Highway Heroes

by Joy K

Ezra sat hunched over on the couch, his elbows on his knees, fingers laced behind his neck. No matter what Nathan tried, Ezra would not give in and lie down. He was too confused and agitated to allow himself to react rationally. He was trying to be stoic but his body betrayed him. At least he was calming down, and for now, it seemed that was the best Jackson could hope for.

There had been no verbal protests, Ezra's body too much in shock to allow him to be vocal in his objections, but he had relaxed considerably after Nathan suggested that Chris return to the waiting room upstairs to see if he could visit Vin, and that they would follow when they were ready. Chris had been reluctant to leave the southerner in the state he was in, but he trusted Nathan implicitly to handle the situation.

Nathan adjusted the blanket Standish had cocooned himself in. "I didn't know you had to rescue breathe for JD," he said softly, watching the shudder run through Ezra's tense form. "That must have been hard."

Seeing that Ezra seemed to be listening, Nathan continued to affirm his actions, trying to assure him that he had done what was necessary and done it well.

"Something like that can really rattle a guy. I know that I'd be pretty shook in the same situation. Katherine told me you did a great job. Said you kept it up even after they arrived until they could take over. She said you did everything possible." He paused to make sure Ezra was listening. "And she said you did it right."

Ezra said something under his breath, that Nathan couldn't quite hear, but he did hear his teammate sniff. He picked up a box of facial tissue from the coffee table, and held it out to the undercover agent, touching his elbow to get his attention.

Standish accepted the tissue and wiped his nose.

"I'm sorry, I couldn't hear what you said, Ezra."

"It wasn't good enough."

Nathan held his tongue. He wanted to scream at Ezra and shake him until he realized that it wasn't his fault and that he had kept his friends alive and safe until the paramedics arrived. But, yelling would have no more effect on Standish than the quiet words Jackson was already speaking. Ezra needed calm. He needed quiet. He needed to sleep.

"Vin and JD are alive, Ezra," He said softly. "That was your doing. You gave them the chance they needed and now it's up to the medical staff, Vin and JD and whatever higher power there is."

Nathan looked up as someone knocked on the door and pushed it open. He smiled as his wife entered the lounge.

"Hi," she said softly as she approached the two men. "Chris said that I might be of help down here."

Ezra ducked his head, embarrassed.

"Would you rather I have someone else check you over?" Raine asked.

"Rather not at all," Ezra muttered, barely audible.

Raine smiled sympathetically. "Well, you have a couple nurses here on this floor concerned, and I think it would be a good idea just to check things out. You've been in a traumatic situation and sometimes the body does funny things to protect itself."

She sat down next to Ezra. "I'm just going to take your blood pressure, and check a couple of other things, all right?"

Ezra nodded. He didn't want to be checked over. He didn't want any attention on him. They needed to be focused on Vin and JD. But even as the thoughts ran through his mind, his head drooped forward as fatigue threatened to lull him to sleep. Ezra jerked his head up, trying to stay awake.

Satisfied that Ezra's blood pressure wasn't too low, Raine recommended that he stop fighting it, and let himself sleep. She could feel him tense at the suggestion.

"It's very normal to have nightmares," she assured even though he hadn't indicated that was an issue. "They'll decrease over time."

Ezra sighed.

"As your doctor, I'm telling you to sleep. I can give you something to help."

"No," protested Ezra. "I need to be there..."

"Ezra, listen to me," said Raine. "I know it's important for each of you to be there for the others, to be there when someone who has been hurt wakes up. I love that about you guys. But in this case, it's just not feasible. What they really need is you to be rested so that you can be with them for the long haul."

Standish rubbed his forehead wearily.

"I tell you what. Instead of giving you a strong sedative," said Raine, "I'll give you some Tylenol PM. It has enough to help you sleep for a while. You can lay down right here and be comfortable."

Ezra shook his head but didn't say anything.

"What?" Nathan asked him gently.

"Upstairs," Standish replied.

"It's not very private up there," said Nathan. "Or quiet."

Ezra shook his head again. "If I stay down here, you'll stay with me. You need to be..."

He didn't finish the thought, but Nathan understood where Ezra was headed. He felt guilty enough about the entire situation. He didn't want to be responsible for keeping Nathan away from the others.

"All right," Nathan agreed. "Upstairs it is."

Raine made a mental note to talk to the nurse on the orthopedic wing. Make sure they knew about the men moving into their waiting room.

+ + ATF + +

Chris sat in a chair at Vin's bedside. The Texan was all trussed up in traction to aid in the healing of his leg fractures as well as keeping him still. His face was pale and bruised with a scrape on his right cheek.

Vin would survive. He may not walk, but he would survive.

Chris watched Tanner's eyelids twitch as he tried to wake. As much as he wanted those eyes to open, he dreaded the road that lay ahead. Weeks, probably months of healing and therapy.

He half smiled as Vin let out a little groan like noise. He stood and moved closer to the bed, taking Vin's hand and squeezing it.

"Hey, Pard," he said softly. "Just take it easy. There's no hurry."

"Nuh-nuh-nuh," Vin mumbled.

Chris watched him closely.


The mumbling was louder and more focused. It was beginning to sound like Vin was intending to say, "nuh."

"Nuh, nuh, nuh..." Vin took a breath and rasped, "Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."

Chris snorted. At least he wasn't singing The Name Game like he had when he was hospitalized last time.


"I'm here," said Larabee offering a spoonful of ice chips to the parched Texan.


After a second spoonful, Vin looked at Chris. "Where's ever'body? They's all here, right?"

Chris nodded.

"Where's uh..." Vin frowned as his mind seemed to blank on his teammate's names. "You know."

Chris shook his head. He wasn't sure which of the team members Vin was asking about.

"You do too know. The one with the caterpillar on his lip," said the groggy Texan. "And Preacher man..."

Chris smiled. Vin was trying valiantly to be coherent.

"Whiskey for my men, beer for my horses."

But he wasn't entirely successful.

"Buck's with JD and Josiah is in the waiting room," Chris said.

"Who?" Vin asked in confusion.

"Caterpillar Lip and Preacher Man."

"Oh. And... and..." Vin frowned again.

"Nathan?" Chris offered.

Vin smiled. "Yeah, him."

"He's here, too. He's with Ezra in the waiting room."

"And JD?" Vin closed his eyes. "I tried to catch him."

Chris hesitated. Did Vin know what he just said? Was what he said true, or part of his mixed up confusion?

"Whiskey for my men," Vin crooned.


"Hey, Chris?" he asked, opening his eyes and staring at the blond.

"What?" asked Chris.

"How come the men get whiskey and the horses get beer?"

Chris rolled his eyes. "I don't know."

"Don't hardly seem fair," said Vin. "The horses do all the work."

With that sage comment, Vin yawned and closed his eyes, heading back into the safety of sleep.

+ + ATF + +

In the waiting room, Ezra had retreated into sleep as well, but it hadn't been without a fight. While Standish was curled tightly in the fetal position on one couch against the back wall, Josiah Sanchez was sprawled on an adjacent row of connected seats. Nathan covered both men with blankets and grabbed an apple before sitting down next to Assistant Director Orrin Travis.

Upon their arrival in the waiting room, Ezra had tried to go back on his agreement to sleep. Josiah and Nathan had double-teamed him and finally convinced him, with the caveat that Josiah would sleep as well, so that he and Ezra could be awake and alert to relieve Chris and Buck later.

Nathan took a bite of his apple. He'd cross that bridge when they came to it. He knew it would be just as difficult to relieve Buck and Chris, if not more so, than it was to get Ezra to rest, but he would do it.

Someone needed to take care of the team while they were too vulnerable to do it themselves. Besides, if he kept focused on the others, he didn't have to think about the very strong possibility that Vin and JD may never be able to return to Team Seven.

Jackson took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Sometimes it was hard having the knowledge and skills of an EMT. He understood all too well the implications of the doctors' words. He'd explained some of them to his teammates, but had kept the heaviest thoughts to himself. None of the others needed to know right now that the very nature of Vin and JD's injuries made it a high possibility that neither of them would return to 100% of their capacity, let alone return to work.

Vin's prognosis ranged from a worst case of paralysis to best case of a lengthy recovery with intense therapy for his fractured leg. JD...

Nathan took another deep breath and let it out. He didn't want to think about the worst possibility with JD, but the truth was JD wasn't out of the woods yet. Without knowing how much damage he suffered from the lack of oxygen, it was still possible that he may not survive, and if he did, he may have brain damage. At best he could wake up in a few hours and only have to deal with recovering from his fractured arm, leg and jaw. Only. Having his jaw wired closed for eight weeks would drive JD crazy. The fractures to his arm would probably require the most therapy.

And that didn't even take into consideration the psychological ramifications.

Nathan glanced over at Ezra, relieved that he was actually sleeping. Standish had psychological ramifications of his own to deal with. Hopefully when Ezra woke, he would be refreshed enough to be able to deal with the stress better. But, it could be a long haul for the undercover agent as well.

Though Ezra hadn't given him details, Nathan knew too well the incredible strain of holding a teammate's life in his hands. Standish had to rescue breathe under the most difficult circumstances with JD's facial trauma and trying to assist Vin as well. He could easily imagine the fear the southerner felt, the doubt about his skills, the helplessness to do anything more.

And then that fool doctor...

Nathan growled under his breath. If there was one time he wished he could take a 2 x 4 to someone's head, it had been that moment in the emergency room. While he understood the doctor's frustration over a patient with a back injury being moved, the man had failed to consider on-scene safety being the primary concern. Maybe he should be thrown into a similar situation and let him have to make the difficult choice of moving an injured person or leaving them in harm's way. In any case, the doctor's words of frustration and 'righteous indignation' had hit the already self-doubting southerner full-force. Harsh words from an authority figure had served only to confirm Ezra's misgivings and reinforce the fear that he had done irreparable harm to his friend instead of recognizing he had saved their lives.

The problem was, they didn't even know if there was irreparable harm, let alone if Ezra moving Vin had caused it. More than likely if there was permanent damage, the fall had caused it. But the doctor's words had escalated Ezra's feelings of self-doubt to self-recrimination.

Nathan hoped that Ezra would take part in the CISM debriefing. It could go a long way in defusing the stress before things got really out of hand. The facilitator could help make a determination if Ezra needed additional help through a counselor or therapist.

"I need to go."

Nathan jerked, startled from his thoughts by the Assistant Director's comment.

"Will you let Chris know that we'll be covering the team's urgent casework for the rest of the day?" asked Orrin.

Jackson nodded. "Yes, Sir."

I'll need Chris to check in with me later today, perhaps after he's had some rest so we can determine how to shift the caseload."

Nathan gave a quick nod and shook hands with Travis as he stood to leave.

"Call me if there's any news."

"Yes, Sir. I will," Nathan replied.

As Travis exited the area, he stopped and shook hands with a very haggard looking Buck Wilmington.

Buck shuffled past the AD and settled heavily into the chair next to Nathan's.

"Shift change, they kicked me out," he said with a sigh.

Nathan wasn't surprised. While most of the time ICU patients could have family with them shift change was the exception. Nathan thought it was partially so that the nurses could exchange notes and partially so that the family members were forced to get up a move around for a bit. Either way Buck had at least a half hour to kill.

Buck scrubbed a weary hand across his face. "He doesn't even look like JD," he said softly. "It's unnatural to see him so still, you know?"

"Yeah," Nathan agreed.

"He's gotta..." Buck swallowed back his emotion, unable to finish his thought - his hope that JD would be all right.

Jackson was quiet, letting his friend collect himself.

After a few moments, Buck nodded towards Ezra.

"Finally got him to get some sleep, huh?"

Nathan nodded. "Wasn't easy."

Buck snorted softly. "Never is."

"Had to promise him that Josiah would sleep, too, so the two of them could relieve you and Chris."

Wilmington shook his head. He had no intention of being relieved. He looked at his watch and fiddled with the alarm setting on it.

"If this thing doesn't wake me in forty-five minutes, will you?" Buck asked.

Nathan nodded.


"I give you my word," agreed Nathan. Buck taking a catnap without prompting was more than he expected.

"And you'll wake me if anything..."

"Yes," Nathan interrupted. "Sleep."

Buck grabbed a pillow and a blanket and walked over to the "sleeping corner." He unrolled a mat that someone had brought in for their use and made himself as comfortable as possible on the floor.

"Three down, one to go," said Nathan softly as he returned to his seat and put his feet up on the coffee table waiting for Chris' return.

+ + ATF + +

The thin mat provided little padding, but that wasn't what kept Buck awake. It was the image of the broken and battered body of his 'little brother' that prevented sleep.

He knew JD wouldn't look good, but it was still numbing to see the ventilator breathing for him, the IVs, various monitors, and the young agent himself. JD's jaw was swollen and bruised. Both eyes were black and he had a small scrape on the tip of his nose. How he had not broken his nose was a mystery. That would have complicated the breathing difficulty even more.

Buck felt so helpless staring at his young friend. He held JD's hand despite the IV and talked to him, telling him to quit laying around on the job and wake up. Dunne hadn't even twitched, but the doctor had told him not to expect anything for at least twenty-four hours. Still, he had hoped.

The time had gone by far too quickly until the nurse asked him to come back in an hour. Buck didn't want to leave, but the fear that trying to stay or making a scene would cause harm to JD made the decision for him. He promised JD that he would be back and headed to the elevators going up a floor to the orthopedic waiting room.

He was relieved to see Ezra sleeping when he entered. He had seen the toll this accident was taking on the southerner and was grateful that he was finding some relief. He had wanted to be angry with Standish, to blame someone for the senseless accident, but what could he blame him for? Being too cautious and driving slow enough that the accident had occurred between the time Buck had passed and they had arrived? It was stupid. It was no more Ezra's fault than it was his own. Josiah in his gentle wisdom had reminded Buck that they were all looking for some reason, some way for this mess to make sense and the natural inclination was to find someone to blame, even if there was no blame to be given. It was a lot easier to find fault than it was to accept that there was no reason, no justification for Vin and JD lying in a hospital.

Buck felt the blanket being tucked around him and opened his eyes. He gave Nathan a half-hearted smile and closed his eyes again. He did need a nap. They all did. Nathan and Josiah were the only ones who had any sleep last night, and they had been awakened after only a couple of hours.

Was it only last night? It felt like weeks.

+ + ATF + +

Buck had gone back to JD's room and still Ezra slept. None of them had any intention of waking the Southerner for "his turn." He needed the rest and would have plenty of opportunity to be there to support Vin, and the Lord willing, JD, in what would likely be lengthy recoveries.

Josiah had awakened and had gone to Vin's room to sit with the sharpshooter for a while. Chris was now dozing in the chair next to Nathan. He would visit JD when the doctor came around and then he would go in to the office. Larabee didn't want to go, but he was in charge and someone had to make sure the pressing cases were handled. Although it didn't feel like it for Team Seven, life went on for the rest of the world.

After a too brief visit with his youngest agent and a 'no change' update, Chris made his way to the Federal Building and met with Orrin Travis and three ATF team leaders. With some creative shuffling, Team Seven's most pressing cases were reassigned and Chris made arrangements for Josiah, Nathan and Buck to assist with bringing the other teams up to speed. Larabee was grateful for the flexibility, knowing that the physically healthy members of his team would need a couple of days to regroup, yet need something to do to keep busy.

The one thing that could not be reassigned was testifying in court. Vin and Ezra were scheduled to testify for the next couple of days. Obviously, Vin would not be able to be in court. Chris blew out a sigh. Ezra wasn't exactly in shape to testify either, but without Vin, the Southerner's statement was even more critical.

It was nearly dinnertime when Chris was free to head back to the hospital. He gathered up a stack of files that could be worked on in the waiting room at the hospital, as well as packing up JD's laptop. Larabee headed for the parking garage and stopped by Ezra's Jaguar. A police officer had driven the car from the accident scene as a favor to Standish. Chris unlocked the trunk and retrieved Ezra's briefcase. He would need his case notes to review before testifying. Balancing the laptop bag, and two briefcases, he closed the trunk and started back to the hospital.

+ + ATF + +

His head ached and he was tired. The bed was uncomfortable and he had a crick in his neck. The pillow was starchy...

Ezra flinched. Where was he? Or more importantly, who was he? Was he on a case?

Standish breathed in and out slowly, willing his muddled head to clear enough to sort things out. Waking up undercover was always a tricky proposition.

"You awake, Ezra?"

The undercover agent waited, giving himself time to figure out who he was playing in his current assignment. The voice had called him Ezra, but was it a trick?

"You're at Denver General in the waiting room," the same voice soothed.

Nathan! It was Nathan. Why was he so groggy?

Tylenol PM. It wasn't too strong, but had enough sedative to disorient him.

Ezra opened his eyes, trusting that Nathan was telling the truth.

"How do you feel?" asked Jackson.

Standish gave him a less than gentlemanly response bringing a grin to Nathan's face. He knew Ezra would be disoriented when he woke, and had intentionally clued him in by calling him by name and telling him where he was, but the cursing served to show the undercover agent wasn't quite "together" yet. In normal circumstances, Ezra would not have admitted he was less that absolutely fine.

With a jolt, Ezra sat up suddenly, and Nathan knew reality had just come crashing back to the Southerner. Standish scanned the room, unconsciously noting which teammates were with him and which were absent, meaning they were with Vin or JD. Chris and Josiah were missing from the room.

"Do you want something to eat?"

Ezra shook his head and rubbed his eyes. Nathan was still doing his best to take care of his teammates.


Ezra looked up and took the bottle of water that Buck held out to him.

Buck pushed the Southerner's legs off of the couch and sat down wearily next to him.

"Good you're awake, you can go visit JD," said Buck, looking at his watch. "They kicked me out for a bit but we can see him again in a couple of minutes."

Ezra couldn't hide the slight panic that crossed his face. Everything that he'd managed to push aside by sleeping began to overwhelm him again - the fear that he hadn't done enough and had blown it by not noticing JD wasn't breathing soon enough.

He didn't deserve to see JD.


He was afraid to see JD.

Ezra cleared his throat. "Do you think two visitors might be too..." he started.

Buck shook his head, easily seeing what Ezra was doing.

"No." He stood, grabbing Standish by the elbow and pulling him up. "Come on," he encouraged.

He guided Ezra to the elevator then down to ICU, not releasing his elbow until the Southerner stopped cold by JD's doorway.

"I'll wait right here," said Buck, nodding towards JD's bed.

Ezra worked to slow down his breathing. It was hard to believe that his heart was pounding so hard.

What had he done? How could he have failed his teammates so badly?

He flinched as Buck squeezed his shoulder. "I'll be in the waiting room we just passed," Buck assured as he gave a small push.

Ezra stepped forward and entered JD's room. He didn't want to look, but steeled himself determined that he was going to pull it together and be a professional.


"Aw, JD," he said softly as he looked at his friend. Ezra would never say it to his teammates, but the young agent looked a hundred times better in the hospital bed than he had at the accident scene.

Without any thought, Ezra stepped closer and picked up JD's hand. "You look a lot better than you did earlier," he babbled. "They cleaned you up nicely."

He fell silent watching JD's chest rise and fall in time with the ventilator and for the next ten minutes he simply sat by the young agent. He prayed for his friend, doubtful that God would ever answer something for Ezra P. Standish. No, he'd done things... But JD? Maybe God would listen on behalf of JD.


Ezra looked up.

"Sir, I'm sorry, but I need to change JD's IV," said the nurse. "I'll call you know when I'm done."

Ezra nodded and reluctantly let go of JD's hand.

Walking out of the area, he barely made it outside of ICU before he found he needed a wall to hold him up. He took a deep breath and fought off the threatening tears, before looking up and meeting Buck's gaze.

Buck simply nodded to him and then tipped his head to indicate going back to the waiting area.

Ezra followed Buck, allowing time to compose himself. Standish paused at the waiting room entrance as Wilmington walked past.

Sensing the hesitation, Buck turned back to him. "Junior's in room 612."

'Aw hell,' Ezra thought. 'He wants me to see Vin, too.'

"He's been asking for you," said Buck. "Gets really agitated. I don't think he believes us when we tell him that you're okay."

That did it. Use a tiny touch of guilt to get the Southerner moving again.

Ezra moved quietly into the room, noting that Vin, too, looked better than he had at the accident scene. The picture of the broken bodies of his friends would likely not fade for a long time.

Maybe never.

"I think he's still awake," Chris said softly from the chair next to the bed.

"Who's awake?" mumbled Vin.

"You are, you drugged up Texan," Chris replied.

"Oh." Vin closed his eyes tightly and hissed. "Think maybe I need some more."

"I'll ring the nurse," said Chris.

"I'll go get her," volunteered Ezra, wanting to do anything to get out of the room, away from his friend. His friend who was trussed up in traction because of Ezra P. Standish's incompetence.

"Stay, Ezra," said Josiah from his position by the window.

"Ezra?" Vin opened his eyes, recognizing Standish's voice. "That you?"

"It's me," Ezra agreed reluctantly.

"Thanks," said Vin. "Thanks for saving my life."

Ezra shook his head as Tanner drifted back to sleep. He slumped into a chair across from Chris as Vin's words worked against his self-deprecation.

Vin was thanking him for saving his life when, in all likelihood, he had crippled him. It just didn't make sense.

Standish sniffed and wiped his eyes with his index finger, not even bothering to look for a handkerchief.

It just didn't make sense.

"I'm sorry," Ezra whispered as he bolted from the room.

Chris' gaze followed Ezra to the doorway. He looked back at the man in the bed and then to the door.

"I've got him," said Josiah solemnly as he headed for the hallway.

+ + ATF + +

The big man moved quickly, not wanting the undercover agent to make a repeat performance of his earlier disappearance. But Josiah didn't have to go far. Ezra had only gone outside the door and was leaning against the wall struggling for composure.

"Let it go," Sanchez said softly.

Ezra shook his head.

It wasn't that he wanted to hold on to the guilt, the memories, or the fear, but how could he possibly 'let it go'? Vin was lying in that bed in traction because he had moved him, because he had told his younger teammates to go help the man in the first place.

"Ezra, it's not your fault. You did everything you could. Everything any of us would have done."

Josiah looked at Standish's defeated posture. Ezra clearly was not hearing him, but he had to try. Maybe something would sink in.

"He thanked me." The words were so soft Josiah barely heard them. "He thanked me for crippling him."

"No!" Sanchez stated firmly, watching Ezra's gaze jerk up to meet his. "He thanked you for saving his life. And that is exactly what you did."

Josiah felt his heart sink as Ezra's gaze fell away. The Southerner wasn't ready to believe his words.


But he would remind him again, and again if necessary, until Ezra accepted the truth.

"A.m. or p.m.?"

The question startled Josiah, and it took him a moment to figure out what Standish was asking about. Ezra was looking at his watch.

"P.m.," Josiah answered, only slightly surprised that Ezra didn't know whether it was morning or evening. It was a wonder that any of them knew.

"Wednesday?" Ezra's voice was raw with the discomfort of being unsure of himself.

Josiah nodded.

"I need to go home. I have to prepare for court tomorrow."

"Carson said he won't need you until two," Chris said as he stepped outside of Vin's room.

"I need to get my files," said Ezra.

"They're in my truck," said Chris as he held out the keys. "You're okay to drive?"

Ezra nodded, accepting the keys.

"Go over your notes, then get a good night's sleep," Chris instructed. Standish wasn't a child, but it seemed that the simplest things were the hardest to remember under stress. "Be back here at ten for the debriefing."

Ezra's eyes widened at the mention of the debriefing, giving away that he had no intention of taking part in it.

"For Katherine," said Larabee, locking eyes with Standish.

Ezra closed his eyes and gave a short nod of agreement.

Chris reached out and clapped him on the shoulder. "We'll get through this," he said softly.

Ezra tried to smile, but didn't fool anyone. "Ten?" he confirmed.

Chris nodded.

"Do you need someone to go over your notes with you?" asked Josiah.

Ezra shook his head. "No. You're needed here."


"Someone has to get Nathan to rest," the Southerner added.

Josiah shook his head. "All right. I'll work on Nathan."

Ezra gave a half-hearted two-finger salute and walked down the hallway towards the elevator to find his way home.

+ + ATF + +

Chris drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair waiting for eight A.M. to arrive. Buck was dozing on the couch where Ezra had slept earlier. They had both been kicked out for the 7:30 am shift change.

Hopefully Nathan and Josiah had slept better than he had. They had accepted the hospitality of the crew of the fire station down the street from the hospital. They had a couple of empty beds and offered them to Team Seven, as well as the use of their showers and kitchen. He and Buck had made due with recliners brought in by helpful nurses.

Two more minutes.

It could take him two minutes to walk to Vin's room, couldn't it? No. It wasn't that far away.

Maybe he should wake Buck?

"Mmmph," Buck grumbled as he struggled to wake up. "What time is it?" he asked as he rubbed his eyes and stretched.

"Almost eight," said Chris.

Buck sat up and looked around the quiet waiting room. They were alone for the first time in over 24 hours.

"Several of the guys from the office stopped by on their way into work," said Chris, noting Buck's silent observation of the room. "Josiah and Nathan are at the fire station, and Ezra's at home in bed... I hope."

Buck nodded. "Anything new?"

Chris shook his head. "After the doctor sees JD, come to Vin's room and let me know how he's doing."

Buck nodded in agreement as the two men headed for their teammates' rooms.

+ + ATF + +

As Chris entered the Sharpshooter's room, two things were abundantly clear: Vin was no longer under the strong pain medication, and he was now aware of his prognosis.

"How're you feeling?" asked Chris as he walked over to the bed.

Since he still couldn't move his head, Vin's eyes tracked to the left to look at Chris.

"Looks like I'm in for the long haul," Tanner replied.

Chris nodded hesitantly, not exactly certain how Vin was dealing with the news of the possible paralysis.

"How's JD?"

"He's still unconscious," Larabee replied, "But the doctor said that they may start cutting back on the medications today and allow him to wake up. Buck's with him now. He said he'll drop by after the doctor visits JD."

Vin frowned.

"What's wrong?" asked Chris.

Vin sighed. "This is going to get old real quick. I can't even nod when we're talkin'."

"Only for a couple of days," Chris replied. "The doctor said as soon as the swelling goes down they'll free you from that contraption and you can turn your head all you want."

"Is he good?"

Chris nodded. "Raine said he's the best."

"Well, he's wrong about one thing."

Larabee raised an eyebrow in question.

"There ain't no maybe about me walkin' outta here. When I go home, I'm walking out under my own power."

Chris nodded in acknowledgment of Vin's spirit and determination. "Well, I hate to say it, Cowboy, but I think that broken leg of yours is going to require a wheelchair for departure."

Vin grinned sheepishly. "Okay, yer probably right about that. But you know what I mean. I'm gonna walk. Fate ain't gonna win."

Chris again nodded in agreement and was silent as both of them gathered their thoughts.



"You wanna let go a' my hand and see if there's any jell-o left on that tray. I'm still a mite hungry and it's a little tough to feed myself."

Chris grinned and released the Texan's hand. Yes, it would be a long road ahead, but Vin Tanner would keep things interesting.

+ + ATF + +

Larabee jerked awake as someone touched his shoulder.

"Easy there, Stud," Buck soothed.

Chris blinked trying to gather his thoughts. He didn't remember dozing off. Last he knew, he was feeding Vin jell-o.

Stealing a glance at the Texan, he relaxed realizing that Vin was asleep. And the empty jell-o cup was on the bedside table. At least he hadn't nodded off while feeding Tanner.

Feeding Tanner. That thought made him hesitate. Vin had been too calm, too accepting of his condition. Maybe it was partly the medication, but it seemed odd to Chris, that Vin had been so composed at such disturbing news. At first, he was willing to take the sharpshooter's reaction at face value, but as he'd fed him the jell-o, he'd witnessed the edginess as Vin chewed on him for moving too slow with the spoon.

Vin was upset. He was just keeping it hidden inside.

Or trying to.

"You all right?"

"Yeah," said Chris with a sigh. "How's JD?"

Buck tucked Vin's blanket over his leg. "They're taking him off the meds that have been keeping him out. Doc says that I can stay with him the whole time while he's waking, as long as I stay out of their way."


"Yeah," said Buck. "It is. It wasn't setting too well with me, thinking JD could wake up alone."

Chris eyed his friend. Buck was counting on JD waking up even though there had been no guarantee that the young man would.

Optimism or denial?

Chris looked at Vin, and then at Buck.

Denial. Both of them.

"How's Junior doing?" Buck asked.

"Swears he's going to walk out of here." Chris scrubbed a hand across his face.

"But?" prodded Buck, Larabee's actions telling him there was more.

"He's scared," said Chris. "He's hiding it with grouching, but it's there."

Buck brushed the back of Vin's hand. "He's got a right to be scared." Turning to look at Chris, he added, "We all do."

A soft knock at the door ended their conversation.

"Come on in," said Chris in a hushed voice as Ezra peered into the room.

Chris took a quick look at his watch. It was now nine o'clock and the CISM debriefing wasn't for another hour. As weary as the Southerner was, one would expect he'd still be asleep. Despite the elegant suit and tie, taking a good look at the dark circles under Ezra's eyes gave him the answer.

"Did you get any sleep?" Chris asked.

Ezra held up the files of case notes. "I am fully prepared for testifying. How's Mr. Tanner?"

Chris grimaced. 'Artfully dodged, Ezra.' He couldn't really blame the agent for spending the late night hours reviewing the case. And avoiding the nightmare they were currently experiencing. In normal conditions, Standish would have used the days prior to testifying to prepare, but the circumstances of the past... day and a half... two days? Larabee blew out a breath. He had lost track of time.

"You look tired," said Buck.

"Pot calling the kettle black, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra replied. "JD?"

Buck smiled half-heartedly. "The doc is weaning him off the meds that have been keeping him out. It'll be a few hours yet, but he should be waking up today."

Ezra nodded, hoping with all his heart that JD would indeed wake up.

And be fine.

"Any more room in here?" asked Josiah as he and Nathan entered the doorway.

"I'll go," volunteered Ezra. "I need to..."

"No!" four voices chorused at the same time, startling the weary southerner.

"There's lots of room, Ez," said Buck. "No need for anyone to go."

"Except for those who need to go to the office," chided Chris softly. He would give his team as much leeway as he could, but Josiah and Nathan were due at the office.

Nathan looked apologetically at Chris before checking Vin's monitors. Seemingly satisfied, he gave Ezra a once over as well.

"Did you get any sleep?" he asked.

"I've already been grilled, Mr. Jackson," Ezra replied, sidestepping the issue for a second time.

Nathan looked at Chris, who shook his head indicating that Ezra had not slept. Nathan held his tongue knowing that Ezra had responsibilities today that could not be rescheduled simply because there was a personal crisis and he needed some sleep.

"I saw Katherine in the hall," Nathan said, changing the subject. "The CISM facilitator is here a little early. Tony's here as well as Jack. He was the first officer to arrive on scene. They wanted to know if you wanted to meet a little early since you're all here?"

Ezra closed his eyes. 'No!' he screamed to himself. 'I don't want to meet at all.' Opening his eyes and taking in the expectant looks of his teammates, Standish nodded.

"When and where?" he asked.

He'd go.

No one said he had to talk.

+ + ATF + +

It was a mistake. A huge mistake.

Ezra closed his eyes and took another deep breath as he listened to Katherine talking about her experiences at the scene of the accident. Every word seemed to bring to the forefront all the visions he'd been trying so hard to bury. The detachment he was using as a safety zone was rapidly disintegrating.

The Southerner's head snapped up as Tony began to speak. He had expected Katherine to talk about her feelings. It was something that a woman was more prone to do than a man. But when Tony shared, Ezra started to realize that he was not the only one profoundly affected by the trauma. True, Tony and Katherine didn't know Vin or JD personally, but the simple fact that they were in law enforcement and therefore "brothers" had affected them deeply.

He listened to the stammering speech of the young police officer, the trauma - or talking about it - was taking its toll on him. When Jack said that he was certain they were all better at handling this than he was, Ezra was spurred to speak.

"No, we are not," he said. All eyes turned to him as he spoke for the first time in an hour. "At least I'm not."

"Go ahead," encouraged the facilitator.

"I was terrified," Ezra said softly, closing his eyes again as scenes from the accident site raced through his mind. JD's crumpled leg. Vin's arm. JD's bloody face. Vin's groaning. The terror of the oncoming car. Or worse - the realization that JD had stopped breathing.

He had moved automatically, the training kicking in and taking over when fear wanted to rule. He had cleared JD's airway and breathed for his young friend. Ezra shuddered remembering the horrid tang of JD's blood in his mouth, the slick substance smearing as the dark haired agent's jaw shifted unnaturally in his hands.

Standish took several deep breaths, fighting back the nausea that rolled through his stomach even at the memories.

Again the facilitator encouraged him to continue, but Ezra balked. He couldn't do this. Not now. He had to hold it together until after court. He couldn't fall apart now.

He shook his head and shut down the emotions to the best of his ability.

The experienced facilitator recognized what was happening and diverted the attention away from Ezra. Her job was not therapy. It was to provide the opportunity to talk about what had happened and to help them determine if therapy was warranted.

Fortunately, the few words he had spoken, were enough to encourage the young officer that his feelings and reactions were not abnormal. After all, if an officer with Ezra's experience had been scared...

Standish focused his thoughts on the slimy perp he would be testifying against in a few hours. He thought about the abhorrent deeds the man was being tried for, and was almost successful in reestablishing his detachment. There was just one little detail.

Vin was supposed to testify with him and he was lying paralyzed in a hospital bed.

Ezra cursed aloud, drawing attention back to himself. Would this never end?

+ + ATF + +

It had been a long day for all of them. Vin was asleep most of the day, thankfully. It meant the Texan had less time to worry about whether he would walk again. JD had shown no signs of waking despite being weaned off the medication that had kept him comatose. His lack of response weighed heavily on all of them.

Chris groaned as he pulled off his cowboy boots and dropped them on the floor beside his bed. It had been difficult to get Buck to leave JD's room. They'd been lucky to get him to agree to go and sleep at the fire station like Josiah and Nathan had done the night before.

Fighting his own warring emotions over staying with Vin and JD or leaving, Chris had decided to go home and get some sleep in his own bed. He and Buck were due to spend some time in the office tomorrow while Josiah and Nathan stayed with their injured teammates.

Ezra? Josiah had relayed the information that the undercover agent's testimony had gone long and from what the older agent had heard, the cross-examination had been brutal. Standish would have to return in the morning to finish his testimony. Ezra hadn't stopped by the hospital after his court appearance, but everyone just assumed he had gone home to actually sleep.

The jangling of the phone just as Chris laid his head on his pillow confirmed an error in that assumption.

"Hello?" Chris answered with a weary sigh.

"Senor Larabee?"

"Inez?" Chris asked, immediately concerned that the pretty proprietor of The Saloon was calling him.

"I'm sorry to call you so late, Senor, but..." her voice trailed off, emphasizing her reluctance to call. "Did you perhaps get some bad news today about Vin or JD?"

"Nothing new," said Chris, knowing that Inez knew of the accident. "Which one?" he asked, knowing one of his team members was at the bar.

"Senor Standish," Inez replied. "He's not causing any trouble, but I cannot leave him here and I'm getting ready to close."

Chris sighed, rubbing a weary hand across his face. "I'll be there as quick as I can."

"Thank you, Senor," said Inez. "I'm sorry to have to call."

Chris ended the call shaking his head. He had assumed Ezra had gone home. "Gee, Larabee," he muttered to himself as he pulled on the jeans he had just discarded moments ago. "You know what they say about assume. It makes an 'ass' out of 'u' and 'me.'"

He made quick work of his boots, grabbed his wallet, cell phone, keys and a jacket and headed back to town.

He ran scenarios through his mind as he drove, wondering what exactly had pushed Ezra to get drunk. The accident and the pressures of testifying were obvious influences, but Ezra wasn't prone to losing himself in alcohol.

The Southerner was a lot like Vin on that account. While he enjoyed quality liquor, Ezra was loathe to put himself into a situation where he didn't have control of himself. Chris let out a sigh. He wondered just how harsh their younger lives had been to instill such a strong sense of self-preservation and a reluctance to rely on others. It didn't matter, now. The past was the past and right now he had to figure out what was twisting Ezra so tightly.

Better yet, how to unwind his tension-filled undercover agent.

+ + ATF + +

Chris knocked lightly on the door of The Saloon, noting the 'closed' sign in the window.

"Senor Chris," Inez greeted as she unlocked the door. "Thank you for coming."

Chris glanced past her to the forlorn figure hunched at Team Seven's regular table. Standish was oblivious to his arrival, aimlessly drawing patterns in the condensation on his scotch glass.

"Sorry you had to wait," Chris said in apology to Inez as he moved towards Ezra. He stopped next to the table and waited for Ezra to acknowledge him, but the southerner was either too drunk or too deep in thought to notice him.


Standish looked up, not even attempting to mask the terror he felt at hearing Chris' voice.

Chris stared at him for a moment before he realized what the fear was.

"No!" he offered belatedly, trying to assure that Vin and JD weren't dead. "It's not anything like that. There's no real change in their conditions."

Ezra dropped his face into his hands in sheer relief. While he would prefer to hear they were fine, he'd settle for 'no change' right now.

Larabee frowned as he turned a chair around backwards and straddled it, sitting at the table. Unless Inez had already cleared away his empties, Ezra shouldn't be drunk. There was only one empty glass along with the half finished drink in front of him.

He took a deep breath trying to figure out what to say to Standish. He never was much for motivational speaking or pep talks, but from the exhausted look of the Southerner, he wouldn't be absorbing much of it anyway.

"Ready to go home?"

Ezra sat up straight and looked at his watch. "Oh dear Lord," he said softly, realizing it was late. "Miss Recillios..."

"Is ready to go home," Chris said, trying to ward off another guilt-trip for Ezra. He looked up as Inez approached the table with two steaming cups of coffee-to-go.

"I apologize..." Ezra started, but Inez didn't let him finish.

"There is no need, Senor. There have been many times where you have stayed late just to walk me to my car."

Ezra shook his head. "That's not the same..."

Inez pressed the coffee cup into his hands. "Please. It is no problem. Just take care of yourself and your friends."

"Thank you," Standish said softly as he followed Chris outside. They paused, making sure that Inez locked up and escorted her to her car.

As she left, Chris looked around for Ezra's Jaguar, but couldn't see it. "Where's your car?"

"Safe at the office," said Ezra with a sardonic smile.

Chris raised an eyebrow. "Not planning on driving home?"

"No," said Ezra with a sad chuckle, "I fully intended to drink myself into oblivion." The half smile fell. "Couldn't even do that right. I got in there and started thinking and forgot the drinking."

Ezra took a stumbling step and Chris noted that Standish was a little less than sober. It was likely that the drinks had been his dinner, and with the little he'd been eating lately, there was nothing to absorb the strength of the alcohol.

"That's not a bad thing," said Chris taking a sip of coffee before nodding towards his truck.

"But if I was soused, I wouldn't have to think," Ezra countered with the slightest slur to his speech.

"Doesn't fix anything." Chris spoke with the conviction of a man who had been there, done that. "Problems are still there, but then you've complicated them with a hangover."

He pushed the button to unlock the truck. "Besides, you have court in the morning, remember?"

Ezra shook his head sadly as he opened the passenger door. "McAllister is going to get off."

Chris frowned. Their case was good against McAllister. The evidence was strong. They hadn't made any technical mistakes on the case.

Two doors slammed and two men sat in silence inside the cab of the truck.

"Josiah said court was tough today. What happened?"

"Atlanta," said Ezra, taking a sip of his coffee.

Chris groaned inwardly. That's all Standish needed. A nightmare from the past that seemed to rear its ugly head at the most inopportune times. Hints and rumors of wrongdoing had hung Ezra out to dry in Atlanta. Undoubtedly McAllister's attorney was trying to discredit the Southerner's testimony with the innuendo.

"If we had Vin's testimony..."

Chris looked at Ezra, hearing the barely audible curse as he trailed off knowing that the agent's thoughts had traveled from his troubles in court to his injured friends. He waited for the southerner's next move, maybe not so patiently, but he hoped he didn't show it.

"I can't stop thinking about it."

Chris didn't know whether to wish that Ezra would talk and get it all out in the open, or clam up because he didn't want to know the gory details of the accident. Talking might be better for Standish, but Chris was certain that hearing what happened wouldn't help him sleep.

"When I found JD wasn't breathing..." Ezra put his coffee in the cup holder, fearing that his trembling hands might not be able to hold it any longer. "I should have seen it sooner."

Ezra looked out the window, trying to see anything except what his mind was seeing. His shaking hands curled into fists in an attempt to stop the trembling.

He wanted to stop talking. Stop thinking. But he couldn't. Maybe it was the alcohol. Maybe it was his exhaustion. Maybe it was just that he needed someone else to know, someone who could help him shoulder the burden. Someone he trusted. Whatever it was, the words continued to tumble out.

"He was bleeding... I cleared his airway and started rescue breathing." Ezra shook his head. "I don't know how I gave him any air. It seemed like I could hardly breathe myself. That first breath..."

Chris could see the shudder run through Ezra. He remained quiet, letting his friend speak.

"I got a mouthful of blood... JD's blood...the taste won't go away..."

The blond closed his eyes as Standish spoke. Now the obsessive behavior made sense. Ezra's continual need to rinse out his mouth, to brush his teeth; the inability and lack of desire to eat took on a whole new meaning. This was far deeper than the southerner's natural fastidiousness.

"His jaw... it kept shifting in my hands..." Ezra unclenched his fists and looked at his hands. "I could hear Vin. He was in so much pain...I couldn't help..."

The words trailed off as Ezra concentrated on just breathing. His heart was pounding even now, days after the accident, simply from the memory. He took a couple of hitching breaths trying to keep the tears at bay. As much as he didn't want to cry in front of Chris, he was more afraid of losing control completely. He was scared that if he gave in and allowed himself to really feel, that he would never get it together again.

Chris watched the struggle, fighting back a few tears of his own. As hard as it was for him to just hear the details, Ezra had lived them, and it had affected Standish far more deeply than any of them had truly realized.

What could he possibly say? Everything he could think of seemed trite, and Chris knew from personal experience that those words, no matter how well meaning, were worthless. He remembered all the empty words when he lost Sarah and Adam. Nothing had made a difference. Nothing except Buck's continuous presence. Friendship.

And suddenly Chris knew what to do. It may be outside of his comfort zone, but right now Ezra just needed a friend. Someone to listen to him and share the burden. Later, he would need someone to push, pull or drag him into therapy.

"It must have been incredibly hard," said Chris.

Ezra looked up, the understanding from his boss momentarily confusing him. It wasn't that he didn't expect support from Chris. Rather, in his state of mind he expected the others to be as hard on him as he was on himself.

He nodded. "It's something I wish never to do again."

"I hear that," Chris agreed.

"When I had to move JD... it was the hardest decision... And Vin..." Ezra stopped and shook his head.

"What?" Chris asked, encouraging him to continue.

The Southerner kept shaking his head. "I didn't have to move him... my fault."

"He was in danger," Chris countered.

"No. Don't you see?" Ezra looked at Larabee, his expression a combination of guilt and remorse. "I didn't have to move him. It's my fault he's paralyzed."

Chris shook his head, struggling to control his anger at the unnecessary guilt. "You had to move him," he insisted.

"No car came!" Ezra practically shouted his guilt. He turned his face away and stared out the window. "There was no car..."

Chris closed his eyes for a moment, understanding the weight of Ezra's guilt, misplaced as it was.

"Ezra, you made the right choice," he said. "You made the only choice."

"No car..." Standish muttered, refusing to look at Chris.

"You had to move Vin. You couldn't take the chance that a car would come."

"There was no car..."

"You couldn't know that. You made the right choice," Chris said with firm conviction. "Scene safety comes first and that Jack-ass of a doctor..."

Ezra's head snapped up at the mention of the doctor.

"He was dead wrong. He needs to spend a couple days with the paramedics and get his perspective screwed on straight."

Looking Ezra in the eye, he continued, "Everyone knows that. All the medical staff... The Team.... Vin."

Ezra dropped his gaze, rubbing one hand on his knee.

"And I think you know it, too, but maybe you're not ready to accept that fact." Chris blew out a sigh. "Sounds crazy, but it's not. My therapist told me once..." Larabee paused when Ezra looked at him in disbelief. "Yes, I had... have a therapist. You might think about talking to someone. Doesn't make you nuts or weak. It just helps you sort things out. Anyway, when I lost Sarah and Adam," Chris swallowed hard, "I needed someone to blame and when I couldn't blame Buck, I blamed myself, even though it wasn't my fault. Dr. Taylor told me that my reaction was a normal response. We need to blame so that the situation makes sense, so there's a reason. In this case, it's a stupid accident. We were even robbed of blaming the driver. He wasn't drunk, just old and confused. Believe me, I want to be mad at someone, to blame someone, but Ezra, there is no blame to be placed. None of this is your fault, or Vin's or JD's."

Ezra leaned his head back on the headrest. He was so tired. And scared. Even in his slight intoxication, Chris' words made sense. But he couldn't deal with that now. He had to finish his testimony and put McAllister away for life. Or at least a very long time.

"I need to go home," Ezra said softly.

Chris looked at the clock on the dashboard of the truck. It was two-thirty in the morning. It would take at least twenty minutes to get to Ezra's place and it was thirty minutes in the opposite direction to get to the ranch. He'd have to turn around and come back by seven-fifteen - earlier, in fact, because Ezra would need a ride.

"I'll take you to the ranch," Chris said, starting the engine.

"No," Ezra protested feebly, smoothing his rumpled suit. "I-I need a suit."

"Ezra," Chris growled softly, "It's late. Humor me. You like the bed in my guest room."

Standish yawned, forgetting to cover his mouth. "I need a suit."

Chris looked at him and shook his head. The Southerner was barely awake. "We'll stop by your dry cleaner's on the way in tomorrow."

Ezra didn't respond. Chris put the truck in gear and headed for home.

+ + ATF + +

Buck slept.

The bed in the fire station down the street from the hospital was comfortable enough, but his worry for JD and Vin had kept Wilmington awake longer than he thought. Finally his weary body had overruled his hyperactive mind and he slept.

Nathan held vigil in Vin's room, while Sanchez napped on the recliner in JD's room. Nathan watched the sharpshooter's restless sleep. It seemed odd to think that someone who was basically immobilized and sedated could be restless, but Tanner's moans and mumbles and twitches revealed his state of mind. Nathan rested his hand on Vin's shoulder and spoke softly to the Texan. His body stilled and Vin relaxed into a deeper sleep.

In the den of a ranch house outside of Denver, Chris covered the sleeping Standish with a blanket. The sofa wasn't known for being comfortable, but it was as far as Ezra had made it after entering the room. Leaving the undercover agent to rest, Chris made a circuit of the house, checking all the doors and windows and setting the alarm system. Turning out the lights, he headed to bed for the second time knowing it would be a very short night.

In a hospital room not too far from Vin's, consciousness was beckoning. The young dark-haired agent opened his eyes for the first time in days. It was dark and confusing. He hurt all over, and he was alone.

Without clarity of thought, he did the instinctive thing and called out for his friend. The tiniest movement flared intense pain through JD's jaw, but the only sound he could make was a groan. Tears filled his eyes and spilled down his cheeks as he tried to control the pain. His heart pounded rapidly and his breathing became a struggle. A monitor sounded shrilly causing Dunne to flinch away from the noise and the pain flared again. Tears flowed in earnest.

"Mr. Dunne?" the voice was almost angelic, soft and soothing, reminding him of his mother. "Try to remain calm."

JD's struggled as she continued to speak soothingly to him. "Don't fight the machine, just relax. There's a doctor on the way. The tube is helping you breathe. You need to relax... Let the ventilator do the work... That's it."

"Easy son," Josiah added in his sleep-roughened voice. The nurse's assurances had awakened him.

The nurse watched as the frightened hazel eyes focused on Josiah. "You're going to be just fine," she soothed as the breathing slowed into the rhythm of the ventilator and the eyelids began to droop. "Just rest now. Your friend will be here."

JD's eyes drifted shut.

+ + ATF + +

Time had passed, or had it? JD was confused. Everything seemed to hurt and he couldn't figure out where he was. He could hear voices speaking softly nearby. One was the same soothing voice that kept telling him he was okay.

"Mom?" he mumbled around the breathing tube. Tears sprang to his eyes and he moaned as pain shot through his jaw.

"Shh," the voice soothed. "Don't try to talk. You're safe."


He knew that deep voice. Dunne opened his eyes and tried to focus on the blur leaning over him.

Nathan's gentle hand rested on his shoulder. "You need to be calm, JD," Jackson assured. "You were in an accident. You're in the hospital. Your jaw is broken, that's why it hurts when you try to talk. You have a tube in your throat that's helping you breathe."

JD's eyes tracked fearfully toward the door as a doctor entered.

"It's okay. It's one of your doctors," Nathan soothed.

The doctor introduced himself and carried on a monologue as he and the nurse checked JD's vitals. Even though it was the wee hours of the morning, his patient was awake, and he needed to know just how aware John Daniel Dunne was and to try to determine to what extent his brain had been damaged from the lack of oxygen.


"JD," interrupted Nathan. "He goes by JD."

The doctor nodded. "JD, I'm going to ask you some questions, but I don't want you to try to talk. Can you move your right index finger for me?"

Nathan watched anxiously. It seemed to take forever, but JD moved his finger.

"Good," encouraged the doctor. "Can you move it twice for me?"

Again, seemingly in slow motion, JD moved his finger, this time twice in response to the doctor.

Nathan couldn't help but grin. JD was responding to commands, a good sign.

The doctor went on to ask a series of questions needing a yes or no answer. JD responded to all of them until he could no longer stay awake.

"He's doing good?" Nathan asked.

The doctor allowed himself to smile. "He's responsive. It's difficult to tell if the slow responses are from the head injury or from the medications, but being communicative at this stage is good. Very good."

Nathan nodded. He understood that only time would show any lingering effects, but JD had known him and had responded to the doctor.

"His vitals look good. I'd like to give him a few more hours and then we'll schedule him for surgery for the facial trauma."

"I'll call the others," said Nathan.

"The one visitor at a time still applies," the doctor stated firmly. "He needs his strength for the surgery."

Nathan nodded.

The doctor softened his command with a smile. "But I'm glad you were here tonight. It seemed to ease his confusion."

With that said, the doctor tilted his head towards the door indicating he was going.

"Thanks, Doc," said Nathan as he patted JD's shoulder while watching the doctor leave the room.