Finding the Way Home,
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The buzzer seemed more annoying than usual. Buck opened one eye. It was already 6:30. He groped blindly for the clock to turn off the incessant noise. He moaned as he turned over. He had managed to fall asleep after all for all the good it did him. He felt even worse than when he had gone to bed.
Buck pushed himself up to sit on the edge of the bed. He fumbled his way into his robe and moaned as he knelt on the floor to reach under his bed for the slipper that had gone astray.
It wasn't until he opened the door to his room that it hit him, the sour stench of gastric juices and whiskey.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"No more excuses, JD." Buck was incensed at the way JD's attention just seemed to wonder off. "GET SOME HELP!" Buck's bellowing startled the kid enough that he jumped and seemed to finally notice Buck was talking to him. His bed was covered in vomit. It looked as if JD hadn't even woken up when he had thrown up. It was likely the covers and maybe the mattress too were now landfill. "Get some help or you're gone, do you understand me? I can't do this anymore; I want you out of my house. Now clean this place up. When I get home tonight, I want a decision as to what you're doing next or I'll make the decision for you! But one way or the other this behavior stops and you start dealing with your shit!"
Buck didn't wait for an answer, he left. He checked himself just before slamming the door hard enough to damage its hinges. He took a deep breath and closed the door quietly before locking it. He made his way slowly down the steps and climbed into his truck. He dropped his keys as he tried to insert them in the ignition. Only then did he realize he was shaking. He closed his eyes and leaned his head on the steering wheel. 'God help me,' he thought. 'Practice what you're preaching Wilmington, you need help too. You've been trying deal with JD all on your own. It's not like it was with Chris and you were all on your own. There are five others who'll step up here, just say the word.'
He felt guilty. He was tired and worn out. JD just kept doing the same destructive thing over and over again. JD wouldn't take help, he wouldn't help himself, he wouldn't even talk about it. Buck was frustrated at the brick wall he kept running up against. He needed a break. One of the others would gladly take JD in, just for a little while. He hadn't been yelling at JD this morning so much as yelling at the situation. He knew it was so bad because he cared so damn much for the kid. Of course he didn't want JD out of his life, he hadn't meant it. He would apologize tonight. JD was, after all, his kid brother.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
"Where the hell is he?" Chris fumed as he sat in the dark blue company sedan in Buck's driveway. Buck had been late for work. There hadn't been time to discuss the group therapy treatment recommended for JD. On the way out the door Nathan reminded Buck of his presentation. Buck paused for a minute and then swore. He'd forgotten the data stick with his Power Point Presentation saved on it. It was obvious they were going to be late; the CDC was in the opposite direction from the Homeland Security offices.
Buck had ridden over alone with Chris. Chris had wanted to discuss the intervention idea with Buck but Buck had been uncharacteristically quiet and sullen. Chris had attempted to find out why, but all Buck would say was that it had been a tough a night and a rough morning and that they needed to talk after the meeting today.
Once they pulled into the driveway, Buck had said he knew exactly where the data stick was and he'd only be a minute. That was ten minutes ago. Chris got out of the car, and walked back to the identical dark blue model vehicle parked in the driveway behind him. Josiah rolled down the window.
"I'm going to see what's holding Buck up. You four go on ahead without us."
"If it's all the same to you, we'll wait," said Josiah.
"Yeah, if going to be late anyway, we might as well all be late together," said Vin.
The expressions on the faces of the other three indicated that they were in agreement with Josiah. Chris thought briefly about arguing the point as he had reminded them more often than not this wasn't a democracy but the early morning, the news from Brook and the headache that was now only a dull roar thanks to four Tylenol had taken some of the fight out of him.
"Suit yourselves," he said before turning and making his way up the driveway and in the front door.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The hallway seemed dark after the bright sunshine of the out-of-doors. While Chris paused a moment waiting for his eyes to adjust to the difference in lighting, it occurred to him that something was different. He had immediately noticed the stale smell of sickness. That put Chris on edge. They joked about Buck and JD's place being the CDC but never had their home smelled like this. The place was quiet, almost eerie. Normally he would have called out to Buck to hurry up but a sixth sense told him to hold off.
The living room was at the end of the hall at the back of the house. Normally the curtains were open and the room was bright at this time of day but today the curtains were drawn. The curtains were light weight and unlined and as such they allowed only muted light into the room. He could make out a silhouette standing at the end of the hall where it opened up into the living room.
From the height and the outline of the silhouette he knew it was Buck.
He stood with his back to Chris and though he must have heard him come in Buck made no move to turn around or even acknowledge him. Instead he pushed his hand slowly back and away from his side. There was something about Buck's hand that caught Chris's attention. The fingers were spread wide and taunt, as if to signal "stay back".
That sixth sense was sending Chris red alert messages now, something was very wrong.
Chris crept forward down the hall and drew silently up behind Buck. He peered cautiously past Buck to see JD sitting on the couch. The young man's appearance shocked him.
JD's face was pale. The military cut had been left to grow out and lay greasy and dirty against his scalp. His eyes were blood shot and running with tears. He hadn't seen JD's torso without either a shirt or bandages since he'd gotten back and the scars that ran across his shoulder and down his side stood out in stark contrast to the pale skin, dark red and angry. JD sat on the edge of the couch, leaning over with his elbows on his knees, his eyes starring intently at the dark object in his hands, Buck's SW99. It took a split second for Chris to realize what was going on.
JD was contemplating suicide.
Instantly, years of discipline immediately took over. Chris made no sound, no move to intercede between them, immediately ascertaining that Buck was trying to talk JD out of this decision.
Buck's words were soft and controlled as he spoke to JD. The kid shook his head slowly in reply. Chris wanted desperately to take over from Buck but the fact was Buck had had the same training that he had had and if anyone could dissuade JD from this course of action it would be Buck.
JD finally spoke, "...I can't sleep, it's always there," his voice was high pitched and faded to a whisper.
"I know JD, let me help, please let me help," pleaded Buck.
JD shook it head again, "It never goes away."
"What never goes away?"
"I don't know!" JD's voice rose in distress.
"Okay, okay, its okay, JD," soothed Buck. He held his hands out, palms down in a calming gesture as he slowly slipped his long frame into the chair opposite JD. There was still the coffee table between them but Buck was four feet closer to him, "Tell me about it."
The young shoulders were shaking now as the tears streamed down his face "It's behind me, I turn around and it's not there because it's still behind me, looking over my shoulder because it's breathing down my neck and it's still not there. It's in my dreams, it touches me and I wake up but it's gone!" he cried.
"What is it JD? What's stalking you?"
JD seemed to not hear him. "I can't live with it anymore. I won't live with it any more." JD voice was suddenly calm with intent. He took the gun in one hand, finger on the trigger.
"Wait," Buck's panic crept into his voice.
"I want to be with my mother."
"But you won't be, JD, you won't. You're a catholic. You won't be with her. If you do this your soul will be damned to hell for eternity."
"I'm already in hell," replied JD, his voice devoid of emotion as he raised the gun.
"Let me help you," Buck slipped from the chair onto one knee, another two feet closer.
"Like you did this morning?"
"I made a mistake. I was upset. You're my friend and I know you're hurting. I let my frustration at not being able to help you get away from me this morning. You're important to me, JD, please, please let me help you."
JD stared blankly back at Buck, the gun held steady to his temple.
"Please JD, don't do this. You're all the family I've got. I love you." Tears began to gather in Buck eyes, he was losing it. "Please, please, please, don't do this."
"I'm so tired, Buck."
"I know you are. Let me help you. Let us all help you. Josiah, Chris, the others, we all want to help. I'm begging you, please, JD, I'm on my knees, egging you please let us help you."
JD looked at Buck's outstretched hand.
"Please," Buck pleaded.
JD moved the gun away from his temple to in front of him, his eyes dropped to the mouth of the barrel.
Buck shook his head back and forth, one tear got away and slide down his cheek. "No, JD, please not this."
JD's eyes moved to Buck's hand. He tilted his head to the side then mouthed silent words as he tightened his grip slightly. He's face crumpled, this time the words weren't silent. "Help me, Buck," he begged before turning his hand over and reaching out to set the gun in Buck's palm. A ragged gasp escaped from Buck as he moved quickly forward and took JD into a giant bear hug.
"Thank you, thank you, JD, I won't let you down, I promise I won't let you down," murmured Buck.
A chorus of whispered Amen's and Thank God's was repeated behind Chris. He turned to find the rest of the team behind him. The horror of what they had just witnessed in their eyes.
Chris turned back, stepping forward he tapped Buck once on the shoulder. Buck moved only to reach back so Chris could take the gun from him. Buck's arm instantly wrapped itself around the kid again.
Chris turned and moved toward the others, emptying the chamber and slipping the cartridge into his pocket. He caught Josiah's slight tilt of the head and followed the big man down the hallway and out of the front door.
"Chris, now is the time to hold that intervention we discussed."
"Now?" questioned Chris, stunned that Josiah would make such a suggestion. He gestured toward the door. "You saw what just happened. He's in no shape..."
"He's vulnerable," replied Josiah savagely. "He's on the edge and halfway to where I need him to be to face up to what happened on that patrol."
Chris glanced at the door and looked back at Josiah but didn't answer him.
"The alternative is we go on suicide watch," said Josiah, "but we could end this for good right now, today."
"Josiah, he just tried to kill himself!"
"I know that!" retorted Josiah suddenly losing his calm. He looked away and shook his head once looking back at Chris, his composure intact once again. "I've been where JD is, Chris. Feeling trapped with no other option but to take my own life. He's got to face up to what happened or it will most surely kill him. The group is a relatively controlled environment in which to do that."
Chris glared at Josiah but remained silent. He knew the big man was right. He'd been there too, not knowing how to carry-on, knowing he'd been the reason Sarah and Adam had died. "We haven't briefed the others."
"They'll just have to trust us."
Chris met the soft blue eyes that stared down at him for a moment. Trust was what it all came down to. "Alright, how do we do this?"
"Get Buck to clean him up a bit and take a pee, then bring him back into the living room. I'll brief the others."
"Alright," replied Chris. As he turned to go back into the house Josiah grabbed him by the arm. "It's likely that things will get rough. JD will do anything and I mean anything to avoid facing the truth and from what I saw just now Buck's pretty distraught, he could be a problem."
Chris looked up at Josiah; the eyes that seemed so compassionate a moment ago were hard now. "I'll take care of Buck," he replied. Josiah let his arm go and Chris continued on into the house.
Nathan, Vin and Ezra, all looked at him expectantly as he made his way toward them. "Josiah needs to talk to you in the kitchen." He shouldered his way past them and made his way into the living room. JD was sitting on the couch his head tilted backwards resting on the back. Chris couldn't ever remember JD looking so old before, old, tired and worn out. He had to wonder, was it possible to get the young man, who was once so full of life and enthusiasm, back again. Buck sat on the coffee table in front of him, one hand resting on the kid's knee, watching him intently.
Buck looked up as he approached. Chris leaned over to touch JD on the shoulder. The kid opened his eyes and looked up at Chris. Chris found the blank stare that looked back at him unnerving. "I have to talk to Buck for a second, JD. We're going to be right over here."
JD didn't answer, just closed his eyes again.
Chris gestured with his head. The taller man frowned up at him briefly before getting to his feet and moving to the entrance of the living room to talk, still in full view of the kid.
Chris moved in close to Buck before whispering, "Josiah has an idea as to how to help JD. It's kind of like group therapy. He wants to try it right now."
"Now?" whispered Buck, incredulous, his gaze never leaving the youngster on the couch.
"Yeah, now, while his defenses are down."
Buck looked down at him. Chris caught the cold look of the dangerous man he knew Buck Wilmington could be. Buck was in complete protector mode. Chris could have his hands full keeping him in check.
"I won't let you or Josiah hurt him," hissed Buck menacingly his eyes back on the kid again.
"Buck!" hissed Chris, just as menacingly. "Letting him go on living this way is killing him. He just tried to finish the job," said Chris baldly. "Josiah thinks he can help him face whatever this is. Then he can move on and maybe, just maybe we'll get our JD back."
Buck glanced briefly at Chris before turning his full attention back to JD but Chris saw it before Buck turned away, the little flicker of hope that they could really do something to help JD end this nightmare.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The coffee table had been moved out of the living room and kitchen chairs had been brought in to create a circle. Josiah was to sit directly across from JD, while Vin and Ezra, sat between them on one side and Chris, Buck and Nathan between them on the other side. If Buck became physical, Nathan had been appointed to help Chris out.
They all took their seats except for Vin who stood hands in the back pockets of his jeans staring out of the window. Josiah sat leaning over with his elbows on his knees, his arms steepled, with his chin resting on fisted hands starring absently at the floor. Ezra sat to one side his chair with one knee over the other picking at none existent lint on his trousers and shirt front. Nathan sat square on his chair, his chin down with his arms crossed over his chest. Chris recognized the unique stances each man took every time something rough was expected; it also meant everyone was focused.
Hearing Buck on the stairs, those seated stood and Vin joined the circle. JD, followed by Buck, entered the room. Buck did nothing to quash the worried expression that crossed his face as he noticed the changes in the room.
"JD, sit down," said Josiah indicating his designated chair.
Chris watched as JD made his way over to the chair. His movements were slow and uncoordinated. It was hard to believe this was the same young man that, not so long ago, bounded around the office laughing and joking while trading verbal barbs with Buck, trouble shooting their computer glitches and running his own computer searches and statistical reports.
JD was dressed in clean a pair of sweats and an undershirt. The clothing hung loosely on him. It was obvious that he'd been doing more drinking than eating lately. The white of the shirt accentuated the sickly paleness of his skin and red tracks of scars that creased his shoulder. Their youngest seemed not to notice the changes to the room, and took his seat as instructed. He looked neither left nor right, as he slumped in his chair starring sightlessly at the floor. The kid had suffered numerous injuries since joining the team but never had he looked more beaten up.
Josiah sat in the chair beside JD.
"JD," Josiah reached over and put a reassuring hand on the kid's knee, JD seemed not to notice Josiah's touch as he slowly brought his eyes up to Josiah's face.
"You're still having nightmares aren't you?" Josiah had that fatherly caring tone in his voice.
JD nodded his head once slowly.
"You're not getting much sleep because of them?"
"The booze helps you sleep through them."
"Not anymore," the words were quiet, barely more than a whisper.
Josiah nodded knowingly. "Well then, it's time to be free of them."
"I can't." The dark head shook back and forth. Chris could hear the weariness of defeat in the voice. "I tried...can't."
"Are the nightmares about your tour in Iraq?"
"After Viet Nam I did a lot work with other Vets helping them with their nightmares."
Chris wasn't sure but for the first time since JD had entered the room, he thought he saw a brief flicker of interest in JD's eyes. "Can you can make them stop?"
"I can't make them stop but I can help you stop them."
JD's eyes wandered off and then back to Josiah. "How?"
"It's a type of group therapy," Josiah explained slowly. "We sit here, in a circle." Josiah indicated the chairs around them with a sweep of his arm, "and I ask questions about your time in Iraq and you answer them."
"Nothing's that simple," said JD, despite everything, the kid was still able to think for himself.
"It isn't," replied Josiah honestly, his tone of voice still gentle. "But then the reasons that drove you to this state aren't simple either."
JD's darkened eyes looked beyond Josiah to the men standing behind him. Fatigue was beginning to take its toll and JD began to list sideways. He would have fallen had Josiah not grasped his shoulder with a steadying hand. Behind Josiah five others had moved to catch him as well. All of them drawing back after he was settled safely back in his chair again.
JD's chin trembled and he blinked to hold back tears. "What do I have to do?" He asked with a voice that threatened to break.
"First, each one of us affirms their commitment to helping you. Then you to commit to answering my questions as truthfully and honestly as you can."
"JD, I won't let you get away with a lie or half of an answer. I will be firm, even mean to you if I have to be. Do you understand me?"
Dark eyes just stared back at the big man.
"When you commit to doing this, you commit to seeing this through to the end. I will not stop until we know what the nightmares are all about."
JD took a moment to look from man to man with hollow and blackened eyes, evidence of the deep weariness in both his body and his soul. "You're all going to be here?"
"Then I think I can do it," he replied.
Josiah hesitated a moment, Chris wondered if he was having second thoughts. Only Josiah had any real idea of what was about to come. "I won't go easy on you, do you understand? You need to say it out loud."
"Let's do this," replied JD there was a hint of determination in the young man's voice.
Chris had to wonder if JD really understood what he'd just committed to.
Josiah rose from the chair and as if on cue everyone moved to their designated seats. Buck tried to step in front of Nathan and claim the seat beside JD but Nathan raised an arm, blocking his way. Chris jumped in when Buck looked as if he was going to make an issue of the seating plan, "Buck, your place is here."
Josiah looked around the circle and seemed to be satisfied. "Nathan, how about you start?"
Nathan turned to face JD, He, Vin and Ezra had been briefed on how to commit to this intervention in the kitchen. It included a brief statement as to their military history, a way of establishing a connection significant to this process.
"My name is Nathan Jackson. I served as a medic in the Gulf war, rank of Corporal. I'm here today to support my colleague and more importantly, my friend JD Dunne."
Skipping JD, who, as described in the process was to commit last, the circle moved next to Vin.
"Vin Tanner, served in the Rangers, Rank Corporal, Specialty Sniper, four successful missions, zero failures. I'm here today to help my friend JD put down his demons, I have never before and will not now, hesitate in my duty."
"Ezra P. Standish, formerly a special agent with the FBI, presently ATF undercover ops specialist. I am here to lend my support to a colleague who so often has ensured my safety. I will not falter in my commitment to him."
"My name is Josiah Sanchez. I served three tours in Viet Nam, two as Master Sergeant. I am leader of this group today and I commit to leading us on a journey to uncover the truth in hopes that it leads to the healing of our brother JD Dunne."
Chris spoke. "Larabee, Christopher, Lieutenant Commander, SEALs, Leader, ATF Team Seven of the Denver Field office. I'm here today to help rescue a good man."
Buck looked less sure of the proceedings as he looked from Josiah then to JD as he wrestled with his indecision. His words of commitment were spoken with quiet surety. "Buck Wilmington, Lieutenant, SEALs, I'm here to get my kid brother's life back."
All eyes turned to JD. He seemed stunned by the declarations of his teammates. After a moment he swallowed convulsively before pursing his lips and trying to speak. Only a whisper came out. He looked down, shook his head and swallowed again. Looking up again he finally managed to speak. "JD Dunne, PFC Marine Corps Reserves. I have nightmares, I can't sleep, something happened over there, in Iraq, during my tour. I'm here today with my friends...men I look up to and consider my brothers, to find out what it is."
There was a sudden pause in the proceedings. JD's frank expression of his absolute faith in them shook Chris, and from the looks on the rest of the faces around the circle, he wasn't the only one. Chris swallowed hard passed the lump in his throat and hoped that they would be deserving of JD's faith in them.
Josiah began by clearing his throat, "JD, tell us about your tour."
JD looked at Josiah blankly for a moment as if he had not expected the question. "What do you want to know?"
"Nothing in particular,' said Josiah sounding off-handed and nonchalant. "I'm more interested in what it was about your tour that stands out in your mind."
"Well," JD looked off into space. Though beaten down by fatigue, his voice picked up a bit as he remembered some of the enthusiasm he'd felt when he'd first arrived at Tiger Base. "It started out as an amazing experience. I'd never traveled outside of the States before. The Middle East has so much history. There was the dramatic effect of the Euphrates River. Its banks are rich farmland then beyond a few hundred yards the land instantaneously becomes desert. The people, I'm convinced, love their homeland just as much as we love ours. Things are so unsure, so unstable that they lay down their lives for their country just by leaving their homes everyday. When I first went there I thought I'd be fighting to protect us but soon I realized by helping them make their lives safer and better, I was helping make us here at home safer too. I thought..." JD's voice caught as he looked down, "I thought, I, we, that is the US Forces, could really make a difference, could really help, you know?" His voice trailed off to silence.
"Aren't we helping?" asked Josiah mildly.
"Yes, at least I think so, but there are factions within their country that don't want change. It's cost them, and us, a lot. Jeff Doogan died while on guard duty three days before his tour ended; Ayad, the little boy with a blind eye and blue gun powder freckles; Captain Dale, the Foreign Claims officer; Terry Briggs the man killed when he bled to death after his hummer was rolled by an IED; the children killed in the market place; the police officers killed and maimed by the car bomb attack on the police station; mortared bodies of civilians; ambushes; fire fights; car bombings; it just seems to go on with no end in sight."
JD was reciting experiences they'd heard nothing about in between experiences they knew of. Josiah had said he wanted the full truth. Well, they were getting it with both barrels. JD's voice was fading as he reminisced and the incidents he was recalling became more sobering and more horrendous. Emotionally already taxed, he was succumbing quickly to his memories of his tour of duty. He seemed to be sinking lower in his chair as if the weight of what he had witnessed and endured were actually physically pressing down on him.
"Tell me about your unit," Josiah asked with the fatherly tone.
"My unit...," JD seemed distracted and a little confused by the sudden change in subject, "a really good group of guys. Randy, that's Brian Randall, like me, he's a reservist, did I tell you he became a Dad again? He e-mailed me the other day. He lost his leg in the attack..."
JD stopped talking and just stared at the floor.
"Your unit, tell me about the other men."
"Ah yeah, there's umm. Lennie," JD smiled at the thought of the unit's corporal. "Lennie Krakower, he's career. He likes to joke a lot. He said in an e-mail that he has sergeant's stripes now. He'll make a good sergeant. He makes you feel better when other people make you feel like you're worth shit, like you don't know anything..."
JD's voice faded away again as he began to stare again.
"Who else is in your unit?" prodded Josiah.
"TJ, Tank and Sarge, they're all career military, like Lennie. TJ is short for Tabalito Jesus. He's solid and dependable, does his job well. He's going to get married the next time he gets home on leave," talking about TJ his words came more easily. "Then there's Tank, he's big, real big like his name. I never knew anybody could complain so much, every word out of his mouth is either swearing or bitching about something, a good man in a fight though and strong, he carried me like I was as light as a baby..."
"He carried you?"
JD looked up at Josiah, confusion haunting his eyes, "Yeah, that last mission. I, I couldn't, move, he...yeah, he carried me off the roof, in his arms."
"You never mentioned that before."
"How you got off the roof."
"I guess I forgot until now."
Josiah nodded. "Tell us about your unit Sergeant."
"Phil Ingram, hard nosed, hard ass, he made me feel like a fuck-up all the time, kept harping about everybody doing their job. Follow orders, do your job and nobody would get hurt, he kept saying."
"Have you heard from the men in your unit since you got home?"
"What?" JD looked up suddenly and blinked, he seemed shaken by the question
"Members of a unit become pretty close, pretty fast especially in country and in stress filled situations, with e-mail these days it's easier to stay in touch after some are sent home. Have you heard from any of them?"
"Well, ahh, Randy, I told you about his son and ahm, Lennie, he told me about his Sergeant's stripes. He even joked about how long it would take him to lose them. TJ said he'd be getting married the next time he's home on leave. He invited me to come to the wedding. Tank, well, he just complains about the new guys, saying they're even worse then Randy and me."
"What about Sergeant Ingram. What's he doing now?"
"I haven't heard from him."
"Why do you suppose that is?"
"Umm, he was the third guy wounded that day, he was pretty bad, maybe he doesn't do e-mail or maybe he just doesn't want to waste his time on me, I don't know. Can we talk about something else?"
"Because me and the Sarge didn't exactly get along. We haven't been in contact and he probably likes it that way." There was bitterness in JD's voice.
"Sure," replied Josiah amiably.
Inwardly, Chris groaned. He had hoped they were going to get off easy here but it now looked like this was going to have to be done the hard way.
"Tell us about that last patrol," asked Josiah.
"Why do you want to know about that?" JD's voice changed subtly; there was a hint of wariness to it. Even if Chris didn't know what was coming next, the change in JD's tone was enough to alert him that something was up. Chris could sense Buck stiffen slightly; Buck hadn't missed it either. A quick glance around the circle told Chris that the rest had caught the change as well.
JD was suspicious. Now it would be harder for Josiah to get to the truth. Josiah remained casually seated in his chair as he replied. "Humor me."
"I already told Buck everything about killing the sniper and then killing the other guy and being stuck underneath him while he bled all over me. I'm sure he told you every detail," JD added sarcastically.
"I want to hear it from you, you might have forgotten something."
"I don't remember anything else."
"You didn't remember that Tank carried you off that roof until today."
JD scowled slightly at Josiah, "You think I have some sort of repressed memory or something?"
'Damn, that kid could connect the dots fast,' thought Chris. That wasn't a good thing because if Josiah couldn't trick JD into remembering, he'd have to bully him into remembering.
"Maybe," said Josiah casually. "What else do you think would be causing the nightmares?"
JD scowled at Josiah. "Believe me that's not it. I remember every glorious detail, his body odor, his bad breath, that sickening rattle of the last breath in his chest, how he urinated and shit himself as he died. I remember everything thanks very much. We're done here," with that JD started to rise off the couch.
"Sit down," ordered Josiah as he drew himself to an upright sitting position in his chair.
"I SAID, SIT, DOWN!" Josiah's voice seemed to reverberate off the walls. He didn't raise the decibel level so much as change the timbre of his voice.
JD paused half way up to standing and froze. It took him a moment to assess the expression on Josiah's face before he slowly lowered himself to sitting again.
"Now," said Josiah proceeding with a calmer voice. "JD, you made a commitment to see this through to the end and the rest of us have pledged to see this through with you. Nobody gets off the hook here."
Chris sent a sideways glance at Buck, who had jerked convulsively in his chair at Josiah's angry tone with JD. Chris sent a look full of daggers warning Buck off.
"Is that clear?" asked Josiah his eyes staring fiercely at JD.
"Yes," said JD.
Josiah leaned toward JD. "It's the only way we're going to get at what happened." Josiah's tone was no nonsense. JD had to understand this was the only way Josiah knew how to get them to the truth.
JD just nodded in reply.
Josiah resumed his previous upright seated position, arms crossed over his chest. "Tell us again what happened on that last patrol."
JD scrubbed nervously at his dirty hair with one hand and looked down, his eyes wandered back and forth as he spoke. "We came upon this farm house half blown up. Lennie, TJ and Tank were too far behind us to suit Sarge. Tank had stepped in some goat shit or something... I don't know. He was bitching as usual while he was scraping it off his boot. Lennie and TJ had stayed back with him. Sarge swore, then turned to tell them to catch up... then there was an explosion. I don't know what it was. Randy was screaming." JD licked at his lips nervously, he breathing was faster now. "If Randy had been on top of it he would've been dead, but instead his leg was torn open really bad. I was behind Sarge," JD paused and swallowed quickly, "so I was okay. Sarge was down on his knees holding his belly, then he was hit in the chest by gunfire; it knocked him onto his back. That was the first we realized there was a sniper, he was on the roof of the house. I was already on my belly. There were more shots but nothing seemed to be hitting around me. I crawled forward. Randy wasn't screaming any more just clutching his leg and moaning." Tears gathered in JD eyes, "He was praying, asking God to help him. I crawled up to him. His leg was bad, he still had his foot but everything else was... spread all over the place. I put a tourniquet on." He turned and looked at Nathan, his eyes shining with tears. "I screwed up I didn't do it right the first time, I had to do it three times before I got it tight. I don't know if it made the difference between him keeping his leg or not."
"Probably not, JD," said Nathan reassuringly.
"JD, keep going," urged Josiah.
"I ahh," JD look at Josiah, he seemed lost.
"You managed to get a tourniquet on Randy's leg," prompted Josiah.
JD moved his eyes slowly from side to side again as he reached down and rubbed his lower leg absently. "Right, right... I crawled over to Sarge, he was shot in the chest," JD stopped rubbing his leg and reached up to put his hand on his own chest, "... and in the gut." His other hand reached down to touch a spot on his abdomen. "He didn't seem to be bleeding too bad. I opened the chitosan bandages and covered the wounds with them."
Silence followed as JD sat with his hands on his chest and abdomen, starring into space.
There was no reaction from the young man on the chair in front of him.
"JD," repeated Josiah firmly.
Still no reaction.
"Dunne," Josiah's words were clipped, their tone, more authoritarian now.
JD's head snapped up to face Josiah.
"What happened next?" asked Josiah, in the same tone of voice.
JD shook his head, an expression of confusion swirled in his eyes.
"Two members of your unit were wounded, where were the other three?" thundered Josiah.
"Lennie... Lennie and the others had no cover, just some broken down fence posts. I ahh... I could see the barrel of the sniper's rifle every time he took aim at our men. They were pinned down, at about five o'clock from our position, behind insufficient cover." JD's confusion seemed to be hampering his memory, he was repeating himself. "The whole time I was helping Randy and Sarge I could hear the shots but none were in our direction. When I got a chance to watch what was happening, I realized the sniper didn't think we were a threat."
JD's confusion seemed to clear away. He stirred suddenly in his seat and stared unseeing at the floor as he spoke. "Lennie and them were in trouble though, no cover for twenty feet in any direction and if they moved the sniper'd just pick 'em off. He had to be stopped. I was the only one that could help them but I didn't want to draw attention to Randy and Sarge, they were in no shape to defend themselves. From where we were every time the sniper took aim I could see the gun barrel. I figured that would be the best time to make my move; if he was concentrating on the shot, it wasn't likely he'd see me. I waited until the sniper's attention was on the other men as he took aim, then I left the Sergeant and Randy and took off around the back of the building and found stairs to the roof."
JD paused, he began to sweat visibly.
"Keep going," ordered Josiah.
"I made my way up the stairs. At the top I found the sniper was in plain view. I raised my weapon and set the sniper in my sights. I was going to order him to stop and take him captive but he turned around before I had a chance to speak. He raised his weapon, I fired."
JD sat stock still his eyes focused on Josiah.
"What happened next?"
"He was dead." JD shook his head once, "I never thought about there being someone else until he was on top of me."
JD began breathing faster. What was coming next was obviously high in his mind.
"Continue," Josiah ordered.
"He had a knife, he...." JD paused and swayed slightly, "He..." Fear filled his eyes. "He stabbed me," JD voice broke into sob, "He stabbed me again and again and again!"
JD leaned forward to put his elbows on his knees and his head is his hands. "I begged him to stop. He just kept raising that knife... over and over again. I thought I was going to die." Josiah sat patiently letting JD sob out his fears. "I wasn't brave, I begged him for my life."
After a moment Josiah leaned forward, "JD," he called gently. "JD," he repeated when the younger man appeared not to hear him.
JD raised his tearful face.
"We've all been there, every one of us."
JD looked slowly from Josiah to Chris, then Buck, Nathan, Vin and finally Ezra. Chris knew they all had that same look in their eyes, the fear of death. Not a good death after a long life well lived surrounded by loved ones but the fear of a violent death, having their lives ripped away from them by someone else before their time.
"There is no shame in begging for your life," said Vin quietly.
"The shame is borne by the one who would try to take it," added Ezra equally as quietly.
"You did what you had to do, and we are all glad you did because you're with us now," said Nathan soberly.
JD wiped his tears away, sniffing briefly. He sat for a while, slowly his expression changed to one of contentment "I think I'm going to be okay." JD said slowly. He smiled, "You know I think that might have been it, I'm feeling like a great weight is gone."
"You think so, kid?" Buck's expression wasn't as hopeful as Chris would have thought. It took a second before it occurred to Chris that Buck thought something was up.
"Yeah. Yeah, I do," said JD as he slapped his hands to his knees and started to rise. "Oh God, am I ever glad that's over."
"What's over?" asked Josiah. Josiah's tone was suspicious.
"Me, I'm going to be better now. I was afraid to admit my weakness to the rest of you. Let's face it, you guys are all superstars, next to you guys I look pretty lame. I think, no I know that's what was giving me nightmares, not being able to admit I was so scared I had begged for my life."
"Let's hear about the rest of the patrol, and see what else comes up," suggested Josiah.
"It's not necessary. I'm fine."
Chris had to hand it to JD, the kid was smart. He'd tried to fake them out; if Chris didn't know otherwise he might have might thought they were done too. If the others had any doubts that they weren't done yet, JD's patented "I'm fine" told them otherwise.
"No, we're going to finish this," said Josiah.
"There's no need to," said JD, his voice rose half an octave as he spread his arms out in a shrug.
"Come on, Buck, tell them, I'm okay now." JD was standing now and reached his hands out to Buck imploring him to agree that he was in fact fine now.
Slowly, Buck looked up at JD; there was a profound sadness in his eyes. "I think you should sit down, JD," he said quietly. Chris realized that Buck hadn't been fooled for a second, he knew the kid too well. Those words had cost Buck a lot. JD would only see what Buck had just done as a betrayal.
"But?" JD stood, his mouth hanging open with surprise.
"Sit down," repeated Buck.
"No," said JD, his eyes full of disbelief. "Buck, please!" The sudden desperation in JD's voice was painfully obvious.
"Sit down," said Josiah firmly, taking control again.
JD settled slowly back into his chair, looking very much like he'd just lost his last friend.
Josiah assumed the same position, sitting squarely in front of JD with his arms across his chest. "He was stabbing you repeatedly and you were afraid you were going to die." Josiah recapped for him. "Then what happened?"
"I... ahh," JD looked around confused again. He very obviously did not want to go back to telling his story again.
"You're here and alive, so what happened next?" demanded Josiah unmercifully.
JD shook his head.
Josiah crossed his arms and bellowed, "You were begging for your life and he was ignoring you. What did you do about it?"
JD's eyes began darting back and forth again. "I reached out...," JD lifted up his right hand and looked at it. He frowned, "...beside me... the sniper's rifle, I grabbed the barrel and swung it...hard...I hit him hard against the side of his head with the rifle. "I hit him...so many times, I was angry at him for trying to kill me. I just kept hitting him and hitting him. I didn't stop until he fell on top of me." JD let his hand drop back into his lap. "I knew he was dead."
JD sat for a long moment just starring at the floor. "I couldn't move. He was dead; his blood was all over me. On my face and hands, I thought I felt it soaking my pants but then I could smell it. It was his urine... and I still couldn't move."
The room was quiet as they waited for JD to continue. They could hear the noon chimes from St. Mary's.
He raised his head again. "Then I heard voices. Lennie and Tank, they were alive. It felt good, even if I was going to die, at least Lennie and Tank were alive. A minute later the body on top of me was gone and Tank was calling to me, wailing my name. I opened my eyes and Lennie was looking down at me. He smiled and said something about me always managing to find trouble."
After a short pause JD cocked his head a little to one side, "I think I told him to go to hell. He laughed and said I was going to pay for that then he asked me if I was hurt anywhere?"
"I told him that I'd been stabbed and then I started to cry. Lennie started telling me everything was going to be okay. I think he was bandaging me up, I'm not sure. Then Tank picked me up, really gently. He held me in his arms like he held the little girl we found in the rain that night. I figured I must be dying because he's telling me I did real good. I don't remember anything else."
"Where did Tank take you?" asked Josiah.
"I don't know, I guess I passed out because I don't remember anything until the hospital."
"Come on, JD, think!" ordered Josiah.
JD sent a confused look at Josiah. He looked down and pushed one hand through his hair to scrub miserably at his dirty scalp. He frowned, "There was something, I thought it was a dream, I woke up for a minute in the med-evac chopper. I remember pain and seeing Randy beside me, he looked awful. I think I called for help and then I thought Nathan was beside me. That's pretty freaky; no way it could have been Nathan. It was all pretty crazy."
"You skipped a part. I want all of it," demanded Josiah.
"That's all I remember," rather than defiance, JD's voice was pleading with Josiah, not to demand more of him.
"Bullshit!" bellowed Josiah. "The truth, JD, Tank had you in his arms. Where did he take you?"
JD shot to his feet, "I don't need this. This is over, I'm outta here!" he yelled angrily.
Josiah shot to his feet. "No way, buddy boy. You're going to see this through."
"I changed my mind!"
"Too bad, we made the same commitment you did. It doesn't matter if you want to quit, we're not going to let you."
JD took a look at the five other faces surrounding him. The only face that looked like there was any sympathy for him was Buck's and he already failed him. For a spilt second, JD looked as if he might try to play Buck again, then he seemed to change his mind. Everyone else looked determined to continue.
"I have to take a pee."
"No you don't, sit down."
"I said I have to piss."
"Then do it right there in your chair, you're not leaving."
Realizing his bluff had been called JD sat down with a thump.
"Where did Tank take you?"
"Down off the roof, I guess."
"Where was Lennie?"
"What does it matter?" asked JD insolently.
"Answer the question," growled Josiah.
JD turned his head a bit to the side. He was frowning. The frown faded away and he was left starring blankly at the floor. "In front of us, he was in front of us."
"What was he doing?"
"He had his rifle raised. He took point."
"Go on, what happened next?"
"We got to the corner of the building, there wasn't any more cover. Lennie told us to wait. Then he went ahead."
"Then I heard Lennie whistle and Tank moved forward." JD's frown deepened; his hand went to his wounded side and then traveled up his side to his shoulder, remaining there. JD was staring straight ahead but he didn't appear to be focusing on anything. "Tank... Tank had to run. He jostled my arm, my shoulder... it hurt like hell. I tried... not to moan. He said... He said, 'Sorry kid.' I thought for a second that he was Buck. Then he laid me down next to Randy."
JD scrubbed at his head again, his eyes darted left and right. "Randy and, and..." Suddenly JD's eyes became big round circles, "I'm going to be sick!"
With a swiftness honed by years of practice Nathan snatch up Buck's trophy from the ATF/FBI darts competition, three years ago, and stuck it under JD's nose. The fierceness of the involuntary muscles spasms jerked at JD's rib cage painfully as he heaved into the mega-sized beer stein again and again.
Everyone else was suddenly on their feet. Vin looked at Chris, imploring him with his eyes to end this. 'No way.' thought Chris, 'we're too close'. He answered Vin with a single shake of his head. He noticed Ezra shoot a look of something close to rage at Josiah, "Is this really necessary?" he whispered angrily. Josiah's only reply was an angry glare and a single curt slashing motion across his neck. Looking distinctly unhappy, both men sat down again. Buck remained standing. He had that avenging angel expression that surfaced every time he thought someone weaker needed defending.
Chris grabbed Buck's arm to get his attention. "Don't even think about it," hissed Chris. He was worried that Buck had reached his limit and was going to liberate JD from this situation.
The cobalt blue eyes bore down on the Chris's menacing expression for a moment. Buck shook Chris' arm off angrily and stuck out his hands. Nathan handed him the trophy mug. Buck took the offensive container with both hands and disappeared. A moment later, a toilet flush could be heard and Buck was back with a damp wash cloth in one hand and a waste basket in the other. He was back before JD had raised his head again.
Buck moved toward JD but Josiah's arm stopped him. Buck glared at the older man holding up the cloth, making it clear his intention was to minister to their youngest. Josiah held his hand out and Buck, with angry reluctance, handed him the cloth. Josiah in turn held the damp face cloth where JD could see it. The kid took the cloth gratefully and wiped his face down, with shaking hands.
There was no reaction from the young man on the chair in front of him.
"JD," repeated Josiah firmly.
"Josiah, please, I don't want to do this..." with tears in his eyes, JD's tone of voice was high-pitched and pitiful as he begged for release from his promise. While Chris fought to push the lump in his throat down; Josiah appeared to be unmoved.
The kid just stared blankly. His body sat limp in the chair. He didn't have much resistance left when they started this process. The weeks of fighting to keep this thing away from him; the suicide attempt; the momentary ruse to try and keep Josiah away; try and keep Josiah from digging into his mind. There was very little left inside JD to resist with.
"Dunne!" Josiah's words were clipped, their tone authoritarian.
JD head rose slightly as he stirred.
"What happened next, soldier?" asked Josiah, in the same clipped tone.
JD flinched away.
"Dunne, answer me!"
Josiah leaned toward the kid and barked out, "Answer me, Private!" His voice was pure kick-ass, mother-fucker, Master Sergeant now.
JD's snapped to attention in his chair.
"Do you hear me, Private?" Josiah asked menacingly.
Dismay settled in the room as the other five realized Private Dunne was back in Iraq.
"What happened, soldier?"
Still seated ramrod straight hands on his knees, JD began to shake, "Please don't make me...," he begged fearfully. Then suddenly, almost angrily he replied, "I don't remember, Sergeant."
"Bullshit!" Josiah stared fiercely at JD. "Answer me! What happened after you rejoined your unit?"
Still sitting at attention, JD shook his head back and forth.
"Answer me, who was there?"
"Alvarez was there, Sarge."
"What was he doing?"
"He was tending to Randall, Sarge."
"Who else was there?"
"You were, Sarge."
"...And what was I doing?"
"You were...," JD stopped and shook his head.
Josiah got up from his chair and moved in to stand over him. "Answer me, soldier!"
JD whimpered and cringed fearfully under Josiah's gaze.
Buck stood suddenly, his hands clenched in fists at his side. His body shook; his cold, dark eyes were riveted on Josiah. Chris and Nathan were on their feet beside Buck. They made no move to hold him. Buck had not moved to interfere as of yet and they were fearful that touching Buck would only set him off. Vin and Ezra shot to their feet; a reaction to the tension in the room.
Josiah faltered. Doubt flickered in his eyes as he looked down on the cowering JD. A split second later it was gone. He set his jaw and bellowed, "ANSWER ME!"
"You were...," the eyes began to dart left and right again as JD fought to bring the memory into the open. "You were...dead, Sarge," the tears ran in streams down JD's face now. "I killed you." JD dropped his chin to his chest, his entire body shook as he cried, "I killed you, Sarge. I killed you. I fucked up and you died because of it. Oh, God, please forgive me. Sarge, forgive me, you're dead because of me." JD put his hands to his head and curled over into a ball weeping.
It was the only sound in the room as Vin, Ezra, Nathan and Buck sank slowly back into their chairs, dumbfounded at the revelation.
Sergeant Ingram was dead.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
Chris turned the knob slowly opening the door to peek into JD's room. The kid was still asleep. From what Chris could tell he hadn't moved since the last time Chris had checked on him.
Neither had Buck, who sat in a chair with his long legs resting on the end of JD's bed, his chin on his chest as he dozed beside their youngest. Chris had woken Buck up the last time only to be told he wanted to stay. No doubt Buck was going to be stiff tomorrow. Chris closed the door quietly before making his way back down the stairs to the kitchen.
He found Vin and Ezra working away at supper preparations.
Ezra looked up. "How are they?" he asked without any of his usual eloquence, a testament to his level of concern for their friends.
"No change," replied Chris briefly.
"What did Travis have to say?" asked Vin.
After everyone and everything had been squared away, Chris had telephoned Travis to let him know where Team 7 had been all day.
"He covered for us," replied Chris shortly. In fact, Travis had been royally angry. No excuse justified missing Homeland Security briefings and as usual Travis had been left taking the heat for the missing Team 7. In the end Travis had felt their reason had justified their absence, but he still wanted to see the "apology" Chris was planning to forward to Homeland Security, on his desk first thing in the morning.
"Any sign of Josiah and Nathan yet?" asked Chris.
"Mr. Jackson telephoned; our compatriots are on their way back. He did not elaborate as to where they were or how long they expected to be," replied Ezra.
After JD's revelation Josiah had drawn the younger man to his feet and folded him into a bear hug. Josiah's eyes were closed, his face etched with the regret of what he had just put the kid through. He stroked the back of JD's head as he spoke to their youngest in a gentle voice, telling him he'd done just fine and that everything was going to be okay now. A few minutes later Josiah had caught Buck's eye and passed him over to Buck before leaving the room. While Buck held JD tightly to his chest and the others, realizing it was finally over, began to stir, they could hear the eldest member of their team being sick in the bathroom.
Nathan had taken a baby aspirin out of his bag; told Chris that JD needed to rest and to lie to JD and tell him the tablet would help him sleep. He'd left it to Chris and the others to put their youngest to bed and raced out the front door to catch up with the quickly departing Josiah.
Chris had had no idea the intervention would be so rough. Given Josiah's history for drinking too much and acting out violently to deal with the emotional fall-out from such things, if Josiah were out there alone, Chris likely would have issued an APB with an 'approach with caution' warning. As it was he knew Nathan would eventually bring Josiah back but it still didn't keep him from worrying.
"I hope they manage to stay out of trouble," said Chris grimly. He pushed his hand through his hair as he wondered just how much emotional wreckage was left to deal with here, JD, Josiah, Buck.
Vin and Ezra glanced at one another, the action was a sure sign the boss was worried.
Chris hadn't missed the look that had passed between the two men.
"Chris?" Vin asked quietly.
"I don't understand, why does JD think he killed his Sergeant?" Vin turned and shook the spatula he was using at Chris. "Cause as sure as the three of us are standing here, I know he didn't," said Vin fiercely.
Despite Vin's seriousness, Chris had to smile to himself, only Tanner could look like he could kill you with a rubber kitchen utensil if he had to.
"He didn't." Chris said briefly, "but he feels responsible for Sergeant Ingram's death." Both Tanner and Standish stood waiting for the answer with rapt attention. Chris wondered briefly why he couldn't command this level of respect around the office. "I want to wait until Josiah and Nathan get back. Josiah can explain the doctor's assessment better than I can." Though obviously disappointed both men went back to preparing the meal without a word.
Chris knew they were disappointed. Regardless, he felt it was best to wait for everyone to be present when the reports were read; as it was they had been very fortunate in avoiding a tragedy today. There was one other message of any consequence that he'd picked up. It was from a North Dakota Highway patrol officer.
Officer Cheryl Randall identified herself as the cousin of one Brian (Randy) Randall. Randy had tried to get a hold of any member of Team 7. He'd received an e-mail from JD this morning. The message had left him feeling uneasy. When JD didn't reply to his return e-mail after an hour had passed, Randy decided someone from Team 7 should be advised as soon as possible. Hampered as he was as a hospital patient, from communicating with the outside world, he had contacted his cousin, hoping that with her additional status as a law officer she would have a better chance of making timely contact. She had left her work number, home number and a number where Brian Randall could be reached at Walter Reed, four times through out the day.
Chris had returned calls to both people; expressing his appreciation to both of them for their diligence. Brian Randall had sounded very concerned, explaining the e-mail hinted at something very serious going on with JD, and JD not being able to handle it any longer.
Chris, not knowing Brian Randall or just how close he and JD might or might not be, had not mentioned the suicide attempt but only that JD had experienced a personal crisis that was now being dealt with and that so far there was reason to be optimistic as to the outcome. Chris would leave it up to JD as to whether or not he wanted to tell this man any details as to what had happened.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
It was nearing nine o'clock in the evening when Josiah and Nathan finally arrived back at the CDC both looking a little worse for wear. They had spent the last five hours walking, stopping only at the Policeman's Gym half way downtown from the CDC. There, Josiah had taken a lot of his pent up emotion out on an exercise bag and then proceeded to best three sparring partners half his age. Partly because they were only after some exercise while Josiah was exorcising demons.
Chris took a look at Josiah. The big man was a little battered but he had the appearance of contentment. Later, when he got the chance to speak with Nathan alone, Chris asked their medic what he could expect "...at least one formal complaint. Sorry, Chris, I tried," was Nathan's reply.
"It's okay Nathan, it could have been worse," replied Chris thinking, it could always have been worse.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
The food was ready. Buck had been talked into suspending his vigil for a few minutes to eat. Spirits were generally better as they gathered in the kitchen to serve themselves when they were interrupted.
"Hey, whatsup?" the voice was slurred with sleep but they all recognized it and looked up in surprise.
JD stood in the doorway of the kitchen looking back at them all. Bleary eyed he scratched his chest through his undershirt.
"You're up already," said Nathan clearly surprised.
"Ahh, yeah," JD replied a little sleepily, "I smelled food. What's there to eat?"
Still no one moved but it registered with all of them, hungry, was a good sign.
"Mr. Tanner made enchiladas," replied Ezra.
"Ez made Spanish omelettes," supplied Vin.
"...and there's salad," added Nathan.
"Umm, sounds good, save some for me," scratching the back side of one thigh. "I'm going to shower first. I stink," with that JD moved on down the hall.
Buck, who had stood watching JD in stunned silence, suddenly came to life. "Hey, JD," he called as he rounded the corner chasing after the kid, "there aren't any clean towels left in the linen closet, they're in the blue laundry basket, I'll get you one."
The others stood in the kitchen and listened as JD replied. "Thanks Buck, I can get it.
"Here, I'll set it here on the counter."
"Buck, I can manage," the sleepiness was gone from the voice; a tinge of impatience could be heard.
"I think I used the last of the shampoo this morning..."
"I know where we keep it." Their youngest's exasperation with his roommate could now be clearly heard in his voice.
"Let me turn the shower on for you, you know how the cold water tap sticks..."
In a stage whisper, obviously meant for the others to hear, "Buck, we can't do this! The guys are here!"
Vin snickered loudly; Nathan's plate hit the floor, having dropped it in his surprise; Josiah smiled, looked heavenward and mouthed 'Thank-you'; Ezra grinned and shook his head; and Chris crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter, his shoulders shaking with barely contained laughter.
"I DO NOT SHOWER WITH YOU," came an indignant bellow.
"Get out of the bathroom then," retorted JD. "Jeez, can't a man have a little privacy..." the rest was cut off by the slam of the bathroom door.
Buck appeared in the doorway to the kitchen. He leaned against the door jam; years of worry and strain were gone from his face as he smiled widely. "I think he's better."
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
They had waited for their youngest to shower and dress and had eaten as a family crowded around kitchen table built to fit six snuggly. They had exchanged verbal jabs and insults. Talking very much as they always had, each of them knowing there was much to be dealt with. They had retired to the living room after the meal. Spread out throughout the room, six of them listening to the deep cadence of the seventh man's voice as he finished reading the incident report pertaining to Private First Class, John Dunne, Marine Reserves.
During the reading JD had stared at the floor, listening intently. He sat leaning over with his elbows on his knees and his hands clasped together. Once Josiah finished, the rest waited patiently for his version of what happened.
"The report sort of glosses over some of the details," said JD cautiously.
"They often do," replied Josiah.
"I remember Tank setting me down beside Randy," began JD, his voice was quiet but strong, devoid of the distress of earlier. "Randy didn't look so good and seemed pretty out of it. TJ was on the other side of me. I asked TJ what was wrong with him. He said he'd given Randy something for pain. He told me to hang on for a minute and he'd give me something too. I asked him how Sarge was." JD paused for a second and swallowed hard before continuing. "TJ wouldn't look at me, so I asked him again... he told me that Sarge didn't make it." JD began to rub his hands slowly against one another. "I didn't believe him... I didn't want to believe him." JD drew himself up slowly to sit straight in his chair. "I panicked. I got up. I don't remember that it even hurt to move only thinking the TJ had to be wrong. TJ was in the middle of preparing the pain shot. He ordered me to lie down again, that the chitosan bandages couldn't work miracles and I'd start to bleed bad again. Before he could grab me I went over to where Sarge was laying." JD's eyes were still; focused on something in his mind. "He was so still, just like Randy was. I remember going down on my knees beside him, talking to him, asking him to wake up. I knew TJ and Tank were watching me but they were leaving me alone. I guess they figured that once I saw that Sarge was dead I'd settle down. When he didn't wake up... I started to freak out. I grabbed him and started to shake him telling him to wake up. It was weird; a part of me was watching myself do it but I just let myself keep on doing this crazy thing. I began to shake him even harder, I yelled at him. That's when TJ grabbed me and dragged me to my feet and told be to give it up, Sarge was dead and nothing was going to change that. I swung at TJ and he ducked and let go of me, that's when Tank grabbed me. Before I could take a shot at him, Tank clocked me one. I don't remember a whole lot after that until the hospital except for waking up for a minute in the med-evac chopper and thinking Nathan was there beside me."
"Given the high stress circumstances, JD, it all sounds pretty normal to me," said Chris sympathetically.
JD took a couple of deep breaths and looked up the ceiling, blinking rapidly, "Yeah but what nobody else knows because Sarge is dead and Randy was out of it... is that Sarge ordered me not to go. He ordered me to wait for help." JD looked down from the ceiling to face the rest of them. "I figured I knew better. The others needed help and I was the only one...I didn't follow orders and now Sarge is dead. I'm just what he said I am; I'm a know-it-all little prick. I'm alive because he was between me and that explosion and Sarge is dead because I disobeyed his orders."
There as a brief pause in the room before Buck spoke. "You can't know that for sure, kid," said Buck seriously. "Maybe you're alive because you did disobey orders."
JD said nothing only shook his head.
"Think about it for a second. What if you had obeyed Sergeant Ingram and stayed with them?" asked Chris. "After the sniper had taken care of Lennie, TJ and Tank, he and his partner would have come down off that roof to make sure everyone was dead, that's standard procedure. You'd have been alone with two wounded men to protect. The outcome could very easily have been six men dead instead of one."
"Having taken the initiative to go after the sniper when he wasn't aware of your presence you had the element of surprise on your side." Ezra pointed out.
"You acted and five men came back alive from that mission," summarized Vin quietly.
JD still sat silent, seemingly unmoved by their arguments.
"JD, from how you described Sergeant Ingram's wounds," said Nathan, "his chances of survival weren't good to begin with. Your actions may not have changed a damn thing as far as your Sergeant's life was concerned."
"But I don't know that for sure," replied JD angrily. "I'll never really know for sure that he didn't die because I disobeyed his orders. You didn't know him. He was tough and hard headed, wounded as bad as he was, he was probably still trying to cover me or create a diversion for the other three so they had time to move to safety."
"It is true that it is unlikely you will ever know for sure if your insubordination was the cause of your Sergeant's death," said Ezra, "but you sit here now with a number of the most stubborn men God has seen fit to put on this earth, if it were any of them and not your Sergeant that day, would you have done anything differently."
JD sat up with a sudden start. The first glimmer of JD seeing the situation differently was evident as tears gathered in his eyes.
"JD, a soldier's greatest fear is the fear of causing the death of a fellow soldier through one's own negligence or mistake," said Chris. "This report concludes there were no mistakes on your part in fact it commends you for your actions."
"Negligence just isn't in you, kid," said Buck. "Since the first day you joined us. Your number one priority has been to keep us safe on the job. Every procedure, every back-up you've developed has been with the singular goal of keeping us safer on a bust...and it's been damned effective."
"You've always put way too much pressure on yourself to be perfect on and off the job," began Chris. "Until now I've always thought it was just how you're put together. That was my mistake. Mistakes are a normal and natural part of life. We learn from our mistakes."
"There's a psych evaluation in here that you should read JD. It talks about your almost obsessive need to guard against making mistakes." Josiah said gently. "You should take some time, maybe tomorrow, and read it. It suggests some counseling and I would have to agree."
"What? You mean he's not perfect?" teased Vin grinning.
"If he were perfect he wouldn't be one of us," said Chris.
Gentle laughter rippled through the room. Even JD smiled as he wiped at his tears with the palms of both hands. "I wish... I wish I knew if my going made a difference..."
"I wish I had an answer for that," said Chris as he leaned forward to put a comforting hand on the kid's shoulder. "Five good men died while under my SEAL command. I have to admit I don't see how their deaths made any significant difference to world peace. There seemed to be just as many zealots armed with weapons as there always was. I just have to have faith that it did."
Still encumbered with emotion, JD just nodded his head.
"There is one last report in this file," said Josiah as he leaned forward and handed JD the report. "You've been awarded the Bronze Star Medal for acts of merit."
JD took it and blinked in disbelief as he looked at it. Lennie's name was there and so was the Lieutenant's. It was true, they had nominated him. He found it hard to believe, he'd only done what he had thought was his job.
He looked up to see smiles of congratulations around the room.
"I'm proud, I really am but I have to admit if I could, I'd trade it for Sarge's life in a heartbeat.
~ ~ ~ * ~ ~ ~
JD drove with the window down listening to the latest "bash and smash", as Josiah called it, heavy metal song. It was mid April and the weather was beginning to really warm up. He'd just left Brooks Army Medical Centre in San Antonio and was headed north to Cleburne, Texas a small town south of Fort Worth.
He had received a clean bill of health, both mentally and physically from Brook and was ready for active duty once again. If his country called upon him he would serve as a foot soldier again but, now that his skills with computer systems were known, he was fairly sure he would end up serving in another capacity. He'd never hidden the fact he was good with computers, just downplayed his credentials by reporting where he'd gone to school but never how well he done.
Life had been getting better a little bit at a time since that day in August eight months ago.
Monday he would start back in the office full days, five days a week. That in and of itself was an achievement for him; he'd been on part-time duty since the New Year and gradually increasing his number of hours per week. Finally being back to full time duty was one of the goals he'd set for himself. These goals were concrete indicators of the progress he was making on both his physical and emotion journey back from Iraq.
In mid-December he'd gone to TJ's wedding in El Centro. He ran into Tank and Lennie and their dates outside the church. He'd never given weddings much thought before but this wedding had been beautiful, steeped in Catholic and Mexican traditions. Though he didn't understand a lot of Spanish, the rituals were familiar to him. TJ looked as serious as always, his bride was absolutely beautiful. Later, during the short interval between the meal and the dance, the three of them stepped outside to privately share a beer out of the trunk of Lennie's Mustang. TJ managed to get away from his obligations as the groom for a few minutes and join them for a brief reunion.
They teased and insulted one another while they caught up on each other's news. Lennie still had his Sergeant's stripes, Tank still complained about the newbies, fortunately that was all they'd had to report about from Iraq. TJ talked of the family he was looking forward to raising now and without addressing it directly JD let them know that he now realized that Sarge had died that day. It seemed to JD that all three of them looked relieved when he mentioned it. TJ's father interrupted them looking for his son. The older man smiled politely as he was introduced to each of them. His face literally lit up when he shook JD's hand, saying that without him this happiest of days for his family might never have happened.
In mid-February he'd gone to visit Randy. Tweed, North Dakota was still in the grip of winter but Chris was attending a joint conference of various Canadian and US law enforcement agencies in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and since seminars on the advancements made in the tracking of Cyber crimes were on the agenda he had JD come along. Tweed was a four hour drive from there.
Randy looked a little thin but happy. He was home pretty much for good now. There would be a couple more follow up visits to Walter Reed but for the most part the rest of his medical needs would be handled in Grand Forks. Randy was back to work part time and working hard to get used to his prosthetic leg. He was relaxed and all smiles as he introduced his daughters and his wife. His biggest smile was saved for when he laid his son in JD's arms. Barbara Randall hugged him and thanked him for bringing her husband home to them. Randy's eyes glistened with tears as he told JD that all in all he was a pretty happy man and he had JD to thank for his life.
TJ's father, Barbara Randall, Randy...as JD reflected on those moments now, when he first got home they would have upset him beyond reason. Now he was able to accept their thanks with, yes, a little embarrassment, but mostly with humility.
The snafu concerning his going AWOL while having orders to the contrary had been sorted out. Somewhere along the way his name had ended up on a list of soldiers who had completed their tour and were going home, rather than the list of wounded soldiers to be transported to VA hospitals. Like every snafu, it took time to sort out and by then Josiah's friend, Tom, had smoothed things over by claiming JD as his patient.
He'd received his bronze star medal six weeks ago. His reserve commander had awarded it to him along with other members of his reserve unit who were receiving awards. It was a relatively private ceremony in that usually the only public who attended were the friends and family of award recipients. The awards ceremony was usually the closing good news story on the local evening news but the bronze star medal had pushed to lead story. Once again he had had to deal with the attentions of well wishers and had managed to accept their comments graciously.
Casey had come to the ceremony. He'd invited her. He didn't want her to feel obligated to come but she had. It had given him hope that their relationship could be salvaged. Casey and he had started seeing each other again after that. He was taking it slowly. He had hurt Casey badly and he didn't expect to be forgiven overnight. There was Nettie's trust to earn back as well. He remembered how very alone he'd felt after his own mother had passed away. Nettie was the only close family Casey had. If things had gone differently and he had died along side of Sarge in Iraq, Nettie would have been Casey's lifeline. He was going to respect that relationship
He turned now on to Highway 171 at Hillsboro. It wasn't far now.
Cleburne was the long way home but there was something he had to do there. He had talked to all of the guys about it and they had all thought that it was a fine idea. Buck had even lent him the Lady for the trip. JD was sure that Buck had done that as an excuse to come along but not so subtle pressure had been applied by the others and Buck had stayed home. This was something he wanted to do on his own. It seemed like no time at all and 171 merged with 174.
The road divided and he watched now for West Henderson St. He turned left onto West Henderson and followed it to North Grandbury St. Counting three blocks down he turned left onto West Heard St. Then another three blocks down he turned right, then left and the right again onto Glen Rose Ave. He slowed down to note the numbers on the houses and slowed to a stop in front of number 16. He had arrived.
He put on his beret and scrutinized his appearance as best he could in the rear view mirror before getting out of the truck. He check the polish on his shoes and straightened his uniform before walking around the truck and heading up the front walk of the modest but neatly kept front yard. He drew himself to attention before ringing the front doorbell. After a brief moment a young girl came to the door. She was blonde and still had some of her baby fat, she was definitely not fifteen years old so she must be Kristen he concluded.
"Hello," she asked standing behind the screen door.
"Hello, is your mother at home?"
From somewhere behind Kristen came an older voice. "Kristen, who is it?" An older girl appeared behind her sister. It had to be Jessie she looked very much like her sister but tall for a girl and with the physique of an athlete.
"Who are you?" she asked, her forth right manner that of every teenager.
"My name is...,"
The girls stepped aside to allow there mother to step in between them. Karleen Ingram was not yet forty JD guessed but a nice looking woman all the same. Jessie Ingram must have gotten her height from her father though. Karleen was on the short side like her younger daughter.
"Mrs. Ingram?" JD asked politely as the three behind the screen door huddled protectively together.
"Yes." Karleen replied a little cautiously.
"My name is JD Dunne ma'am, Private John Dunne," JD reached into his hip pocket and pulled out his ID and held it up them to see. "I served with your late husband, your late ex-husband that is. I was on the last mission with him. I would like to come in and talk to you and your daughters about it, if I may."
Karleen looked at the ID and then cast her gaze back to him. She looked down at Kristen who slipped one hand into her mother's and then up at Jessie, who nodded her eyes shining with tears.
Karleen Ingram threw the latch on the lock and held the screen door open. "I think we'd like that very much Private Dunne, please come in."
Sixteen months ago he'd been deployed to Iraq. He'd seen and done things there that would remain with him the rest of his life. That and the soul searching he'd done since were some of the living the others had always told him built character. He was not the same man who had left and yet, he was. Today he would share his memories with the family of the man who was responsible for him coming back safe.
Then he would finally be home.
cariad: A Welsh term of endearment. It means love, sweetheart, darling... and can be used in any context, not just between lovers.
Chitosan: A new type of bandage stops bleeding with a powerful electrostatic bond. The rapid clotting is induced by chitosan, an extract from shrimp shells. Positively charged chitosan molecules attract negatively charged red blood cells. (National Geographic, December 2006 Issue, "Speed Saves" Page 86). This technology has saved the lives that would otherwise have been lost due to blood loss.