be injured or killed. Unreasonable expectations of yourself create doubt, doubt can be deadly." Chris shook his head, "In war, no matter how well you're trained, chances are that one day something will go wrong. It won't be anyone's fault, it's likely there won't be anything that anyone could have done about it but you or someone else will die."

"...that scenario is unacceptable to JD."

"...and that's what's put us where we are now," concluded Chris. "Son of a bitch," he whispered caustically.

Chris leaned forward and sat both elbows on the table and began to massaging his temples. The early morning, too much caffeine and very little food were adding up to one mother of a headache. "You're convinced he has no recollection of what happened after they came down off that roof?"

"I'm fairly sure," said Josiah slowly. "His recall to a certain point in time is pretty accurate and fairly detailed. The final incident happened after that point in time. Tom suspects that JD's subconscious can't handle it any more and the memory is trying to push its way into his consciousness so it can be dealt with."

Chris picked up Tom Reed's report and read, "The subject's subconscious is attempting to come to terms with this incident. His expectations of personal performance are inordinately high, well beyond what is considered reasonable. The outcome of this incident is well beyond the subject's acceptable level of personal failure. Therein lies the conflict that is disabling this subject's ability to move past the event." Chris grimaced and dropped the report back on the table again. "I almost understand that."

Josiah peered at him a little sheepishly, "I asked Tom to dumb it down a bit."

"Thanks," said Chris sarcastically. "So, basically, he thinks he fucked up and he can't deal with it."


Chris held up the incident report, " and Dr. Reed think that JD is blaming himself for what happened?"

"Don't you?"

Of course he did. It was typical of JD to blame himself. The same old doubts when it came to hiring JD bubbled up and the headache thrummed even louder in Chris's head. He pounded the table gently with his fist a half a dozen times. "God damn it! He's too young; I knew he was too young when I hired him. He lacks the experience that comes with age to realize there are just some things in life you can't control."

"Chris, this "is" one of those experiences to teach him just that."

"...and I should feel better because?"

"...because we're the ones here to help him through it. Can you imagine what this would be like for him if this were some Police Department's IA investigation dragged into the public forum of the news media?"

Grudgingly, Chris had to agree Josiah had a point, JD had people around him who cared and for the most part this was still a private family matter. The headache receded somewhat. "So, what do we do about it?"

Josiah balled both hands into fists and then slowly stretched his fingers wide and laid his hands gently on the table in front of him, a habit that Chris recognized Josiah used when he talked about something especially personal or distasteful. Which was this he wondered?

"In essence JD isn't acknowledging what happened. It's a repressed memory if you will. There's a lot on controversy in psychological circles about repressed memories; whether of not they really exist; how to deal with them..." Josiah caught himself and waved one hand dismissively before returning it to the table. "I'm off track. What's important is JD can't seem to face what happened. It will run his life until he comes to grips with it or until it..." Josiah stopped suddenly and looked up at Chris.

"...or until it drives him crazy and he does something stupid." supplied Chris.

"Yeah," Josiah seemed relieved that Chris had figured out for himself just what serious trouble JD's sanity was in. "After Nam a lot of us couldn't face things we'd seen and done. There was so little in the way of treatment for the psychological stresses that we had suffered, so we learned to help each other. One method we developed was a type of group therapy to help bring the things we couldn't deal with out into the open." Josiah sat quietly for a moment starring at his hands. Then he slowly and deliberately folded them in his lap and looked up at Chris. "It's a rough ride, emotionally painful, extremely difficult for the whole group and there is no guarantee it will have the desired results... but I think it's what we need to do in this situation."

Chris held his gaze for a long moment. His headache began to crescendo again. He pushed past it. "You're talking about an intervention. It's what Dr. Reed recommends, isn't it?"


"He also states that you're skilled in this method of treatment."

"I was at one time."

Josiah was hedging; it wasn't like him to do that when the stakes were this high. "You're reluctant, why?"

"It's very difficult, emotionally difficult."

"So? You profile the worst of the worst, you get inside their heads, you figure out what makes them tick. Nothing is emotionally harder than that." Chris held Josiah's gaze with a hard stare. "What's the real reason?"

"I...," Josiah looked blindly off to his left, swallowed hard and then took a deep breath before turning his gaze back to Chris. "One man I 'helped' couldn't cope with knowing what he'd done, he committed suicide. I'm not sure I could handle it if..." Josiah stopped.

"It's not going to play out that way,' replied Chris quickly and firmly. "The rest of us will be here for both of you..., no matter what happens."