Mind Games

by freeformchick

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It was another four days before either JD or Ezra could be moved from the high-dependency room. By that time, Buck and Nathan had been released under strict orders that they were to do nothing more strenuous than walk up a flight of stairs. As per Dr. Russell’s orders, no more – and no less – than two agents spent each night watching over JD and Ezra, spelled during the day by the others. Vin spent most of his time there, leaving only when Chris kicked him out to eat, sleep or shower.

The nights were the worst, Ezra and JD both invariably suffering nightmares. Despite sedatives to help them sleep, neither got much rest during the hours of the night. Surprisingly, it seemed easier for them to relax during the day, and indeed both slept more between dawn and dusk than they did after dark.

The subject of Ezra’s nightmares was clear; he would suddenly begin to have trouble breathing, and end up hyperventilating and clawing at his throat until the watching agents woke him from the nightmare. Once awake, he would deny remembering what the nightmare was about and appear to return to sleep, though the intermittent shudders and tears leaking from the corners of his closed eyes betrayed that pretense. Josiah had tried to comfort the Southerner, the first night, and they’d learned then that Ezra would not take comfort from any of them. His proud mind translated it as pity, which a man of Ezra’s dignity and upbringing could not accept. All they could do for Ezra was wake him from the nightmares and give him their mute support.

JD’s nightmares, however, were far more elusive in typifying. They’d seen him have reactions that ranged from screaming in pain and fear to speaking in a low, angry voice that made anyone hearing it shiver, wondering how such deadly hate could come from their youngest agent. As with Ezra, all they could do for JD was wake him from the nightmare, though his refusal to accept comfort seemed to stem from a desire to keep all contact with others at a minimum. He barely talked to any of them, except for Ezra and, on occasion, Buck. After four days of this, they were all missing the normally incessant chatter from their youngest colleague.

The day after they’d been moved to the low-dependency room, Ezra and JD had to give their statements. The officers and agents who’d come to take their statements were as considerate of the injured agents’ mental states as they could be, but their teammates could see, afterwards, that the questioning had taken its toll.

Six days after they’d been moved to the low-dependency room – ten days after their rescue – eleven days and thirteen hours after their capture – Dr. Russell came in and discreetly pulled Chris aside. They went into the corridor and Dr. Russell asked bluntly, “Have you talked to your agents about counseling, Agent Larabee?”

“Well – no, not yet. I wanted to wait until they were ready.”

“To be brutally honest, Agent Larabee, if you wait until they’re ‘ready’ to talk then you’ll be waiting a long time, longer than either of those men can afford. I’ve seen too many patients like JD and Ezra to delude myself into thinking this will just go away. Now, I know a number of competent counselors, either here or outside the hospital, though there is one man who specialises in kidnap situations, especially those involving Federal agents or police officers abducted in the line of duty. I’d like for you to have them at least consider the idea. The sooner they get professional counseling, the better.”

“They seem to be okay.” Chris glanced back into the room, where Ezra was shuffling a deck of cards and conversing with JD, who, while not his usual exuberant self, seemed more animated than he had in the last ten days. Dr. Russell shook her head.

“The nightmares are continuing, and I’ve seen enough cases like this to know what denial looks like, Agent Larabee. I’m afraid that if you don’t persuade them to agree to at least minimal counseling, you’re going to lose them.”

“You really think it’s that bad?” Chris asked, stunned.

“Unfortunately, yes. JD isn’t eating, even though all our tests show that he should have been able to handle food since Tuesday, and Ezra needs prompting to do the most basic things like drinking or getting dressed each day. They barely respond to the nurses, surely you’ve noticed that.”

Now that Chris thought about it, both agents seemed strangely passive when the nurses came to check on them or change bandages. Even when the thick bandages protecting JD’s hands were changed, he hardly seemed to notice and he certainly didn’t look at his hands to see the extent of the damage. Chris had looked, the first time the bandages had been changed, and hadn’t been tempted to again; the stitches from the surgery to realign the bones made an ugly tracery across JD’s hands, and his fingers, splinted to boards to prevent them from getting bumped out of alignment, were swollen and dead-looking. Ezra, too, had given almost no reaction when the stitched wound from the surgery to repair the tearing of abdominal muscles had been checked, probed and re-bandaged.

He looked back into the room, looking past the surface appearance of recovery. There was a strained quality to JD’s voice, and though Ezra still used the long words that confused the hell out of most of them, his heart didn’t seem to be in what he was saying. The breakfast trays that the nurses had brought were untouched, and the pitcher of water standing on Ezra’s bedside table was still full, the glass beside it unused. As he looked closer, he realised with a start that both JD and Ezra had the same look in their eyes – cold, blank resignation.

He turned back to Dr. Russell. “I see what you mean. I’ll do my best to get them to agree to counseling, but it’s going to be a fight the whole way. None of my men are fond of medical treatment, whether it’s physical or not. Hell, I have enough trouble getting them to attend the mandatory counseling session after what the ATF deems traumatic jobs. But I’ll do what I can.”

“Please do, Agent Larabee. The sooner the better.”

Chris watched her leave, frustrated that he hadn’t noticed something was wrong earlier. He watched Ezra and JD for a few more moments, noting the forced quality to their banter, and then reentered the room.

JD looked up as Chris sat down again. “Hey. What’d Dr. Russell have to say?”

“Oh, she just wanted to know what the arrangements for you two were once you’re discharged,” Chris lied. It wasn’t the right time to bring up the idea of counseling; he’d do that later in the morning, when both men had been given their meds for the morning. He continued, “I told her that you’d both be coming to the ranch for a while.”

He held up a hand to forestall their protests. “Hear me out. Both of you live in places where you’d have to use stairs, and Dr. Russell isn’t happy about that. Ez, you live alone and she’s really not happy about that. If you’re both at my place, it’s easier to navigate and there’s room for one of the other guys as well, so there’s always someone on hand if you need anything. Besides, it’s not like it’s forever, just until you’re both a bit more mobile.”

“Mr. Larabee, I assure you I am perfectly capable of caring for myself,” Ezra bristled, though the protest lacked its usual fire. Another sign that worried Chris; Ezra was usually much more vehement when he was told something that he didn’t like. JD’s lack of protest was a worry as well, especially since the younger man usually hated being dependent on anyone else and would, under normal circumstances, be pressing Chris to let him stay at home, citing Buck’s presence as surety. Now, he was just staring at the sheet, his hair falling over his face and hiding his eyes.

“That may be, Ez, but Dr. Russell doesn’t want either of you alone for a week or so after you’re discharged. Just in case something happens,” Chris reasoned. It was the standard practice, after all; they should be used to it. And he supposed they were; that didn’t mean they liked it.

He let his eyes roam the room, falling in what he hoped was a natural way on the untouched breakfast trays. “You guys haven’t eaten. Jared’s gonna give you hell about that.”

Ezra actually looked surprised as he looked at the tray beside his bed, while JD just shrugged and said in a dead voice, “Wasn’t hungry.”

“Damn it, JD, that’s been your excuse for the last two days. Do you really want them to have to use a food tube? Because they will if you keep refusing to eat,” Chris snapped. JD just blinked at him as though the outburst was perfectly normal and shrugged again.

’Screw waiting. Dr. Russell was right; we’re gonna lose them if this goes on much longer.’

Chris sighed and leaned forward. “Ez, JD, I think we need to talk.”

Ezra looked up at him with mild interest in his eyes, shuffling his cards over and over. JD didn’t look at him, but Chris kept talking anyway, hoping that JD was listening. Damn it, even if he wasn’t Chris would find a way to drum what he was saying into JD’s head.

“Dr. Russell thinks the two of you need some counseling, and I agree with her. And before you give me any crap about being fine, we’ve all had to have mandatory counseling for cases that were nothing compared to what the two of you went through. It’s obvious from your behaviour that you’re not fine. I don’t think Travis would let you return to active duty without at least some counseling, anyway.”

“That’s all a load of bull, Chris,” JD argued, for once seeming to be almost himself again. “I don’t need a shrink to spout sanctimonious bullshit at me about knowing that it’s not my fault I got hurt. I knew the risks when I signed on, and I don’t need to ‘share my feelings’ with anyone.”

“Whether that’s true or not, you have to see someone,” Chris said firmly. “Dr. Russell’s reluctant to release either of you without at least a consultation.”

“It’s completely unnecessary, an utter waste of time,” Ezra stated, shuffling his cards again. Chris sighed in frustration and stood up, crossing over to JD’s bed and placing his hand on the younger man’s shoulder. JD flinched and pulled away.

“You see? You can’t stand to be touched, JD, not even by a friend. I’ve seen how you react to the nurses when they change your bandages. And if you shuffle those cards any more, Ez, they’ll end up more dog-eared than Buck’s favourite copy of Playboy. Look, Dr. Russell’s not going to release you until you at least talk to someone, so why not just do what she wants? She’ll get her way eventually.”

Ezra looked down at his cards, seemingly confused by them. He looked back up at Chris and nodded. “All right. I’ll agree to one – and only one – session with this . . . psychiatrist. Though I think the whole thing is ridiculous.”

“Thanks, Ez. JD?”

The young agent kept his eyes rebelliously averted. “Chris, I only jumped ‘cause you hit one of my bruises. And getting bandages changed hurts, in case you didn’t know. I don’t have a problem with being touched.”

“Cut the crap, JD. You and I both know that neither of us is leaving this room until you agree to see the psychiatrist Dr. Russell recommended. Don’t make me have to order you.”

JD glared at Chris. “Fine. I’ll see the goddamned shrink. Happy?”

“No, but it’s a start. Just . . . go into this with open minds, please. It’s not going to help if you won’t let it.”

+ + + + + + +

Dr. Jude Nichols was a man in his early thirties, with short black hair, grey eyes and a surprisingly informal manner. Dressed in slacks and a button-down shirt, with a lightweight jacket in deference to the cooling weather, he was far from the suit-and-tie image that Ezra had had in his mind. His office was comfortably furnished, and pictures of a smiling red-haired woman holding a small child graced the desktop. In short, it was a homey place, and Ezra automatically felt ill at ease. Homey places just reminded him of the lack of home his childhood had had.

Ezra perched on the edge of the armchair, fiddling with the bandages around his still-raw throat. The bandages wrapped around his torso were an uncomfortable reminder of the weakness he’d succumbed to, and any careless movement pulled at the stitches in his stomach. At least he was dressed in something other than that embarrassing hospital gown, even if it was sweatpants that he suspected someone had bought, since he was sure he’d never owned such an item of clothing.

Jude sighed. Ezra had been sitting in silence for the past five minutes, since arriving as per Melinda Russell’s orders. Jude had been warned about the stubbornness of the ATF team known as the Magnificent Seven, but he hadn’t quite believed the stories. Now, if Ezra Standish was any indication of the rest of the team, he believed every word of them.

He leaned forward. “Ezra. We’re not going to get anywhere if you don’t talk to me.”

“I believe I’m required to attend one session with you before I am discharged,” Ezra said coolly. “I’m here. That doesn’t mean I have to talk.”

Jude sighed again. So it was going to be that way. Sometimes he hated his job.

“I can’t give you a clean bill of health if all you’re going to do is sit there and shuffle those cards,” he said as Ezra pulled a deck of cards from his pocket. “Like it or not, Ezra, Dr. Russell seems to think that you need counseling and she’s not going to be happy if all I can say about our session is that I would have had ample opportunity to catch up on my paperwork.”

“Fine,” the Southerner snapped, putting the cards away. “What do you want me to say? That I know it wasn’t my fault I was captured? That I know I couldn’t have done anything to help JD? I already know both of those things, Dr. Nichols, so really there’s little point in me being here. I don’t blame myself, I don’t blame JD. I blame the man and woman who abducted us, and they’re beyond my reach now, being dead and comatose respectively. I don’t feel any burning need for revenge; at the moment all I really desire is to be at home, away from all these damn prying eyes!”

Jude almost smiled. Finally an emotion cracked the stoic mask, even if it was misplaced anger. And just having Ezra say something was enough for him to see behind the mask to the confused, hurting man beneath. Now if he could just get that man to let him help . . .

“I know this sounds cliché, Ezra, but humour me. What are you feeling right now?”

Ezra gave him a look of disbelief. Jude repeated the question, and the ATF agent sighed and answered.

“Annoyed. Bored. In a minor amount of pain. Uncomfortable. Tired of being asked how I feel. That about sums it up.”

Jude pinched the bridge of his nose. “Ezra.”

The agent exhaled, dropping his head into his hands. When next he spoke, his voice was muffled by his hands.

“Guilty as hell that JD was injured so badly and I escaped with the lesser injuries I sustained. Frustrated because the nightmares won’t go away, and that makes me feel weak. Confused.”

Finally. “Why do you feel confused?”

“I keep having nightmares and thinking that Caine’s just behind me, but I know she’s comatose and not even in this hospital. I know that there wasn’t anything I could have done to protect JD but I still feel as though it’s my fault he was injured so badly. There’s so much going on inside my head and I don’t know if I can deal with it all right now.”

“That’s why I’m here. I can help you deal with it,” Jude told him. “Everything you’ve just said, it’s perfectly natural for you to feel that way. It’s why Dr. Russell recommended you see me in the first place. I can help you work through what you’re feeling until you think you’re ready to scale back on the sessions.”

Ezra looked at him thoughtfully, toying with the white bandages around his throat. Jude caught a glimpse of still-raw skin and hid a grimace; that had to hurt. Asphyxiation was one of the more traumatic things a human could experience; no wonder Ezra was having nightmares.

Ezra nodded finally. “All right. We’ll see how this goes.”

+ + + + + + +

Josiah and Nathan came to give Chris time to sleep, eat and shave, not long after Ezra returned from seeing the psychiatrist. The afternoon had been awkward; JD had muttered a few answers to Chris’s comments and gazed out the window, his eyes distant. Chris knew that if they didn’t break the apathy that his youngest agent was feeling, they were going to lose JD.

When Josiah and Nathan kicked him out, Chris headed to the car park. Much as he hated to admit it, he was exhausted. Nursing two injured ATF agents was hard, and he once again found new respect for the nurses and doctors.

Upon reaching the car park, he stopped short. Vin was leaning on the waist-high wall, looking over the city. He was as still as if he were sniping, the motion of breathing and the breeze playing with his hair the only movement. Chris watched for a few moments before he realised that Vin’s breathing wasn’t steady and even; it was hitching, as though he had just been running . . . or – crying?

“Vin? You okay?” he asked, moving forward. The sharpshooter cursed and swiped at his eyes, not looking at Chris.

“I’m fine, cowboy. Just wanted to get some air.”

’There’s more bothering him than cabin fever. He’s taking this a lot harder than the other guys, even Buck.’

Chris moved up beside Vin and leaned on the wall, looking sidelong at his friend. “You don’t have a shift tonight. You should be at home, getting some rest.”

Vin whirled around, his expression a mixture of incredulity and anger. “Rest, while he’s lettin’ himself die in this damn place?! How am I supposed to rest, Chris?”

’I was right. Now how do I get him to admit it to himself?’

Blunt seemed the best option; neither man appreciated dancing around issues, and Chris knew that he was bad at playing the subtlety game. He came right out and asked.

“When’re you going to tell him, Vin?”

Vin’s reply was a bark of bitter laughter. “There’s nothin’ to tell.”

Chris sighed. “I’m not good at this sort of thing. I don’t get the spiritual and emotional stuff; Josiah’s better at that than I am. But I was the one who noticed what’s going on with you, so I’m gonna deal with it.”

“Deal with what?”

“You. JD. You care for him,” Chris said bluntly.

“Of course I care for him. I care for all of you,” Vin said stubbornly, refusing to meet Chris’s gaze.

“Damn it, Vin, that’s not what I mean and you know it. You’re damn good at hiding what you don’t want the rest of us to see, but something as strong as what I think you feel for JD can’t be so easily hidden.”

Vin finally met his gaze, his eyes full of indecision and anguish. “You know what Feds are like, Chris. How can I subject him to that? Anyone who’s not on the straight an’ narrow gets hell in the Bureau. Anyway, it’s not like I know he feels the same way or anythin’.”

“No harm in asking, is there?”

Vin laughed, a shadow of his normally cheerful chuckle. “He’s not gonna look at me the same if it turns out he doesn’t . . .”

“Vin, this is JD we’re talking about. Even if he doesn’t reciprocate, he’s sure as hell not gonna care whether you like guys or girls,” Chris said impatiently. “You’re never going to find out if you keep avoiding the issue.”

“You’re startin’ to sound like Ez.”

“Damn it, don’t change the subject! Just answer me honestly, Vin, do you love him or don’t you?”

The car park was filled with silence as Chris stared Vin down, waiting for the answer. The sharpshooter exhaled and nodded.

“Yeah. I reckon I do.”

“Then for Christ’s sake, tell him. You said it yourself, Vin, he’s letting himself die in here. He needs something to hold on to.”

Vin gazed at the setting sun, indecision chasing fear across his face. “What if it’s not enough?”

“You’ve gotta try, Vin. You’ll hate yourself if you don’t do anything, you know that. And if there’s the slightest chance that it’ll help JD, how can you not try? You’re braver than that.”

A chuckle escaped the sharpshooter’s lips. “Hell, Chris, you been takin’ lessons from Josiah? I never thought I’d see the day when you got involved in your colleague’s love lives.”

“When said colleagues are as stubborn as you and JD, I don’t have much of a choice,” Chris shot back, allowing a grin to slip across his face. “You gonna go in and talk to him?”

Vin nodded. “Yeah, reckon I might do that. Who’s on duty tonight? Nate an’ Josiah? They should be okay lettin’ me talk to JD alone, don’tcha think?”

“If they’re not, tell them I want to talk to them. Now stop wasting time, Vin, and get in there.”

The sharpshooter chuckled again and made a sloppy salute. “Aye, sir . . . wish me luck, yeah?”

“Don’t believe in luck . . . but good luck anyway. Bring our boy back.”

+ + + + + + +

JD was half-listening to Josiah and Nathan as they bantered back and forth, making an effort to include him in the conversation every few sentences. He’d tried to raise some enthusiasm at their company, but it just didn’t come. He felt as though his mind was dosed with the same morphine that kept his body numb for the – what was it, twelve days since their rescue?

He knew that there was something wrong with his thought processes, that this apathy was dangerous. He knew that he should be glad that they’d been found, worried about Ezra – someone had taken Ezra somewhere that afternoon, and he knew that should worry him but it didn’t – annoyed that he had to stay in hospital this long. But he didn’t feel any of that. It was as though Mikhail and Caine had killed whatever it was that made people feel.

He shuddered at the thought of those two, and Josiah was immediately at his side. “JD? You okay?”

“Mmph.” A noncommittal grunt, eyes fixed on the window. Pretend to be watching the clouds. Clouds? There were no clouds in the sky – when had it gotten so dark? How long had he been thinking about Mikhail and Caine and not feeling anything?

Long enough Vin to be back, even though he did a shift last night and should be resting now. The sharpshooter sauntered into the room, looking somehow less than at ease, and said, “You mind if me’n JD have a little chat, fellas? Go and get somethin’ to eat, some of the swill this place calls coffee, give us a little while, yeah?”

JD knew Nathan cracked a grin as he replied, “You mad at us or something, Vin? I wouldn’t wish cafeteria coffee on anyone.”

Sounds as Josiah and Nathan left the room. A creak as Vin sat in the chair near the bed. Silence. Normally JD would wonder why Vin had asked Nate and Josiah to leave if he was just going to sit there and not say anything, but wondering was beyond him right now.

His hands felt heavy –

No! Don’t think about his hands. Can’t.

A sigh, and Vin leaned into his line of sight. “You’n me have some stuff to talk about, JD. Got some things I need to say to you, and then I reckon it’s about time you talked to one of us properly. You can cuss me out, or hit me, or whatever makes you feel better, but I’m not lettin’ you kill yourself like this.”

JD blinked. He wasn’t trying to kill himself . . . right?

“Now, I know you’re thinkin’ that I’m full of it, that you’re not killin’ yourself. But you’re just lyin’ there, JD, you’re not eatin’ or drinkin’ or tryin’ to get better. I’m not sayin’ this to try an’ put any blame on you, ‘cause this is nobody’s fault except those bastards who hurt you. But if you keep goin’ this way, you’re gonna let them win. An’ I can’t let you self-destruct like that.”

Something about the way he said that was . . . different. Different to the way Chris would have said it, or Nate, or even Buck. JD moistened his lips and looked at Vin, really looked at someone for the first time in twelve days.

“Can’t let me . . .?”

Vin’s eyes were full of pain, and that startled JD. Other people shouldn’t be hurting because of him, least of all his friends. He went to touch Vin’s arm and glimpsed the thick white bandages on his hands.

Oh, God, his hands . . .

Despite wanting to make sure Vin was okay, JD couldn’t tear his eyes away from his hands. This was what he’d been avoiding for twelve days; avoiding thinking about his hands, and what Mikhail and Caine had done to them. They felt heavy, and he couldn’t distinguish separate fingers. His arms may as well have ended at his wrists for all the feeling there was in his hands.

It was all too easy to remember them the way he’d seen them last; twisted, mangled by blades and burns and broken bones, crimson blood interrupted by ivory spikes of the small bones sticking through his skin. The bandages kept him from seeing the damage now, but it was in the forefront of his mind. A stifled sob escaped his throat as he stared at his hands, scared half out of his mind that he’d lose the one thing that made him useful to the team.

Gentle arms enfolded him, and the clean smell of Vin’s hair. “Not sure whether this is an improvement on the silence, but cry if you need to, JD. God knows I’d be doin’ the same thing, if I was in your situation. The docs are pretty confident, though. They reckon you’ll be fine.”

The spasmodic sobbing continued as JD fought against more images flooding his mind. Images of Ezra strangling, of the blood from that horrible head injury. Images of the brands and blades that Mikhail and Caine had used to try and break him. None of it had worked until they went to work on his hands. It had hurt, worse than any pain he’d felt before, but he’d known that he’d heal, given time, and that even if he was laid up for a while, he could still be useful to the team with his computer skills. Maybe they’d known that, and that’s why they saved his hands for last.

After some time, JD calmed somewhat, the harsh sobs giving way to stilted breathing. Vin shifted slightly, though keeping his arms around the younger man, and spoke.

“JD, I got somethin’ I gotta tell you. Not sure if now’s the right time, but I gotta do it before I get the chance to talk myself out of it.”

JD looked at him, eyes still red and swollen from crying. “Sounds serious.”

“It is. See, the thing is . . . I kinda . . . shit! I’m not good at this.”

Throwing up his hands in frustration, the sharpshooter got rid of the need to explain things by taking JDs face in his hands and kissing him thoroughly. JD was still with shock at first, but after a few moments he relaxed enough that Vin was sure he wasn’t going to slug him the moment he pulled away.

When he did pull away, an unreadable expression was on JD’s face. The dark-haired man licked his lower lip, gazing at Vin. For his own part, Vin waited to see what JD’s reaction would be, the tension making him sweat. JD kept looking at him with that odd expression, until Vin wished he’d never come in here today.

“That was . . . informative.”

Informative. Vin’s heart sank; informative was hardly what he’d been hoping for.

“How . . . how long’ve you been waiting to do that, Vin?”

The question was tentative, the tone not quite curious, not quite hopeful. Vin figured the best idea was to answer truthfully.

“A couple months now, I reckon. Can’t say for sure when I first . . . noticed . . . you, but I reckon I’ve been wantin’ to kiss you for at least a couple months. Never got the guts to do it, before.”

“What made you decide to do it now?” JD asked. No condemnation in his voice, just sincere inquiry; he wanted to know why Vin chose now.

“Seein’ you the way you were, not carin’ if you lived or not . . . just about killed me, JD. I had to give you somethin’ to hold on to. That, an’ Chris pretty much threatened to kick my ass if I kept it to myself any more.”

JD looked confused now. “Chris knows?”

“Yeah. Found me out in the carpark, givin’ myself a headache wonderin’ whether to tell you or not.”

“You know, you haven’t actually told me anything. Just gave me one hell of a kiss.”

Vin glared at JD. “Are you teasin’ me?”

“That depends. Are you going to kiss me again?”

“You are teasin’ me.”

JD’s expression turned somber. “Hell, Vin, I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I just . . . I gotta keep my mind off this, you know? If I let myself think, then I keep thinking about what’ll happen if my hands are wrecked. I’m the computer guy, I’m nothing without my hands. I –”

Vin silenced JD by kissing him again. He pulled back slightly and smiled. “No. You’re not nothin’, JD, no matter what happens. I wouldn’t’ve fallen in love with you if you were nothin’.”

“In l-love?” JD stammered. Vin would have laughed at the stunned look on his face, if the situation hadn’t been so serious.

“Yeah, in love. What, you thought I just wanted to kiss you and leave it at that?”

“Wouldn’t’ve been the first time someone did,” JD mumbled, averting his eyes. Vin caught the younger man’s chin and made JD look at him.

“Who did that to you?”

JD squirmed under Vin’s scrutiny, but when the sharpshooter refused to release him he sighed and answered, “A guy back in the Police Academy. He liked guys, but he insisted that he was straight. Slept with three or four girls a week to prove that he was straight, then made the moves on guys at nightclubs on Friday nights. I was at one of the nightclubs he went to, and he kissed me. Acted like nothing happened when I saw him on Monday. Can’t blame him, really; you know what cops can be like. He didn’t want to deal with that. It hurt, though.”

Vin’s emotions were going two ways, which was confusing to say the least. He was angry at whatever cop it had been who hurt JD, but he was elated at the same time, because this was proof that JD wasn’t completely straight. Oh, he knew the younger man couldn’t be completely gay either, otherwise he wouldn’t be going out with . . .

“Oh, shit. Casey.”

JD exhaled. “Yeah. I don’t want to hurt her, you understand that, right?”

“Of course! I don’t know what I was thinkin’, tellin’ you this when you’re in a relationship with Casey. Hell, it’s just plain luck you didn’t kick my ass out the door.”

“I’m not gonna pretend like nothing happened today, Vin. I definitely have . . . there’s a lot to work out. I think you guys need to ask Casey to come in here tomorrow. There’s some stuff we have to talk about.”

Vin nodded. “Yeah, I reckon there is. I’ll call her tonight, if you want. We’ve been keepin’ her up to date with what’s been goin’ on, but . . . well, Chris didn’t think she should see you the way you were.”

JD closed his eyes, fighting back tears. “I didn’t want to remember. If I thought about it, I thought about my hands and I kept running through what Chris’d say if I couldn’t use them properly. Kept thinking about being asked to leave the team because I couldn’t be the computer guy anymore.”

“Chris wouldn’t do that, and that you’d even think so shows that you’ve got a lot to sort out in your mind,” Vin said carefully, choosing his words so as not to upset JD. “Promise me you’ll see that Dr. Nichols that Ezra’s seein’?”

JD sighed. “All right. I have to admit, the way I’ve been lately . . . it kinda scares me. I didn’t think it was possible to live without feeling. This’s gonna be hard, Vin. I don’t know if I can . . .”

“We’re here for you,” Vin promised. “All of us are behind you.”

+ + + + + + +

Nobody was sure what happened during JD’s session with Jude; at JD’s request, Jude didn’t make a tape of the session or write down anything. The office door was closed for the hour, and the low murmur of words could be heard, though nothing could be made out. JD had returned to the room he was sharing with Ezra at the end of the hour with a thoughtful expression on his face, and though he was quiet for the rest of the morning he did at least participate in the conversations going on around him. This quietness seemed to be more due to having a lot on his mind, rather than apathy. Ezra and Buck and Vin, the two on duty that day, seemed relieved at the change, though none of them mentioned it.

Casey showed up in the afternoon, toting coloured balloons and boxes of candy. At the confused looks her burdens earned, she explained, “My friends and Aunt Nettie wanted you to have something to cheer you up in here. Plus a couple of the girls think that Ezra’s too good-looking to be single and are trying to make good impressions,” she added, winking at the Southerner. She went to JD’s bedside and kissed him. “I’ve been aching to come and see for myself that you’re okay. Not that I don’t trust the rest of you, but . . . well, it’s one thing to hear, a completely different thing to see for yourself.”

JD returned the kiss, then said, “Cass, can we talk? There’s some stuff we need to get into the open.”

She nodded, looking confused. “Sure. The balcony?”

“Sounds good.”

They went out onto the balcony and closed the door behind them. The men inside the hospital room could see the two talking, but no words filtered in. JD said something that made Casey frown and glance at Vin, but she didn’t seem angry, just confused. Their conversation went on for a good hour, during which Ezra managed to rope Vin and Buck into a game of poker, politely pretending that JD and Casey weren’t outside.

An hour after they’d gone out to the balcony, Casey opened the door. “Vin, you mind joining us for a minute?”

Vin glanced nervously at JD, who was looking over the edge of the balcony, and threw down his cards. “Why not? I’m losin’ here anyway,” he said, standing up and walking over to the door. Casey closed it behind him and they both sat down. JD looked up, and instead of the rejection Vin had expected there was something . . . else. Casey didn’t look angry, like he’d expected, either.

“I’m guessin’ JD told you ‘bout what I said yesterday?”

“He did,” Casey affirmed. “We had a lot to talk about.”

“Look, I wasn’t thinkin’ when I said that yesterday – JD’s with you, an’ he’s happy –”

“Vin. Will you please let me talk?” Casey said gently. “Yes, JD told me that you love him. And yes, it did surprise me. But I do admire your good taste. Now, me and JD were talking about a way to deal with this without anyone getting hurt. I know I love JD, and I believe that you love JD. As for JD –”

“JD loves both of you,” JD interrupted. “I don’t want to leave Casey, but if you don’t mind sharing me with her, Vin, then I’d . . . I’d love to be with you as well.”

Vin gaped at the two younger people, stunned that they’d come up with this plan. He’d never have thought of it, probably because he’d never felt quite this way about anyone before, let alone another man with a girlfriend. He was suddenly aware that JD was twisting his hands together in his lap, messing up the bandages. He reached out and stilled the movements, his hand meeting with another, smaller, feminine hand.

Vin and Casey looked at each other and started laughing. JD shook his head. “Wonderful. Now I’ve got Buck to mother me, and you two to take over when he’s not around. Vin, were you planning on answering me?”

Vin answered by leaning forward and kissing JD, gentler than the night before, a reassurance instead of a declaration. He was aware that Casey was watching them with a smile on her face, and then both men were engulfed in the young woman’s hug.

“I take it that’s a yes?” she said softly. Vin broke away from JD and smiled at her.

“Yes, that’s a hell yes. If you’re sure this’s all right with you, Casey. This isn’t the most orthodox arrangement.”

“Oh, who cares about that?” she asked impatiently. “This way you’re happy, I’m happy and JD’s happy, and that’s what’s important, isn’t it?”

Vin worried at his lower lip in concern. “You reckon the others are gonna have a problem with us?”

“I don’t think so,” Casey said confidently. “You guys, you’re closer than anyone I’ve ever known. You’re not going to let a little thing like sexuality come between you.”

“We’re going to have to decide what to tell them pretty fast,” JD said suddenly, looking back at the dividing window between the balcony and the room. Casey and Vin turned to see Ezra and Buck staring at them, cards forgotten.

“Oh boy.”


Thanks to those who stuck around to see this finished; if you’re interested, I might be writing a follow-up piece to this. After all, there is some unfinished business. I just felt that the end was dragging, and I wanted to finish it before I got frustrated and dumped the whole thing. If you’re interested in a sequel, let me know and I’ll consider it. Again, thanks to my readers. Your reviews gave me the courage to keep writing and posting.