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Sleeping Under Strange Skies

Chapter Text


The Grateful Dead's "Ripple" blaring from his speakers and out the open windows, Johnny sped past block after block of recently constructed apartments and condominiums, singing along, trying not to feel conspicuous in his grimy Land Rover.  Lush, impeccably landscaped grounds hid all but glimpses of the sleek sports cars and luxury sedans filling the parking spaces.  Picking up the scrap of paper lying on the passenger seat, he consulted the scribbled directions and took the next left onto Kel's street.  He was greeted by a row of identical steel and glass high rises.  A block and a half later, he found a parking spot on the street then sat for a minute, waiting for the song to finish, only half listening to the lyrics.  "...if you fall, you fall alone, if you stand then who's to guide you?  If I knew the way I would take you home."

Sighing, he switched off the ignition and rolled up the windows, then hopped out of the car and walked down the sidewalk past perfectly spaced palm trees which looked like a post card, silhouetted against the deepening blue of the sunset tinged autumn sky. 

A flawlessly made up young blonde woman in a pink velour jogging suit strolled toward him, holding a leash attached to a tiny mass of long silky hair with a red bow tying the hair up out of its eyes, whatever it was.  As they passed Johnny, the tiny hairy thing yipped at him and its owner shot him a brief, dismissive frown.  Purely from habit he flashed her a grin, then realized she wasn't as young as he had thought.  Fake, perky boobs and a mediocre facelift had subtracted perhaps twenty years from her age, at least from a distance.

He located the right building, headed for the front entrance and punched the button for Kel's unit.  As he waited for a response, he shifted his weight, wondering why he was so on edge.  He had been anticipating this dinner for nearly two weeks, waiting through cancellation after cancellation, as either his or Kel's schedule had undergone last minute changes.  Johnny had put his name on the list for overtime some weeks earlier, and suddenly paramedics were falling ill or requesting vacation time all over LA County.  Between that and the personnel shortages in the ER which had Kel putting in an insane amount of hours, they never seemed to have a night off at the same time.  Tonight, the seemingly impossible had happened, and their much postponed dinner was finally taking place.

Through the glass entrance, he saw the elevator doors open, revealing a middle aged couple who appeared to be dressed for dinner out at an expensive restaurant.  They opened the door, and on reflex Johnny grabbed it to hold it open for them.  Eyeing Johnny's faded blue jeans and plaid shirt suspiciously, the man paused, looking as if he intended to challenge him or prevent him from entering.  Just then, the intercom crackled and Kel's deep voice, distorted by static, filled the air.


Still holding the door, Johnny leaned closer to the intercom.  "Hi, Kel.  It's me.  Johnny."

"Come on up."

The buzzer sounded, releasing the lock on the already open door.  Johnny met the man's hostile gaze and shrugged.  He headed for the elevator.  As the door slowly swung shut behind him, he heard the woman's voice drifting back.  "Brackett.  Must be his latest."

He rode the elevator up to the tenth floor, trying not to let her comment rattle him.  His scuffed suede shoes sank soundlessly into the thick carpet in the hallway as he hunted for the right unit number.  Man, this place is fancy.  Looks like a luxury hotel or something.  The door had been left open a crack, so he pushed it further and stuck his head in cautiously.


A man's voice that wasn't Kel's answered him.  "He said you should come on in."

Johnny entered the condo and stopped, looking around and stifling the appreciative whistle prompted by what he saw.  He felt like he had stepped straight into the pages of Architectural Digest as he took in the matching black leather sofa and armchairs, coffee and end tables of glass and brushed chrome, taupe carpet and expanses of stark white walls interrupted here and there with a splash of color provided by an abstract painting or print, or an impossibly green potted plant.

"You must be John."

His gaze was drawn to one of the armchairs where a man in his late forties or early fifties lounged, appearing very much at home, a drink in his hand and a chilly smile on his lips.  He wore an expensive looking suit and tie, with the jacket folded over the arm of the chair, and the tie loosened. 

"It's Johnny, actually," he said, walking into the living room, feeling awkward as he wondered who the man was.

Somewhat belatedly, the man stood and offered his hand to Johnny.  "I'm Dr. Halstad.  Steve."  He jerked a thumb towards the ceiling.  "My wife and I live four floors up."

Johnny shook his hand.  "Nice to meet you."  He stuck his hands in the back pockets of his jeans, not liking the odd, assessing look Dr. Halstad was giving him.  Johnny's gaze sharpened.  Have I seen this guy before?  He cleared his throat.  "So.  Where's Kel?"

"Right behind you, Johnny," said Kel. 

Johnny spun around a little too quickly, and couldn't stop the smile which broke out at the sight of his longtime friend, and, he fervently hoped, his soon-to-be lover.  His pulse sped up at the unaccustomed sight of Kel Brackett dressed casually in khakis and loose black cotton shirt, sleeves rolled up just past his wrists and unbuttoned far enough to reveal an inviting glimpse of dark chest hair.  Damn.  The man was hotness.  Johnny pictured himself slowly unbuttoning the shirt and burying his face against his furred chest before moving lower and -

Abruptly, he recalled the other man standing behind him.  "Hi," he said to Kel, trying to keep his voice casual, but not quite succeeding.

"Hi, yourself." Kel's blue eyes shone in a way that had Johnny wishing they were alone already.  When he placed his hand on Johnny's back and leaned in to press a quick kiss against his lips, Johnny stiffened and glanced in alarm at Dr. Halstad.  He felt Kel's breath against his ear as he whispered, "Relax.  Steve is a good friend."  In a normal voice, he asked, "You want something to drink?"

"Beer sounds good."

Dr. Halstad sat back down, and Johnny started to wonder if there would be three of them for dinner instead of two.  He perched on the edge of the sofa, his leg bouncing nervously until he noticed what he was doing and forced himself to be still.  When Kel returned from the kitchen with his beer, he jerked to his feet to accept it, and then subsided again as Kel sat down holding a scotch and soda, leaving about a foot of black leather between them.

"Johnny, Steve is member of the state medical board.  He is chairing the committee that investigates and disciplines doctors who illegally dispense prescription drugs."

Johnny nodded politely, not really listening.  He was trying to study Halstad without being too obvious about it.  He could have sworn he had met him a number of years ago, when his silver hair was still predominately brown, and his thickening middle not so thick.  They had probably run into one another during the course of his work.  Some patients preferred to have their own doctors take over their care even after they had been brought to the ER.  Deciding that must be it, he tuned back into what Kel was saying.

"They're currently investigating a Dr. Reid and his new partner, who until recently worked at Rampart."  He gave Johnny a meaningful look.

Johnny made a noncommittal noise, having no desire to enter into a discussion about Edward Pendleton, Kel's ex-boyfriend and all around piece of shit.  As far as he was concerned, that sordid chapter was closed.

Kel appeared to take the hint.  "So, ah, Steve, I'm not sure I have anything pertinent to tell you, but why don't you give me a call at work tomorrow and we can talk about it some more."

"You bet."  Halstad finished his drink and set it on the side table.  "Now, why don't I get out of here and leave you two alone."  His chilly smile reappeared.  "Nice to meet you Johnny," he said, not quite making eye contact.

While Kel saw Halstad to the door, Johnny stood and walked restlessly to the windows which filled the entire west side of the room.  A sliding glass door led out to a wide deck.  He stepped outside and moved to the edge to lean on the railing and gazed down at the profusion of homes spread out below the hillside on which Kel's building perched.  Further west, he could just make out the ocean, shining like polished bronze beneath the yellow and purple bruise of sunset.

Hearing the front door close, he turned around to watch Kel walk out to join him.

"Nice view," said Johnny.

"The main reason I bought the place."

"So, you planning on feeding me?"

Kel chuckled and pointed to the grill in the corner of the deck.  "The coals should be just about ready.  Come on.  Give me a hand carrying things out.  You mind eating out here?"

"Sounds good."  He followed Kel back inside, through the living room and into the kitchen. 

Minutes later, they had the salmon filets and green salad and rolls outside on the table, and Kel put the fish on the grill.  Kel offered him some wine, but Johnny decided to stick with beer.  While the salmon cooked, they sat in silence for a while, watching the remaining light fade from the sky.  The quiet was making John antsy, but when he glanced at the other man he appeared perfectly at ease.  This is so weird, thought Johnny.  Here I am sitting on Dr. Brackett's deck at his fancy condo, and he's cooking me dinner.  Realizing that he would be more comfortable if he could just drag the man into the bedroom and get on with the fucking, a short laugh escaped him before he could stop it.

Kel looked over at him, one eyebrow raised.  "Something funny?"

Johnny shook his head and took a swallow of beer, then decided to just be honest.  "Actually, I was sort of wondering how I got here.  How we got here."

Kel held Johnny's gaze for a moment, then stood up to go check on the salmon.  When he returned he stood looking down at Johnny with his arms crossed.  "You having second thoughts about this?"

"No!"  Embarrassed by the volume of his reply, John gave another small laugh.  "Actually, I have been having thoughts, second, third and fourth, sure, but not the way you mean.  I guess you could classify them as impure."

That got a laugh out of the doctor.  That's better. 

Johnny cast about for something to say.  "So...was the ER busy today?"

"Not busy so much as chaotic.  First Joe was out with that stomach bug, which was bad enough.  Today was his first day back.  Worse, though, Dixie only lasted half the day before she went down with it.  I'm surprised Joe and Carol let me leave when I did.  I practically had to sneak upstairs and rappel down the side of the building to get away."

"I'm glad you did get away.  If you'd cancelled on me again, I might have started to get a complex."

"Me?  You've cancelled just as many times as I have."

Johnny shook his head, smiling a little.  "God, I hope it's not always like this."  When Kel didn't respond, he realized what he had just said.  Crap.  That sounded like I'm assuming something I shouldn't be.  For all I know, I'm just ‘his latest.'   He took another swallow of beer to hide his discomfort, and set the empty bottle on the table.

"Can I get you another beer?" asked Kel.

Johnny shook his head.  The last thing he needed was to embarrass himself by getting stupid drunk in front of Kel again.  He watched as Kel slid the fish onto two plates and set them on the table.  They served themselves salad and rolls and didn't speak again for a few minutes as they ate.

Finally, Johnny swiped his napkin over his lips.  "This is really good," he said.

"Glad you like it."

And that concludes our conversation portion of the evening, thought Johnny as silence descended again, broken only by the click of forks against plates as they finished eating.

"Maybe I will have another beer," said Johnny.  Kel started to rise, but Johnny was quicker.  "That's okay.  I'll get it."  He hurried into the kitchen and stood for a moment in front of the closed refrigerator with his head leaning against it, then jumped a little at the voice behind him.

"It helps if you open the door."

He turned slowly, grinning sheepishly.  "Hi." 

Kel stood there holding their two empty plates.  He had that concerned look on his face, his eyebrows angling up in the middle.

"Johnny.  Is something wrong?"

"No, no, no."  He sighed, running a hand through his hair.  "I guess I never expected to be this nervous.  Pretty stupid, huh?"

Kel placed the dishes in the sink, then reached out a hand to caress the side of his face.  "Actually it's kind of adorable."

 Johnny gave a surprised laugh.  "Not exactly what I was going for."

Kel moved closer, backing Johnny up against the counter, and placed his hand on the side of his neck.  "No?  What were you going for?"

 His command of the English language evaporated as Johnny stared at his mouth.  He leaned forward at the same time Kel did, meeting him halfway.  Mouths parted and Johnny's tongue happily reacquainted itself with the feel and taste and heat of the inside of Kel's mouth, his hands rising to rest at his waist.  Kel gained control of the kiss, stroking his tongue over and around Johnny's, pushing back to trap him against the counter.  Johnny's hands drifted down and back to Kel's hips and dragged him closer, groaning at the feel of their erections pressed together.

"Where's your bedroom?" he muttered into the other man's mouth, and felt the negative shake of his head.

"Table," gasped Kel, "now."

Johnny had no idea what he meant until he felt hands on his shoulders, turning him, guiding him back toward the kitchen table.  Giving it a quick, assessing glance and judging it sturdy enough, he let Kel help him up.  Kel's hand were working his belt and jeans, and Johnny lifted his hips as jeans and boxers were dragged down, and pulled free along with shoes and socks.

"Move back."  He did as the deep voice instructed, shivering as Kel unbuttoned his shirt, climbing half on top of him to lick and suck his nipples as he palmed Johnny's cock and began a slow, expert stroking which had Johnny dazed and panting, his hands on Kel's head as he thrust into his hand.  Dimly, he recalled his fantasies of himself on an exam table at Rampart, in which the doctor's hands, which had examined him so often with detached disinterest, were disinterested no longer, playing over him, touching him just like he was now. 

Fueled by that fantasy, he thrust harder, moaning, then gave a gasp of frustration as the hand left him.  The frustration was short-lived.  Johnny's clutching hands followed Kel's head as it moved lower.  He widened his legs, and Kel settled between them, one arm resting on the table, the other curving around his cock once more.  Kel's tongue went to work, licking him from base to tip, moving around him in an organized manner.  When he had him thoroughly moistened, and Johnny was willing himself to last a little longer, the doctor's mouth enveloped him, swallowing him whole, and began a wet, hot, rhythmic suction, his head moving up and down, helped along by Johnny's hands which were latched onto his head. 

Kel's hand crept up between his legs, and as his finger entered him and made unerringly for his prostate, Johnny gave a cry and arched up off the table like he had just been hit with 400 watts from the defibrillator, coming down Kel's throat with near violent force.  The doctor obliged by sucking and swallowing every drop, then pulling back to lap the last bit of moisture from the tip of his cock.  Johnny opened his eyes and met Kel's smoky blue gaze.  He had seen that look once before, the first time they had kissed, and had mistaken it for anger.  Now he recognized it for what it was, not anger, but focused, smoldering lust. 

 He blinked lazily at Kel and smiled, hooking one leg around his back.  "Bedroom now?"

A fully clothed Kel helped Johnny, naked but for the unbuttoned shirt he still wore, to his feet, pulled the shirt off and dropped it to the floor, then leaned in for a salty kiss, running his hands over Johnny's back and down to his ass, holding him close and letting him feel how hard he was.  "Bedroom," he growled.

They separated and Kel guided him in the right direction, practically shoving him through the door into the master bedroom.  As he began to strip, Johnny stopped his hands.  "Let me."  He untucked Kel's shirt, then found his fingers suddenly clumsy as he started on the buttons.  Hands shaking, he moved down Kel's front, concentrating on undoing each button, growing hard again as he thought, I'm undressing Kel Brackett.  Two fantasies down, three to go.  At least three...

As Kel's shirt hit the carpet, Johnny planted a kiss on his shoulder and let his fingers roam for a moment over the soft, wiry hair on his chest, rubbing and lightly pinching his nipples, then followed the narrowing trail of hair down his stomach, brushing his hand just below the waistband of his pants.  He undid the flat metal fastener, tugged the zipper down, and slid pants and briefs down before dropping to his knees to help him step out of pants and shoes. 

Still kneeling, he guided Kel half a step backwards, positioning him so he was leaning with his back against the wall.  One hand held his hip and the other grasped Kel's cock.  He heard Kel give a shaky sigh, and felt him plant his legs a little wider and settle against the wall.  Johnny ran his tongue slowly along the underside of his cock.  Pleased with Kel's shiver, he licked up and down and around, circling his cock as his thumb gently caressed his balls.  Glancing up, he saw Kel watching him intently. 

Giving him a smile, he gripped his cock more firmly, added just the right amount of pressure as he rubbed up and down, then lowered his head to take the tip in his mouth, prepared to unleash his many years of expertise on the man, to continue the well-choreographed routine learned from both his uncle and Jason, practiced and perfected on dozens of anonymous men.  When he felt Kel's hands rest on his head and he looked up to see him with his eyes closed and his head thrown back, all thoughts of finesse went flying out the window.

His own eyes fluttered shut and he rested his cheek against the other man's taut stomach, rubbing him with his face, just needing to feel him.  He guided Kel's cock into his mouth, took him all in, pulling him deep, not caring if he ever breathed again.  Kel's hands kneaded his head, fingers rumpling his hair, bringing him closer, demanding more.  Getting the message, Johnny let his mouth and throat constrict and convulse, and his head began to bob up and down as he sucked, savoring the feel of Kel's cock sliding back and forth through his lips, nudging the back of his throat with each thrust.

He heard Kel make a sound between a moan and a growl, and something shifted inside him.  Wrapping both arms around Kel's hips, he sucked and bobbed, clutching his ass, trying to get closer.  He felt Kel stumble a little as his balance wavered under Johnny's grasp, but Johnny held tight, keeping him trapped against the wall.  Controlling Kel's hips, he moved them forward and back to meet his mouth.  He felt the shuddering tension before he heard Kel's yell, then hot semen spurted down his throat and he swallowed and sucked and drained his lover, holding him up as his hands rested on Johnny's shoulders and Johnny held him close, burrowing his face closer, shaken to his core, and hoping Kel wouldn't notice.




Breathing hard, Kel leaned his hands on Johnny's shoulders, gazing down at him where he knelt, his arms wrapped around him as if he never wanted to let go.  Kel's legs trembled.  He lifted one hand and rubbed his knuckles up and down the side of Johnny's face.  "That was...amazing," he whispered and felt Johnny smile against his stomach.  "Come here," he said, helping him to his feet.

Johnny stood, leaning in to run his tongue over Kel's lips.  His warm breath wafted against Kel's ear, making him shiver, then shiver again when he heard his whispered words.  "Let me fuck you."

Kel hesitated, but only for a second.  He nodded as he kissed Johnny, stroking his erection where it rested against his hip.  "Bed this time," he said."  He moved them in that direction, yanked the covers back and they tumbled together into the bed.  Kel landed on his back with Johnny pressing him down, kissing him breathless, then lifting his head to search first one side of the bed then the other.  He raised an eyebrow and looked back down at Kel, his smile telling him that he had spotted the lube and folded hand towel Kel had set out on the nightstand earlier.

Kel grinned and shrugged, watching as Johnny leaned over and grabbed the lube, squeezing a generous amount into his palm as he knelt between Kel's spread legs.  He positioned Kel's legs on top of his thighs, elevating his ass, and went to work on him, sliding a slick finger inside him, testing him, searching for and finding his prostate, adding a second finger, then a third, scissoring, stretching, all the while watching Kel, gauging his reactions, his brown eyes intense and focused on the task at hand.

As the pressure inside him increased, Kel moved against Johnny's fingers, relishing the familiar feel of pain blurring into pleasure.  He groaned, thrusting his hips with more force.  Usually content with a slow, leisurely fuck, he found himself growing impatient.  "Come on, Johnny.  Fuck me.  I'm ready for you.  Fuck me already."

If possible, Johnny's eyes grew darker.  Kel felt him tremble as he removed his fingers and spread more lube onto the tip of his cock.  His throat convulsed a couple of times then he grabbed Kel under his knees and pushed his legs back, knees to his ears.  Kel felt open, exposed, more so as Johnny gazed at him, looking as if he wanted to memorize him in that position.  "Johnny.  Dick.  Ass.  Now."

Johnny's cock pressed against him, straining for entrance and then he slid all the way in at once, the way Kel liked it, filling him with his hard heat.  Johnny exhaled on a drawn out groan, and what sounded strangely like the word "four."  He held still, waiting for Kel to adjust, and when it took him longer than either of them expected, Johnny reached for his cock, helping him along with a few skillful strokes.  That did it.  Kel moved restlessly, then with more vigor, signaling to Johnny that he could go to town.  Johnny pulled Kel's legs over his shoulders and did just that, setting a strong, unhurried pace. 

Kel allowed him to control the tempo for a minute or so, but something about the sensation of Johnny Gage over him, inside him, the sight of his avid, devouring gaze as he fucked him slowly...all of that snapped his control and he grabbed Johnny's hand, increasing the pressure on his cock, demanding a firmer touch.  Johnny's hand complied, but he kept up the maddeningly slow slide in and out of Kel's ass.  He struggled to form words.  "I need...harder...faster...fuck me harder, Johnny." 

The look on Johnny's face told him he was only too happy to obey.  Kel wrapped his legs around his waist and held onto his sweat-slicked shoulders as Johnny drove into him with gusto, giving a grunt with each frenzied thrust, one hand going up to grasp the headboard, the other continuing its rough friction on Kel's cock until, giving a shout which he hardly recognized as his own, Kel came hard, splattering Johnny's hand and his own belly and chest with semen.  Seconds later, Johnny gave an echoing cry, slammed into him one more time and collapsed on top of him, face buried in Kel's neck, shudders running through him. 

As Kel struggled to get his breathing under control and listened to Johnny doing the same, he unclamped his legs from his back and let them drop to the bed.  His fingertips ran idly up and down Johnny's moist back, then up to his neck and into his the damp coils of his hair.  He kissed the top of Johnny's head, feeling him continue to tremble.  Glancing at the hand towel on the nightstand, he had a better idea.

"Johnny," he murmured, "let's go get cleaned up."

There was no reply.

"Hey.  You okay?  If you can hear me, signify by removing your dick from my ass."

Low laughter vibrated against his neck and the wilted cock slid free.  "Not sure I can move," said Johnny.

"Sure you can.  Let's take a quick shower before we fall asleep."

At that, Johnny's head lifted to stare at him, his brows furrowed in confusion.  "You want me to stay?"

Kel frowned, surprised.  "Well, yes.  Of course."  He watched as uncertainty clouded Johnny's features.  "Would you?"  The clouds cleared, replaced with a smile that stopped the breath in his throat and caused his heart to give an odd little jump.  Holy shit.    

Kel helped Johnny to his feet and into the bathroom.  They showered in silence, comfortable silence this time, but all the while, as they soaped and scrubbed and turned and rinsed, Kel was stealing glances at Johnny, thinking, Aww crap, I think I'm in trouble.

Chapter Text

Kel startled awake as the alarm clock bleated at him, and his arm shot out to turn it off.  The bed shifted behind him.  He turned to see Johnny roll away from him onto his stomach, burying his face in the pillow.  Gazing at his dark, disordered hair, the jut of shoulder blades, the slender, muscular back, and the swell of ass under the sheet, Kel frowned.  What had he gotten himself into?

He cared about Johnny, had for a long time.  Johnny was his friend, and as he had discovered last night, a remarkable lover.  He had just never expected to feel like this, to be lying here like some besotted teenager, watching him sleep, memorizing the angles and planes of him, the way his hair grew, the glimpse of cheekbone and dark line of his eyebrow.  It was ridiculous, not his style at all.  This thing with Johnny was only supposed to be about mutual attraction, mutual enjoyment, and yet all of his denials and rationalizations did nothing to prevent him from slipping a hand underneath the sheet to stroke Johnny's ass, or from pressing a kiss to the back of his neck.

Johnny's response was to burrow more deeply into the pillow and mutter something which sounded like, "Um slipn dootcha goddadoo."

Kel's brows furrowed He frowned as he tried to decipher this bit of gibberish.  "What was that, Johnny?"

"Said, I'm sleeping so do what you gotta do."  Kel was still trying to figure that one out when Johnny reached back to claw the sheet off of his lower torso and raised his ass in the air.  "C'mon, Doc.  It's all yours."

Kel blinked, glanced at the clock, and grinned.  He did have a little time.  "Really?  All mine?"

A brown eye peered sideways at him from beneath a darkly lowered brow, then squeezed shut.  "I'm sleeping."  He waggled his ass invitingly.  "Have at it."

Kel was reaching for the lube when he heard a soft snore from the depths of the pillow.  He paused, reconsidering, glanced down at his hard cock, back at Johnny's ass, and thought, oh no you don't.  Straddling Johnny's legs, he spread his cheeks apart with one hand, and used the other to press a lube-slicked finger inside, sliding it in and out, massaging his prostrate until he had gained his attention.  The snoring halted abruptly, the ass elevated, legs shifted and bent as Johnny hauled himself onto his knees and elbows, and the pillow went sailing off the side of the bed.

That's better.

Johnny mumbled something unintelligible and mildly peevish, but as Kel continued to work his ass with his fingers, his rapid breathing and the thrust of his hips betrayed his growing interest in what Kel was doing to him.  When Kel replaced his fingers with his cock, Johnny groaned and pushed backwards until Kel's balls were nudging his ass.  Kel gave a heartfelt groan of his own at the sensation of being buried inside of Johnny.  He ran his hands over his back and down his sides, took a firm grip of his hips and began a steady drive in and out.  The only sounds in the bedroom for the next few minutes consisted of the accelerating slap of Kel's groin against Johnny's ass, the hiss of Johnny's breath held and expelled, held and expelled, and Kel's own quickening pants of exertion. 

Feeling the familiar tightness in his lower belly, Kel thrust a hand underneath Johnny, making a grab for his cock.  Three quick strokes were all it took.  Semen splattered over Kel's hand as Johnny gave a hoarse shout, his head lifting up, his back arching, and his ass tightening and convulsing around Kel's cock.  Both arms strangling Johnny's hips, Kel slammed several more times into the delicious tight heat before grimacing, eyes clenched shut, a gasping yell forcing itself from his constricted throat.  He felt Johnny collapse flat on the bed and slumped on top of him, breathing hard.

Pulling his cock from Johnny's ass, he shifted his weight off of him, rolling to one side, his hand resting on Johnny's back.  He stole a glance at the alarm clock, noting that if he didn't leave the bed right now and get into the shower he would be late to work.  Johnny seemed to have drifted back to sleep.  Kel grabbed the hand towel from the night stand and cleaned Johnny up as well as he was able, covered him again with the sheet and reluctantly left the bed to get ready.

When he was dressed, he went back and sat on the side of the bed, indulging in another lingering look at Johnny naked in his bed, thought about planting another kiss on his neck, lifted a hand to touch him but changed his mind, and finally sighed and scribbled a note on his prescription pad and left it on the nightstand.  See you soon, Johnny, he thought, and headed out the door.




Johnny pretended to doze as he listened to the sounds of Kel showering and getting dressed.  He felt him sit down on the bed, and was disappointed when he stood and left a moment later.  Hearing the front door close, he gave a bone-cracking stretch, sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  Damn, he felt good.  He couldn't remember the last time he had been this relaxed and content.  He spotted Kel's note on the nightstand, and picked it up.  "Stick around as long as you need to.  All in kitchen yours. - K."  He frowned.  No mention of last night or this morning.  Oh, that's right, he was dating a guy.  Maybe dating.  Fucking, at any rate.  He grinned.  Yes, indeed.

The only thing that prevented him from rolling over and sleeping for a few more hours was the thought of all the chores that awaited him at home.  With all the overtime he had been working lately, things like laundry and toilet scrubbing and bill paying had suffered, so he hauled himself out of bed and headed for the bathroom and a shower.

As he stood under the hot water, he toyed with the idea of driving over to Roy's house to see if he would be more willing to talk to him away from the station.  His partner had been noticeably cool towards him for the past two weeks, holding some sort of unnamed grudge which he refused to talk about.  The worst shift had been Johnny's first back after his knee injury.  Since then, Roy had thawed to the point where they could work together, but the easy rapport which Johnny had taken for granted for so long seemed to be a thing of the past.  There were times at the station where the hostility seemed to radiate off Roy in waves, and for the life of him, Johnny could not figure out why.

He dried off and tossed the damp towel in the hamper, then went looking for his clothes.  He found them neatly folded on a chair in the bedroom, an unexpectedly thoughtful gesture which made him smile. 

As he dressed, his gaze was drawn to a collection of framed photos on top of the dresser.  Curious, he moved closer and picked one up.  Two young boys, both under ten years old, dressed in neat, matching suits, stared solemnly at the camera, their dark hair lifting in an invisible breeze.  Behind them, a large wooden house with a wraparound porch sat on what appeared to be a high bluff overlooking a coastline which was not southern California.  Johnny guessed that the younger boy was Kel.  He had the same nose and cheekbones, the same stubborn mouth, and almost the same serious look he got when he was concerned about some particularly difficult case at the hospital.  The older boy looked like he could be his brother. 

He set the photo down and moved onto the next one, which was a wedding picture.  Probably the parents.  They weren't smiling, but they looked happy enough, and their clothes appeared well-made and expensive.  A color photo showed Kel in his early twenties, wearing a cap and gown, flanked by older versions of the bride and groom.  Looks like a nice, normal family.  Pretty well off, too.  There were a couple more recent photos, presumably of Kel's brother and wife and their children. 

Johnny couldn't help but mentally compare these with his own collection of family photos, which consisted of exactly one.  That one was creased and faded, showing his mother and father on their wedding day, his mother dressed in a severe dark dress with high lace collar, and his father in an ill-fitting suit.  Unlike the Bracketts neither looked particularly comfortable or happy.  Johnny turned away from the dresser, not wanting another reminder of how different Kel's life was, and had always been, from his own.  Were they too different, he wondered?  Then he glanced back at the bed and dismissed his worries.  They had definitely connected there, so what did all the rest matter?

Deciding to wait for coffee until he got home, Johnny left the condo, careful to lock the door behind him.  The morning air felt noticeably cooler than it had lately, the weather finally more suitable to early November.  As Johnny headed to his car, the same blonde woman he had passed the previous evening walked down the sidewalk once more.  This time she wore a fur coat of almost the identical shade of silvery brown as the hairy yippy creature on her leash.  Once again, he was greeted with a bark and sneer.

Johnny grinned at her.  "Hi, how you doing?" he said.   That's right, lady.  I just got fucked by a hot doctor.  And I'm feeling good.


As it turned out, Johnny didn't drive over to Roy's after all.  He had too much to accomplish at home, and he didn't want to destroy his good mood by getting into a confrontation with Roy.  They were both back to work tomorrow, and that would be soon enough.  Even if he had to lock his partner in the latrine or sit on his head, the man was going to tell him what the problem was.  Enough was enough.

However, when he arrived at work the next morning, it was Charlie Dwyer standing in line next to him at roll call, not Roy.  "Is Roy all right?" he asked Cap a few minutes later as they congregated in the day room to grab some coffee. 

"Charlie here is just sticking around for a few hours.  Roy had a parent teacher conference he wanted to go to with Joanne.  Should be here in time for lunch."

Feeling doubly relieved, both that Roy was okay and that the looming conversation had been delayed, Johnny headed to the bay to get started on the day.


Three exhausting calls later, the squad returned, back from Rampart after having lost a protracted fight to save a heart attack victim.  He had seen Kel, but he was busy with another patient and they hadn't had time for more than a quick nod and smile in the hallway.  As Johnny climbed dispiritedly from the driver's side, he heard Captain Stanley call out from his office.  "John, you've got a phone call."

He frowned, hurrying into the day room to pick up the receiver.  "Got it, Cap."  He heard the muffled click as Cap hung up the extension.

 "Fireman Gage speaking."  He perched on the counter, ignoring the glances shot in his direction from Chet and Marco, who sat at the table reading the paper.  Mike stood at the stove, monitoring the progress of the lunch he was preparing.

"Mr. John Gage?" said the businesslike female voice on the other end of the line.

 "Speaking," he repeated, the recent bad run giving his voice a harsher note than he had intended.  He scratched the bridge of his nose and watched out of the corner of his eye as Charlie entered the room and moved to the refrigerator to pull out a can of soda.  His temporary partner held up the can and gave Johnny a questioning look, but at the small shake of his head, he kept it for himself, joining Chet and Marco at the table.

 "Please hold for Mr. Naylor," said the unknown woman.

Johnny frowned again, tempted to hang up as he listened to the series of clicks followed by a blare of bland music signifying the transfer and the fact that he had been placed on hold.  Before he had the chance to act on this impulse, a man's voice, presumably that of Mr. Naylor, came on the line.

"Mr. Gage?"

"Yep.  Still Mr. Gage."

"Ah.  Sorry to keep you waiting.  Look, ah, I'm an attorney in Seattle."

Captain Stanley had entered the room, eyeing Johnny as if he wanted to say something.

"Mr. Naylor?  Hang on a second, will you?"  Without waiting for a reply, he pulled the receiver from his ear.  "Cap?"

"Can you wrap it up, John?  I'm expecting a call from headquarters."

"Sure Cap.  Sorry.  Let me just find out what this guy wants.  I think he might have the wrong John Gage."

"Make it quick?"

"Yeah, Cap.  Sure thing."  He lifted the receiver.  "Mr., uh, Naylor, was it?  Someone else needs to use the phone, so I'm going to have to hang up.  I think you probably have the wrong guy, anyway.  I don't know anybody in Seattle."

"Wait, Mr. Gage. 

He didn't even try to keep the irritation out of his voice.  "What?"

"I'm handling some loose ends involving your father's estate."

For a moment, he felt as if time had stopped, and the world gave a crazy tilt.  He blinked rapidly, almost dizzy with disorientation.

"Mr. Gage?  Are you there?"

He heard Cap calling his name, wondering why he was still tying up the line.  "Wait," he whispered, not sure who he was talking to.  Then, more forcefully, "Wait, Mr., uh, Naylor.  You - you - "  He shut his eyes and forced himself to breathe, trying to control the betraying stutter.  "Are you talking about Samuel Joseph Gage?"  Cap hollered again, his voice now laced with serious annoyance.  Johnny covered the mouthpiece with his hand, his eyes still squeezed shut.  "Almost done, Cap!  Just another minute!"  He forced his attention back to Naylor, whose answer he had missed.  "What's that?  Could you please repeat that?"

"I said, yes, that is the decedent's name.  You are his son, correct?"

Johnny stood, mute, unsure how to respond.  Finally, he opened his eyes and was dimly aware of curious glances from the other four men in the room, and of Cap appearing in the doorway.  "Yeah," he muttered.  "Yeah, that was my father's name.  When - I mean how long - when did he die?" 

"About two months ago.  His wife came across a letter a few days ago that he evidently wrote after he become ill.  It involves you and their other children."

His wife.  Other children.  Johnny felt numb.  Paralyzed.  His brain could not process all he had just learned in the last two minutes.  He had to get off the phone now.  "Mr. Naylor.  I've gotta go.  We - we - just got an - an - alarm.  You know, a f-fire?"  Shit, there was that stutter again.

"Oh.  All right," came the calm voice on the other end of the line.  "Let me just give you my number and you can call me back when you have some time to talk."

"Sure.  Sure thing."  He waited while the attorney rattled off his number, not bothering to write it down.  "Okay. Okay, great.  Well, I really gotta go.  Goodbye."  He dropped the receiver as if his hand was burning, then pivoted away too quickly, raking a hand through his hair and registering the now blatantly concerned stares of his co-workers.

"Johnny?" said Marco, starting to rise and move toward him.  "Everything okay?"

Johnny raised a hand to ward him off.  "Yeah.  No.  I-I-"  Come on, Gage.  Keep it together.  "I think I'll lie down for a while.  Sorry for tying up the phone, Cap."  Not waiting for a reply, he strode to the dorm, pacing its length back and forth twice before nervously sitting on the edge of his bunk.  He rested his head in his hands, elbows on his thighs, and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling his stomach muscles clench painfully as he tried to process the conversation he had just had.

His father had been alive all these years.  Twenty-one years.  But he had died, just a couple of months ago.  And he was married.  With kids.  What else had Naylor said?  They found a letter a few days ago, and it had only taken them since then to locate him.  Must have talked to someone in Montana.  Or Aunt Elaine.  His father could have found him anytime if he had wanted to, but he hadn't.


His eyes snapped open to see a concerned looking Chet and Cap standing uncertainly in the doorway.  Cap spoke first. "No one was trying to eavesdrop, but...did we hear correctly, John?  About your father?"

Johnny stared at the floor, not sure what to say.  After the silence had lasted a little too long, he glanced up at Cap, who stood with his arms crossed, watching Johnny worriedly.  "Yeah, I guess so.  He - that was some attorney in Seattle.  Says my father's dead."  He shrugged.

Chet sat next to him.  "John," he began, then stopped. 

From the corner of his eye, Johnny saw Chet and Cap exchange looks.  Come on, guys, let's just get this over with, he thought.

Cap took a couple of steps further into the room.  "John, I guess we were all under the impression that you lost your dad some time ago."

Johnny almost laughed.   Lost.  That was one way to put it.  He shrugged again.  "I don't know what to tell you.  I assumed he was dead.  And now he is.  End of story."

More silence.  Let it go.  Just please let it go.

Finally Cap sighed.  "You're entitled to bereavement leave, John.  We can go to my office and fill out the paperwork right now if you like."

"No need, Cap."  He could hear how callous he sounded, but couldn't summon a response which would seem in any way appropriate to them.  "I'm too late for the funeral.  It was a bit of a shock, I guess, but I'm fine."

"Okay.  Your call.  But for right now, I want you to go home.  Roy should be here any minute, and I'll see if Charlie can stick around.  If not, we'll find a replacement for you."

"Cap, that's not necessary.  I said I was fine."  His words came out a little angrier than he had intended.

"Go on home, John.  That's an order.  If you change your mind about taking some time off, just say the word.  Okay, pal?"

Johnny nodded once, not trusting his voice.  He felt Cap give his shoulder a couple of pats before he turned and left, leaving him alone with Chet.

He jerked to his feet, but felt Chet's hand on his arm, so he stopped and waited.

"Johnny, I don't know what to say.  I'm - I'm really sorry."


"You okay getting home?  Should I call someone?"

"Nah.  I'll be okay."

"Well, call us if you need anything."

"Sure.  See you in a few days."

He didn't give anyone else a crack at him as he breezed through the day room avoiding eye contact.  Moments later, he was standing in front of his locker, staring blankly at the interior, wondering what he was supposed to be feeling.  Just then, Roy arrived, heading straight to his locker without so much as a glance at Johnny.  Not taking time to change out of his uniform, Johnny stuffed his clothes into his gym bag and fled the station.

Chapter Text

When Roy finished dressing and walked into the day room, the first thing he noticed was Charlie Dwyer sitting at the table with the rest of the crew, except for Cap, who was apparently in his office.  The second thing he noticed was that, like everyone else, Dwyer did not appear to have much of an appetite, running his spoon idly through what smelled to Roy like Stoker's beef vegetable soup, which was usually a favorite. 

"Hi, Roy," said Chet.  "You saw Johnny on his way out?"

Roy had his back turned, ladling soup into a bowl.  "Yep," he said.  "What did he do to himself this time?"  The scorn in his voice had become such a habit when speaking of Johnny, that he wasn't aware of it until he turned around and saw the faces of his shift mates.

Chet was shaking his head, angry.  "Well you obviously didn't talk to him.  Not that that's anything new."

Roy sat down, lifting his spoon.  "Why, no, Chet.  I didn't.  He was out the door before I had the chance."

"Oh come on, man.  You've been treating him like shit for weeks now.  We've all seen it, and we just figured it was something between the two of you.  But this is different.  You gotta be the bigger man."

"Chet, you have no idea what you're talking about.  Now, I'm going to eat some of this great smelling soup.  You mind?"  Roy held Chet's gaze for a moment then the other man shook his head again, stood and left the room, followed shortly by Marco and Mike.  Roy looked over at Dwyer, who seemed suddenly a little too interested in his own soup.  "Did I miss something?"

Dwyer cleared his throat.  "Uh, Roy, Johnny got a phone call a little while ago.  That's why Cap sent him home early."

"A phone call."  Like that explained anything.  He spooned soup into his mouth, wondering, but not much caring, how Johnny had managed to get everyone all stirred up this time. 

On some level, Roy knew he was being unreasonable and a bit of a dick, but his recent discovery that his partner and best friend of over five years was evidently gay had confused him to such a degree that anger seemed the safest response.  He couldn't have said why he was angry, or explained why Johnny deserved the cold shoulder he was giving him, but it was all just so wrong

Johnny should not have lied to him for five years.  Johnny should not have made fools of all of them with his incessant chatter about the nurses he was supposedly dating.  Johnny most definitely should not have had that picture taken of himself with those two other guys, doing filthy things that were burned into Roy's brain forever.  And Johnny should not keep looking at him, reminding him of  sleepy brown eyes staring into a camera, highly aroused and revealing a man being driven to the edge and inviting the viewer to accompany him over.  None of that should have happened but it had, and it was all Johnny's fault and Roy sure as shit did not owe anyone an apology for feeling the way he did, least of all Johnny.

"Roy, did you hear what I said?"  Dwyer was giving him a funny look.

"No.  And if it had anything to do with my partner, don't bother.  I've heard it all from the other guys, and believe me, none of you have a clue what's going on, so I'd appreciate it if you would just mind your own damn business."  A little out of breath after his outburst, Roy was surprised when Dwyer just sat there, looking uncomfortable but determined.

  "Roy.  Johnny's father died."

Roy blinked.  "Yeah.  Quite a few years ago, I believe."

"No, Roy.  Recently.  I'm not sure exactly when, but from what Chet said, it sounded like it was maybe a couple of months ago."

"That doesn't make any sense," Roy started to say, but just then the tones went off, calling the station to a car fire.  This was the first of a series of runs that kept Roy and Charlie, and then Charlie's replacement Cal Donahue, busy for the rest of the afternoon and half of the night.  Roy had wanted to corner Chet or Captain Stanley to get more details about what had happened with Johnny, but by the time the squad made it back to the station after midnight, everyone had gone to bed.

Roy lay sleepless for most of the rest of the night, struggling with his feelings, trying to figure out how to get past his anger, and not completely sure that he wanted to.  By the time the morning tones went off, however, he had resigned himself to try to make things right with Johnny, at least until he got through this thing with his father.  Having come to that decision, he did his best to keep his distance from the rest of the crew until it was time to go home, but when Chet sat across the table from him, staring accusingly, Roy gave a sigh.

"Chet, would you stop with the evil eye, already?  I'm going to give Johnny a call today.  You happy?"

Chet didn't look happy.  "I don't know, Roy.  He might not want to talk to you."

Roy scowled.  "No, he might not.  I guess I'll let him decide that, though."


When Roy got home, Joanne was just leaving, on her way to run errands.  He fixed himself some breakfast, then tried calling Johnny, but got no answer and didn't leave a message.  He lay down on the couch and turned on the television, but his limited sleep the night before caught up with him and he dozed off within minutes, waking up several hours later when Joanne returned.  He helped her carry in and put away the groceries then they ate a late lunch together.  When he told her about Johnny's father, she stared at him in confusion.

"Honey, I could have sworn he said his father died when he was a kid."

Roy shrugged.  "That's what I said.  Maybe the guys heard wrong."

"Well, call him again."

"I don't know, Jo.  I left a message already.  He can call me back if he wants to talk."

Her eyes narrowed.  "Whatever it is that has you so steamed at Johnny that you refuse to talk about, you have to set it aside.  Who else does Johnny have?"

"Fine," he said grumpily, and reached for the phone.  He dialed Johnny's number, listening to it ring half a dozen times before the answering machine clicked in again.  He hung up.  "Still not answering."

"Go over there."

"Jo - "

"Go.  Over.  There."  She glared at him.

He tried to stare her down, but he should have known there was no way he was going to win that contest.  Heaving a huge sigh, he stood, bent over to give her a quick kiss, and headed out.  He made one stop on the way there, and pulled up in front of Johnny's apartment building less than half an hour later.  The Land Rover was parked out front.  Damn.  No getting out of it.

He took the stairs to the second floor and knocked softly, hoping Johnny wouldn't hear him, but seconds later the door swung open and there he was, dressed in sweats and a dark grey t-shirt, squinting out at him.

"Roy?  What are you doing here?"

"Well, you're not answering your phone, so I thought I'd come over here in person and see how you're doing."

"I have an answering machine.  Why didn't you just leave a message?"  He sounded angry.

"Johnny, can I come in?"

"Joanne made you come over, didn't she?"

Roy tried to look offended.  "No."

Johnny looked past Roy, his jaw tense.  "What do you want Roy?  Exactly?"

"I want to talk to you."  Roy sighed and frowned.  "And I need to apologize."

"Yeah?  Your timing is suspicious."  They stood there awkwardly for a while, then Johnny pointed at the paper bag in Roy's hand.  "What's that?"

"Let me in and I'll show you."

One dark eyebrow arched upwards.  "Roy..."

"Okay, fine.  I picked up a bottle of Chivas on the way over."

A second eyebrow joined the first.  "I guess you do want to apologize.  All right, come on in."  Johnny opened the door wider and stepped aside to let Roy in. 

The living room was clean and neat as usual, but as Roy glanced past it into the kitchen, he spotted an array of cleaning supplies on the floor.  The refrigerator had been pulled away from the wall and turned sideways.  Johnny followed his gaze.  "I've been doing some Spring cleaning," he said.

"It's November."

"Just give me the bottle.  I drank all my beer, and it wasn't working anyway."

Roy handed over the paper bag and sat down on the couch.  A minute or so later, Johnny returned with the open bottle and two glasses.  He handed Roy a glass, poured a generous amount of Chivas in it, and poured himself one.  Setting the bottle on the coffee table, he stood looking down at Roy and raised his glass.  "To...something."  He tossed back half the glass, grimaced, and shuddered.

"To your father," said Roy, and did the same.  He watched Johnny slump into the opposite corner of the couch with less than his usual grace, and realized that the beer had been working better than Johnny had let on.  He waited for him to say something more, but when he remained glumly silent, sipping his drink and glowering at the wall, Roy decided his apology needed a little more work.  "Johnny, I'm sorry for the way I've been treating you the last couple of weeks."

A slender hand flapped dismissively in his direction.  "Don't worry about it.  I know I can be aggravating."

"That's not true," Roy lied.

"You don't have to be nice to me just because my dad died."  He turned sideways to stare at Roy, who forced himself not to turn away from the expressive brown eyes.  "He hated me."

Roy choked a little on the sip he had been taking.  "Johnny...why would you even say that?"

"He did."  He kept his gaze fixed on Roy, who was shocked to see tears threatening in his friend's eyes.  "He must have.  He never came back for me." 

Roy looked away, swirling the liquid in his glass and giving Johnny time to collect himself.  Finally he asked, "Why did you let everyone think he was already dead?"

"What was I supposed to do?  Anyway, I thought he had to be.  Otherwise...."

Roy shook his head, finding it hard to comprehend.  "You want to tell me about it?"

Johnny stretched his legs out in front of him and laid his head on the back of the couch.   "We were happy, you know.  We were poor, I mean real poor, but I didn't understand that then, and it didn't seem important.  Then I went and screwed it all up...." 




December, 1955


The diner in Astoria, Oregon where they ate breakfast sat half a block from the Columbia River.  Seven-year-old John stared out the window at the ships and fishing boats sliding in and out of the lazily drifting fog.  "How come there aren't any waves?" he had asked his mom when the ferry carried them across the water from Washington state as the sun rose, briefly cutting through the fog and turning it faintly golden before it settled back into a sullen, smoky grey.  The logging job in Aberdeen had lasted only two weeks, not the six months promised.  They had left this morning, headed for Phoenix where there was maybe some construction work waiting for his dad, but maybe not.  In the two and a half years that they had zigzagged across the western states, John had learned, right along with his mom and dad, not to count on much in a new town.

His mom had smiled at the question.  "It's not the ocean," she'd said.  "This is a river.  The mouth of a river."

Now John frowned a little, adjusting his experience with the rivers in Montana and Washington to this wide, smooth expanse.  From the diner, he couldn't even see the other side, but maybe that was only because of the fog.  He spooned some cereal into his mouth and chewed thoughtfully, wishing his mom and dad had let him order pancakes and hot chocolate with whipped cream, but only two weeks of work meant they had barely enough money to make the trip to Phoenix.  This meal today was a special treat.  His mom had insisted on it, and surprisingly, his dad, usually stingy with money, had agreed, but made it clear that it would not happen again anytime soon.

Next to him in the booth, his mom's raspy cough drew his attention from the boats on the river.  He shot a glance across at his dad, and saw that he, too, was watching her.  He looked angry, but John knew that look meant he was concerned, and, the boy had recently realized, a little bit scared as well.  He didn't like to dwell on the idea of his dad being scared, but this was understandable.  His mom had been sick for weeks now, and her cough seemed to grow worse every day.

They both waited, frozen, while she coughed and struggled to catch a breath.  When she could finally breathe again, John's dad poured out some more tea for her, stirred in some sugar, and pushed the mug closer to her hand.

 "Drink some of this, sweetie," he said giving her pale hand a squeeze.  John stared at her hand, noticing how you could see the sharp outline of her bones.  It reminded him of the tiny mouse claw he had found near their rooms in Aberdeen, left behind in the mud ruts of the dirt road by one of the stray cats that roamed the neighborhood. 

Taking another soggy bite of cereal, he wished he could have a glass of milk, or at least lift up his bowl and slurp down some of the milk left in his cereal.  His mom would never put up with that, though, especially in public.   He also knew, because his dad reminded him pretty often, that he should be grateful to be eating at all.  He didn't remember, but during the first year after they left Montana, there had been days when they had had to park the station wagon on the side of the road and forage for whatever they could find.

The bell over the door gave a tinny clang as another family entered and waited for the waitress to seat them.  John saw a mother and father and two children, a teenage girl and a boy about John's age, all blonde and well-dressed and well-fed.  The girl was pretty, and he watched the way her hips twitched back and forth under her skirt as she and her family followed the waitress, who led them, arms filled with menus, to the booth behind John and his family. The son caught John staring and gave him an ugly sneer as he passed.  John scowled, trying to look as intimidating as his dad could be. 

As he heard the other family placing their orders for breakfast, his scowl deepened.  They obviously knew they could order whatever they wanted, and asked for pancakes and waffles and eggs and potatoes and bacon and sausage.  John's mouth watered at the thought of all that food, so he turned to stare out the window some more, concentrating on the river and the boats so he wouldn't have to wonder what it was like to have whatever you wanted.

He was doing a pretty good job of ignoring the other family, but all of a sudden he heard part of their conversation and began listening hard.

"I'm surprised Dave even seated them." 

"Must not be from around here.  Local redskins all know enough to stick with their own kind."

"Mom, the lady's not an Indian."

"No, honey, and she should be ashamed of herself, getting herself mixed up with that kind of trash."

"And look, she's got herself a little trash half-breed bastard."

"Stop.  That sort of language is not appropriate for a young lady..."

John felt himself flush with anger and shame, and looked at his mom and dad to see if they had heard.  His mom stared out the window, and his dad studied her, that worried scowl back on his face.  The other family continued to make comments about John and his family.  They weren't even trying to keep their voices down.  He wanted to turn around and yell at them to just shut up, but he knew that would be bad manners, and he would only get in trouble.  He didn't want to hear them anymore, though, and he didn't want his mom and dad to be hurt by what they were saying.

 "Hey Dad," he said, probably a little too loudly.  "I've been thinking about some stuff."

His dad turned to look at him, one eyebrow quirking upwards.  "Oh yeah?"

 "Yeah, well you know how you're always saying how a person has just gotta come up with one good idea and they can make a lot of money?  So anyway, I've been trying to think of something and I was looking at those boats out there.  What if we got a boat and - and - used it to deliver, uh, food and stuff like that to all the other boats?  I bet nobody out there is doing that right now, so we'd be the only ones and maybe after a while we could add some other boats.  Doesn't that sound like a good idea?"  He took a breath and stopped.  The other table had quieted down, but he was afraid they would start up again.  His mom and dad were staring at him.  After a moment they turned to each other and shared a perplexed look softened with smiles.

 "Uh, John," said his dad, "most of those boats out there have their own food with them.  The larger ships even have kitchens on board."

"When I was growing up, they knew better than to show their face in our restaurants.  I'm saying something to Dave before we go.  It's just not right."

 "Yeah, but dad, I bet sometimes they forget or run out, so, so, so - they don't want to hafta come back to shore just to get something to eat.  If they knew they didn't have to, then, uh, well then they wouldn't have to think about it so hard, you know?  I think people would really be happy about that."

His dad shook his head, looking impatient.  "Slow down, there, kiddo.  All that is beside the point.  How do you think we're going to be able to afford a boat in the first place?"

John hadn't thought the idea through, had just been talking to block out the things the other family was saying.  He kept talking, grabbing at whatever words came within reach to smother the hateful sounds behind him.  Only vaguely aware that his father had gone from looking amused to annoyed, he jumped a little when he grabbed his shoulder and gave him a small shake.

 "John," he said sternly, "that's enough now."

 "But Dad-"

 "No.  Stop it.  Enough of the chatterbox routine.  You're wearing your mother and I out with...whatever this is.  I don't know what gets into you sometimes.  Now, you done with your cereal?"

He wasn't, but more than anything, he wanted to get out of there, so he nodded and bit his lower lip to keep more words from spilling out.  His dad looked pretty angry as he got up to pay the bill, and his mom reached over and touched his cheek gently.  She gave a tiny nod towards the other family.

 "Don't let their unkind words bother you, John.  It's just ignorance speaking."

He flushed, realizing that she had heard everything, every ugly word.  "Why do they have to -  to -- ?"  He stopped, not even sure of what he was trying to ask her. 

She stood and helped him slide out of the booth after her, then handed him his jacket.  "I don't know, honey.  It doesn't change who we are.  Who you are.  Okay?"

He scowled, afraid of the tears which were threatening to fall.  His dad waited by the door, holding it open for them.  "I hate them," he whispered, just loud enough for his mom to hear. 

Her hand tightened on his and she surprised him by stopping and squatting to face him.  "Don't ever say that, John.  Those kinds of feelings only turn back on you.  Maybe not right away, but eventually they do.  You understand?"

He nodded, although he didn't really.  He looked nervously to where his dad waited, appearing impatient and ready to erupt.  His mom stared at him a moment longer, then went to stand up but swayed as if dizzy.  His dad was there instantly to hold her elbow, steadying her.  He glared at John as if he wanted to say something, to scold him some more, but instead he placed a hand on his wife's back, still holding her elbow with the other, and helped her out of the diner, murmuring softly in her ear.  John was left to follow them on his own.  He shot one last belligerent look at the other family and hurried to catch up with them.


They had been driving almost nonstop, and John's mom had been sounding and looking worse and worse.  Her coughing fits left her breathless and teary-eyed, and her complexion was, if possible, even paler, with a grayish tinge.  When they stopped at another small town to buy bread and peanut butter and jam for sandwiches, she stayed in the car.  As John and his dad returned with the sack of food, he saw her hide a crumpled tissue in her sleeve, although she wasn't quick enough to keep him from seeing the wet red flecks of blood which spotted the tissue.  He pretended he hadn't seen, because she didn't want him to know.  Surely his dad knew what was going on, and he would take care of things like he always did.


John lost track of how long they had been on the road.  They must be getting close to Phoenix by now.  It was early afternoon when his dad finally pulled off the road and surprised both John and his mom by turning into the parking lot of a motel just off the highway.  On the other side of the highway, John could see the ocean a few blocks away.  This time he was pleased to see waves and sand.  This was no river. 

"What are you doing?" asked John's mom in between wheezing breaths.  "We can't afford a motel, Sam."

John held his breath, hoping his dad would let them stay.  He couldn't remember ever staying in a motel before and was excited to see what it was like.  "Where are we, dad?" he asked.  He had been trying to keep track of all the road signs, but had dozed off for a couple of hours and missed the latest ones.

His dad ignored him and answered his wife.  "You need some proper sleep.  And I've got some things I need to do."

 "What things?" she asked, her thin face pinched with worry.

"I'm calling Elaine."

She looked startled, and began to cough again.  It seemed to go on forever, and when she finally pulled the tissue away from her face, the fresh blood was no longer just flecks, but had turned half the tissue bright red.  "No, Sam.  You and I both remember the things my sister said last time we saw her.  I won't have you taking our problems to her."

"Katherine, you need medicine, and I can't afford it just now.  No matter how your sister feels about me and John, I doubt that she's going to refuse loaning me the money to help you get well."

John listened intently.  Elaine.  Aunt Elaine?  He'd heard about her, but had never met her.  He knew she lived in Los Angeles.  That must be where they were now.  He frowned, trying to understand what his father had just said.  How did Aunt Elaine feel about John and his dad?  It sounded like she didn't like them, but John had never even met her, so that didn't make any sense. 

He was still pondering this when his dad came back from the office after getting them checked in.  Jumping out of the car, he scurried to the back of the station wagon to help his dad unload the paper sacks which held their clothes and the food they had bought for the road.  It only took one trip to get everything inside, and then his dad lifted his wife from the car, carried her in, and laid her carefully on one of the two narrow beds.  He propped two pillows behind her to help her sit up a little bit, then went into the bathroom and got her a glass of water.  She was coughing again, and grabbed the wadded up tissues her husband handed her in her delicate hand.  John could tell she was trying not to cough so hard this time.  He was glad to see that not as much blood stained the tissues when she finished and collapsed against the pillows.

His dad sat next to her and handed her the water, pulling her to him slightly while she drank, then repositioned her.  He turned to John and grabbed his wrist to pull him closer.  "Son," he said, his voice deep and serious, his dark eyes boring into John's, letting him know that he had better listen carefully.  "Son, I'm going to be gone for a little while.  I need you to stay with your mom and take care of her for me.  If you think she's getting worse, you need to go to the office and find someone to help.  Can you do that?"

The expression on his father's face scared him, as did the thought of being left alone to care for his sick mom, but he nodded anyway.  "Sure, Dad.  No problem." 

His dad held his gaze a moment longer, then nodded, seeming satisfied with what he saw.  "Don't bother her, just keep quiet and bring her some more water if she needs it.  Okay, kiddo?"

John just nodded, showing his dad he could keep quiet if he had to.

After kissing his wife's forehead, John's dad strode to the door.  "Lock this after me, and keep it locked.  If you have to go outside, remember to bring that key with you."  He nodded to the key attached to the red plastic diamond, which was identical to the one he had placed in his jacket pocket.  Then he was gone.  John heard the station wagon start up, and he moved to the window and peeked through the fraying curtains to watch the car pull away.  Turning back to his mom, he saw that her eyes were closed.  Alarmed, he moved to stand next to the bed, holding his breath until he saw her chest moving up and down.  Backing up, he sat down on the edge of the other bed and began his vigil.


John started awake, disoriented in the dark room.  When had he fallen asleep?  He slid off the bed and clicked on the lamp which stood on the small table between the two beds.  His mom was sleeping too, but her breaths were labored and raspy.  He watched her for a few moments, then moved to the window to look through the curtains.  The sun was setting in a narrow band of orange and gold streaked low over the ocean.  How long had his dad been gone?  His stomach growled, so he went over to the sacks that were lined against the wall on the floor and found the one with the food in it.  Using the scarred top of the low dresser, he quickly assembled two peanut butter and jam sandwiches, then placed one on the nightstand near his mom and sat on the other bed to eat his. 

He watched his mom breathe in and out as he chewed, listened to each labored breath.  He stopped, mid-chew, as he realized that she had breathed out, but not in.  He waited, holding his own breath, until she gave another gasping breath.  He set the rest of his sandwich on the bed, uneaten, and stood next to his mom, catching his bottom lip in his teeth, listening, waiting for the next breath to come.  Suddenly, her eyes opened and he saw the look of panic as she woke to her own struggles. 

"John," she gasped, reaching for him.

Frightened at the look in her eyes, he fought the tears which threatened.  "Mom?"  His dad had said he should get to the office for help if things got bad.  This looked pretty bad.  "I'm gonna go get someone to help you, okay?"

"Stay," she pleaded, panting a little at the effort it took to say that one word.  Visibly gathering her strength, she said, "Don't...leave."

"Wait.  I gotta get help.  I'll be right back.  I promise.  I promise."  He didn't wait for her to say anything more but ran out the door and raced toward the office.  The sun had finished setting, and it was dark outside except for one flickering streetlight over the parking lot and the headlights of cars heading up and down the highway. 

The office windows were dark, and when he tried the door, it was locked.  He pounded and pounded on the door, but nobody answered.  He glanced back at the door to their room, chewing his thumbnail in agonized indecision, then looked around the parking lot.  There was only one other car, parked opposite from their room.  Light shone through the windows of the room it was parked in front of.  He wasn't supposed to talk to strangers, but his mom needed help now.  He hesitated for just a minute, then ran to the door and knocked loudly.

From inside the room, he heard someone yelling, then voices laughing.  He knocked again and waited, shifting his weight anxiously from one foot to the other.  Just as he was about to give up, the door swung inward.  A man, about his father's age, but shorter, rounder, and with a lot less hair, stood in the doorway in his underpants and an unbuttoned dress shirt, swaying slightly as he looked out into the night, then directed his gaze downward where he finally seemed to notice John.  Behind him, John caught a glimpse of a woman on the bed.  Seeing her bare breasts, he looked away, embarrassed, and so didn't see the man move towards him, but he suddenly felt a damp hand grasp his arm.  He jerked away, stumbling backwards a little.

"Hey!  Get your hands off me," he said.

The man laughed and looked over his shoulder.  "You gonna charge me extra for your little friend here?" he asked the woman.  John smelled something sour and pungent on his breath.  "Or is it too late to change my mind?  If I would have known this kid was available..."

The woman had joined him at the door.  Plump and tired looking, she slouched in the doorway in an unzipped skirt, smoking a cigarette, seemingly unconcerned with her naked flesh.  "Jesus, Frank, don't be such a pervert.  I don't got any idea who this kid is."  She took a step toward him and smiled.  "You're a little cutie.  You lost or something?"

Keeping a safe distance, John ignored the man, and addressed himself to her.  "My mom's real sick and my dad hasn't come back yet.  I...I don't know what to do."

Frank spoke around her.  "Tell him to come on in and wait.  I'll help him out."  He snickered.

"You'll do no such thing," she said.  "Keep away from this guy," she told John, jerking her thumb at Frank.

"Fine," said Frank, seeming to lose interest.  "You're on the clock, so get your fat ass back in here and let the little shit go bother someone else."

She shrugged at John.  "Sorry kid.  Go check with the office.  I'm sure they can figure something out."  She went back into the room and Frank slammed the door in his face.

John stood alone in the dark, the chill ocean breeze ruffling his hair.  Taking a quick glance at the black windows of the motel office, he edged back over to their room and reached for the doorknob.  It was locked.  He nearly groaned in frustration.  He forgot the key.  His dad had told him to keep it with him, but he had forgotten.  Even as he gave a soft knock, he knew that his mom would be too weak to make it to the door. 

He shivered, suddenly afraid that the man Frank would change his mind and come out into the night to grab him again.  Where was his dad?  What should he do?  He looked up and down the highway, and spotted another hotel on the other side, closer to the ocean, maybe a ten minute walk from where he stood.  He frowned, deep in thought.  They might have a key that would open his door, or the office might still be open, and he could find someone to help his mom.

Having made up his mind, he headed to the side of the highway, and carefully waited for a gap in the traffic, then put his head down and raced across to the other side.  Horns blared past him as he reached the opposite shoulder, and he realized that he had misjudged how fast the cars were traveling.  He headed down the shoulder towards the motel, but it took a lot longer to reach than he had expected, and the office turned out to be dark and locked up just as tight as at the other motel.  There were more cars parked in the parking lot here, but he wasn't about to go around knocking on any more doors. 

He glanced west, to where he knew the ocean lay.  He saw streets leading in that direction with houses and a couple of restaurants lit up.  Feeling panicky about how long his mom had been left alone, he looked back towards their motel.  What good would going back do now, if he couldn't get into the locked room?  So he headed down one of the streets leading west, hoping to find a house or a business that looked safe enough to approach.  Spooked by his earlier close call, however, he found that he was reluctant to risk any more similar encounters.

He just kept walking for maybe another forty-five minutes, taking a left turn, then a right turn, hoping he was still headed toward the ocean.  He didn't know what help he would find in that direction, but at least knowing where it was would help him find his way back.  After a while, though, the houses were spaced farther and farther apart, and there were no more street lights.  The moon had not yet risen, and it was so dark.  Trees loomed up around him, and suddenly he could no longer tell which way the ocean lay, or the highway, or the motel, or his mom.  He shivered.  His stomach growled, and he wished he had thought to bring a sandwich with him.  Finally, he hid behind some trees and decided to wait until it grew light again and he could see where he was going.  He tried not to think too much about how bad his mom had looked when he left her, or about his promise to her to be right back.  He wrapped his arms around his knees, trying to keep warm, and waited for sunrise.


Waking suddenly, he blinked at the brightness of the sun.  How long had he been asleep?  Too long, he realized, and jumped up, looking around in fear.  Where was he?  He turned in a circle, and then through the trees he saw the ocean.  He breathed a sigh of relief and headed down toward the water.  Beach houses lined the wide, sandy beach.  He didn't think to stop now, he just knew he had to get back to his mom as soon as possible, and he didn't want to think about what his dad might do if he got back before John did.  He headed north up the beach, figuring he could follow the shoreline until he got closer to the hotel.  Somehow he would judge when it was about time to cut upwards toward the highway.  The breeze off the ocean tossed his hair around and made his eyes tear up, but he couldn't stop staring at the water.  Wave after wave crashed on the shore, and seagulls and other birds hovered overhead and ran in funny jumping movements up and down the sand.  He wished he had time to just plunk down cross-legged and take in the view.  Maybe later, after his mom got her medicine and was feeling better.


The station wagon was back.  John paused near the door to their room, delaying for a few moments what was sure to be an angry reception from his dad.  He reached for the doorknob, which was still locked, but suddenly it was yanked from his grasp and pulled inward.  His dad stood inside the room, staring down at him.  He was angry, probably angrier than John had ever seen him, but there was something more, something worse.  Although his gaze was on John, he appeared dazed.  Before John could figure out what was wrong with him, he grabbed John's collar and yanked him roughly into the room.  "You get in here," he grated. 

John was watching his dad's face, and wasn't expecting the sudden, harsh shove to his back.  He stumbled to one knee.

"Don't you look at me, boy," his dad said.  "You take a look at her.  See what you did."

John swiped away the long bangs that had fallen in front of his eyes and looked to the bed where his father was pointing.  His mom still lay there, but he could tell right away that something was very wrong.  She was pale as snow, so still, chest not moving up and down anymore, her blue-grey eyes open and filmed over, no longer seeing anything.

His dad loomed over him.  "You left her alone," he whispered, as if he could not comprehend what he was saying.  "She died alone.  Alone!  Suffocated, alone, afraid, with no one here to comfort her, to just be with her."

Frozen with shock and regret, John could only listen to his father's accusations, taking them inside of himself, knowing they were true.  He felt sick, flooded with guilt.  His father's voice continued, gradually growing louder.  "When I needed to count on you, you let me down.  Let her down.  Why didn't you help her?  Why the hell didn't you get help?"

John wanted to explain, to tell his dad he was wrong, he had tried to find help, but the sight of his mom, and the sound of his father's rage and grief had struck him mute.  A large, calloused hand grabbed the front of his t-shirt, lifting him to his toes.  "I asked you a question!"  John stared up into his father's face, suddenly a stranger's face.  "I want an answer, if I have to beat it out of you." 

John saw a rush of movement come at him from his right side, saw the straining knuckles just before the fist backhanded him, catching him on the cheek, sliding into his nose and sending him flying to strike his face on the edge of the nightstand.  He felt himself bounce and slide to the floor, landing hard on his left elbow.  He lay, stunned, too shocked to even cry out.  Liquid warmth poured from his nose, trickled down the left side of face. 

His father paced up and down in front of the door.  "I had the medicine," he muttered, then turned to John with a gaze filled with something which looked like hate.  "I had it!"  He pulled a small paper sack from his jacket pocket and flung it at John's head.  John flinched, but stayed where he was.  His dad grimaced, staring at his dead wife.  His voice grew low once more.  "I had to beg for it, but I got it.  All you had to do was keep her alive until I got back."

John rolled a little, taking the weight off of his throbbing elbow, sat up and wiped a shaking hand under his nose, startled by the amount of blood his hand came away with.  "Dad," he whispered.

"No.  Do us both a favor and just kept your pathetic mouth shut.  Just shut the fuck up."  His dad just sounded tired now.  He stared down at his son as if he was looking at some sort of disgusting insect.  "And now, the best part is, I get to go back to her sister and beg some more, for the money to bury my wife."  He scrubbed at his face absently.  "I expect you to stay here with your mom until I get back.  If you wander off again, don't expect anyone to come looking for you."

John heard the door snick shut.  His dad had left him alone again.  Alone with that...thing on the bed that used to be his mom.  He crawled around the second, empty bed to the other side and leaned against the side of the bed, facing the wall with his arms wrapped around his knees.  He let the blood flow from his nose, and from the cut near his left eye, until it finally stopped flowing, and he never moved, not even once, as he waited for his father to return. 


Later - he didn't know how much later, an hour, a day, two days? - strangers entered the room and took his mother's body away.  A damp cloth was scrubbed across his face, and a band-aid was applied to the cut near his eye.  "Come on," said his dad, sounding tired, holding the paper sacks full of their belongings in his arms.  John followed him to the car.  "Get in the back."  He did as he was told.

The station wagon pulled onto the highway, heading north.  John didn't think to ask why they were headed back north and not continuing south.  His father had made it clear that he didn't want to hear anything he had to say.  He didn't feel like talking anyway, so he watched the scenery pass, felt the air getting colder, felt himself growing colder.  They didn't stop much, just for gas, and sometimes for food.  John slept a few times, or sat with his eyes closed, and it was then that he could imagine he was still back in that motel room, and his father was alone in the car, driving farther and farther away from him.


Eventually they reached Montana and the reservation.  John only had vague memories of the place, since it had been over two years before that they had all set off together.  He blinked groggily, noticing that the station wagon was parked outside of a small wooden house with peeling paint, surrounded by scrubby grass, mud, and patches of melting snow.  His father stood in the yard, talking to a slightly older man who John recognized as his uncle Charles.  He couldn't hear what they were saying, but his uncle did not look happy.  Neither did his aunt Grace, who stood in the open doorway, wiping her hands on a faded flowered apron.  Cautiously, John opened the car door.  No one seemed to object, so he slid outside and stood next to the car, feeling cold water soak into his sneakers.  He took a tentative step toward his father, who glanced in his direction, not looking directly at him, but looking past him, as if he were a ghost.

John's stomach clenched with dread.  He stood as if frozen, trying not to listen to what they were saying.  He saw his two older cousins sidle around the side of the house, eying him and his dad, curious and sullen.  Finally, some agreement appeared to have been reached between the two men.  John's sack of belongings was removed from the back of the station wagon and set in the mud.  He stared at his dad as he moved back behind the wheel of the car, willing him to look at him, to see him, to say something to him, even it was more angry words and accusations.  He stared and he waited, but his dad never looked his way, not even a glance, just got in the car and drove away and never looked back.  Not once.

Chapter Text

Roy tried to hide his dismay at the story he had just heard.  He reached for the bottle, noticing it was less than a third full, and poured some more into both glasses.  "How long before you saw him again?"

"I told you, Roy.  He never came back.  He left me there.  With them."  He took a large gulp of Chivas, and didn't even flinch as it went down.  "At first I thought he just went on down to Phoenix, and would be back when the job was finished.  I kept waiting for him.  I thought he would show up any day.  I was so sure.  And then...."  Another gulp, and his glass was empty.  He refilled it.

"Then what?"  Roy asked gently.

It had grown dark in the apartment.  Johnny sat slumped forward, elbows on his knees, staring at the carpet.  "Then...I'd been with them a couple of months.  My cousins were off somewhere, my aunt was visiting her sister."  He sat back and closed his eyes, outwardly relaxed.  His voice when he spoke again had grown softer, almost as if he had forgotten that Roy was there.  "My uncle Charles and I were home alone, and he seemed to really notice me for the first time.  He said he was tired of me taking up space, eating their food, just being generally worthless, and he wanted to teach me something useful."  He took another sip and gave a bitter laugh.  "I thought he meant hunting, or, or, woodworking or something like that."

Roy waited, and when Johnny didn't speak for a while, he prompted him, afraid to hear what came next, but sensing that Johnny needed to get it out.  "What did he want to teach you, John?"

Johnny shot him an uneasy look, and stared down into his drink.  "If I tell you, you can't tell anyone." 

"I wouldn't do that."

"He - uh, he -- ."  His face contorted as if in thought, then he gave a small shake of his head.  "Nope, there's really no good way to say this.  So I'll just say it.  He wanted me to suck him off.  I didn't want to, didn't even know what he meant, but he got his belt off, and after a while it just hurt too much.  I tried, but I couldn't do it right, so he used his belt some more.  After that, though, I started to learn, and he could be real patient with me, if I just listened to him.  If not.... Well, I guess I got pretty good at it after a while."  He chewed his lower lip, stealing glances at Roy.  "And, uh, he had a couple of friends who liked the same thing when they were drinking.  We all had some fun little parties together."

"Johnny - "

"When I got a little older, I figured out that I could get things I wanted.  I mean, my uncle was right, it was a useful skill.  Only, he forgot to warn me that not everyone appreciated that sort of thing."   He gave a pained smile.  "Oh boy.  I never told this to anyone before.  I mean, not anyone."

Roy put his glass down, feeling queasy.  He'd heard about men like Johnny's uncle, but to hear what his friend had endured...Jesus, he was just a little kid.  Gazing blearily at Johnny, the last bit of anger over that stupid photo dissolved, replaced with sadness.  He thought he understood now.  "Johnny, izzat - "  He cleared his throat, and strove to enunciate.  "Is it because of your uncle that you turned gay?"  He reached for his glass, missed, and tried again.  When he finally grasped it and raised it to his lips, he froze, suddenly aware of the dead silence which had fallen in the dark room.

He felt movement at the end of the couch, heard a click and blinked at the brightness of the lamp that Johnny had switched on.  It took a few seconds for his eyes to adjust, and when they did he found himself staring into dark eyes filled with equal parts fear and anger.

"You know?" whispered Johnny.

"What?"  Oh, fuck me.  I am an idiot

"How?  When?"  Johnny turned his gaze to the ceiling.  "Wait, let me guess.  Two weeks ago, give or take.  That's why you've been so mad at me."  Jerking to his feet, he paced unsteadily towards the kitchen, then turned around.  "Well, I guess that answers that question."

"Question?"  Roy definitely felt drunker than Johnny looked.

"Yeah.  I always wondered how you'd react if you knew.  So, you're one of those guys."

"What guys?"

"The ones that want to beat the shit out of you when they find out.  Well, Roy, I admire your restraint.  I'd sure like to know how you found out, though.  And who all you've told.  Do I need to start looking for another job?"  He moved into the kitchen, and Roy heard him rummaging around in one of the cupboards.

Roy stood and followed him, standing in the doorway, watching him pull can after can down from the shelves, checking and discarding them one by one.  "Johnny, I didn't tell any - what are you doing?"

"We're drunk, Roy.  We need food."

"Oh."  He gave his head a shake, trying to clear it.  "Like I was saying, I didn't breathe a word to anyone.  And the reason I know is that whoever you gave that photo to decided to mail it to me.  At work!  You should really be more careful."

"Photo that I - more careful - ?  Roy, you're not making any sense.  You don't know anything.  First of all, I didn't give anything to anybody.  Those photos were a mistake and I didn't know anything about them until I got one, too, and then I got the rest from - well, just never mind who I got them from, but believe me, if I hadn't been drugged to the gills I never would have allowed it.  So don't go making accusations.  And another thing - "

"Okay, Johnny, I ajolopize.  Apologize.  Maybe we should sit down."

"Good idea."  Johnny slid to the floor.

Roy lowered himself gingerly, shoving a bottle of Ajax and a bucket of scummed over water out of the way, and leaning against the wall.  "What other thing?"

"Huh?  Oh yeah."  He poked a finger in Roy's direction.  "My uncle did not turn me gay.  Thazz jus' really ignorant, Roy.  I hated him.  It - what he did really screwed with my head.  You know?  And in some of my worst moments I thought that if it wasn't for him I woulda been a regular normal guy, just like you.  But really, seriously, if anything could have kept me from bein' gay, it would have been him.  I'm just...I like guys, Roy.  I like kissing guys and fucking guys and being fucked.  And in spite of my uncle, I love cocks, I love sucking cocks, touching cocks, and when the right cock comes along I might just settle down and worship that cock until the day I die. that offends you I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is."

They were both quiet for a few minutes.  Roy watched Johnny's downcast face, and regretted the pain he had caused his friend.  "It doesn't offend me.  Although if you could stop saying ‘cock' quite so much, that would be fine.  It's just that photo.  My God, Johnny, those two guys were...and you were...and that look on your face.  It all just really threw me for a loop, you know?  I mean..."  He gave a rueful grimace, and lowered his voice.  "It kind of turned me on a little."

Johnny's head snapped up, a look of disbelief on his face.  "It did not."

Roy nodded.  "It was kinda hot."

"My photo got you hot?"

"That picture would get an 89 year old nun on her deathbed hot."

"Now you're just trying to be nice."

"I'm dead serious."  Watching Johnny consider this, something occurred to Roy.  "So Johnny, all those years working with me, side by side, sleeping next to me, did you ever, you know, were you ever attracted to me?"

Johnny's face fell and he scowled.  "That's a stupid question.  Of course not.  You''re...Roy."

Roy scowled back at him.  "What's that s'posed to mean?  Some people find me quite attractive."

Johnny gave a puff of air denoting skepticism and muttered, "Yeah, your wife."

"Not just her!  I get offers.  I get looks."

"Okay, okay."

"You think I'm homely."

"No, Roy.  You're a nice looking guy.  You're just not my type."

"Yeah?  Why not?"

"Oh, fer fuck's sake.  Because you're straight, Roy."

"Are you so sure about that?  Why did that photo get me hot then?"

"You're saying you're gay now."

"I don't know.  I might be."

Johnny's eyes narrowed, his dark brows drawn down, and before Roy could react, he lunged forward, trapping him against the wall, pressed his mouth to his, slipped his tongue inside, and kissed him with ruthless thoroughness for perhaps half a minute.  Then he pulled back and they glared at one another, breathing hard.

 Roy looked away first, at the ceiling, at the floor, at his hands, and finally back at his friend.


"Yeah, Roy."

"I'm definitely not gay."

"After that kiss, I'm not sure I am anymore either."

"Ahhh....What kiss?  I don't remember any kiss."

Johnny nodded sagely.  "Good thinking.  Good plan."  He dragged himself to his feet.  "Why don't I order us a pizza?"

"Yeah, that way when we're puking our guts up tomorrow we'll have something to work with."

Johnny made the call, then they stood around the kitchen, each lost in his own thoughts for a time.  Remembering something, Roy looked over at Johnny.  "Who called you?"

"Hm?"  Johnny dragged his attention back from wherever it had wandered.

"Yesterday.  Charley said you got a phone call."

"Oh.  Oh yeah.  I didn't even tell you about that part.  It was some lawyer in Seattle.  I guess he works for my dad's wife."

Roy couldn't help wincing a little at that.  "He remarried, huh?"

"Yep.  No, no, don't look like that.  It's okay.  I guess he was bound to get over my mom eventually.  Anyway, this lawyer said he wrote a letter before he died and it mentioned me."

"Maybe he left you something."

Johnny shook his head.  "I'm no lawyer, but I think there would be a will for that."  He shrugged.  "I wouldn't want anything from him.  A little late for that."  Frowning, he stared at the floor.  "You know what that lawyer said?  He said he was tying up some loose ends.  That's what I am.  I'm a loose end."

"You're not - "

"Doesn't matter.  I don't care what's in that letter.  They can leave me all the messages they want, but I don't want anything to do with them."

"The lawyer's been calling you?"

"Not just him.  He must have tried three or four times yesterday, and a couple times this morning.  That was bad enough, but then I got this.  You've got to hear this."  Johnny lurched over to the answering machine on the kitchen counter and punched the fast forward button a few times.  "You're not gonna believe this."

He hit the play button, and a familiar man's voice could be heard, deep and intimate.  "Hi, Johnny.  I've been trying to reach you.  I looked for you yesterday afternoon, but I guess you left early.  Everything all right?  I was hoping we could get together later and -- ."

Roy watched in amazement as Johnny turned a deep shade of red and began stabbing his finger at every button on the answering machine in apparent panic.  "Johnny, wasn't that Dr. Brackett?  Why is he calling you at home?"

"Who?  I don't know.  He's just....Wait, here's the right one."  He hit the play button again, eyeing Roy nervously.  This time it was a woman's voice that filled the kitchen.

"John?  My name is Lilah Gage.  Sam Gage, your father...I'm his wife. Widow.  Fred Naylor tells me you haven't returned his calls."  A soft sigh could be heard.  "I thought maybe you would talk to me.  Are you there, listening?  All right.  I guess not.  Um, I hope you believe me when I tell you that I never knew you existed until a couple of days ago.  I would have made Sam -- .  Anyway, you should know you have a brother and sister, and your father wanted them to meet you.  He assumed you were still in Montana.  Look, I'd rather not leave this all in a message.  Just...could you please give me a call?"  She gave her number and hung up.

Roy kept an eye on Johnny throughout her message, watching the complex emotions play over his mobile face.  Even though he knew that Johnny had already listened to it at least once, his expression at the mention of a brother and sister could only be described as anguished.  What exactly lay behind that Roy could only guess.  Before he could ask, someone pounded on the front door.

"Pizza's here," John muttered, and fled into the living room.




An hour later the pizza was eaten, the Chivas was gone, and Johnny was wishing that Roy would just go home.  He wanted to call Kel, maybe see if he would come spend the night, at least let him know what was going on and that he was okay.  Although Roy had sobered up a little, he was still in no condition to drive, and appeared to have dozed off.  Johnny was not in much better shape.  All the talking had worn him out, and he was ready to crash.

He looked over at Roy on the couch, with his feet up on the coffee table, his eyes closed and jerky little snores coming out of his drooping mouth.  He considered giving Joanne a call and asking her to come get him, but decided that would be a little ungrateful.  After all, Roy had shown up, made the effort, apologized for his recent dickishness.  The least he could do was make him feel welcome in his home. 

Jesus, what an afternoon.  He had opened up about things never meant to be shared, discovered that Roy knew he was gay, kissed Roy.  Gah.  That was a sensation he would just as soon forget.  At least he knew what had been behind Roy's treatment of him lately, and they seemed to have moved past it.  Yeah, we'll see how he feels about me tomorrow.

Despite all of these distractions, however, the emptiness still ate at him.  His father was dead, and now Johnny could never fix what had gone wrong, or tell him how angry he was, or forgive him, or ask for forgiveness.  For the rest of his life, that broken relationship would remain an unresolved chord, and Johnny didn't think there was enough beer or Chivas or anything else that could take away the hurt.

When it looked like Roy wouldn't be waking up anytime soon, he gently removed his tennis shoes, hesitated, then undid the top button of his jeans, hauled his legs around to lay them on the couch, and covered him up with a blanket.  Looking longingly at the phone, he decided that he would have to wait until tomorrow to call Kel.  No way was he going to risk Roy waking up to hear that conversation.  After a quick trip to the bathroom, he headed to the bedroom, lay down on the bed, pulled the covers to his chin and stared with dry, aching eyes into the empty darkness.

Chapter Text

When Johnny woke the next morning and walked out to the living room, hoping to hit Roy up for some aspirin, he was surprised to discover that he had already left.  It was only 6:30.  He must have snuck out sometime in the middle of the night.  Probably didn't want to face me after yesterday.  Shaking his head, he smiled a little, remembering all the nutty things Roy had said.  The smile faded as he suddenly remembered all the things he had told Roy.  He stared at the couch and the neatly folded blanket draped over the back.  What had possessed him to tell Roy all that stuff?  Oh well, either Roy could handle it, or he couldn't, and he would have to wait until tomorrow to see which way things went.  Johnny was confident that Roy wouldn't repeat any of it; he just hoped he wouldn't be all weird about it when he saw him again.

He started the coffee and let it brew while he showered and dressed.  Back in the kitchen, he poured himself a cup, took a couple of tentative sips, and determined that his stomach was going to be fine.  Sort of fine.  Maybe.  Eying the mess he had made when he'd gotten the brilliant idea to clean the kitchen yesterday, he decided to finish the job.  By the time he was done, Kel should be awake.  Johnny wasn't sure if he was working today or not, but he would try him first at home. 

As he scrubbed at the grime that had built up behind the refrigerator, Johnny let his mind wander, replaying in exquisite detail the night he had spent at Kel's condo, until he found himself scrubbing the same spot over and over again.  Not scrubbing exactly.  Stroking sensuously. When he realized what he was doing, he gave a short laugh and tossed the brush back in the bucket of water.  Guess the floor's clean enough.  He stood up and shoved the refrigerator back into place, then set about putting away the cleaning supplies, rinsing the brush and the bucket of water and stowing them back under the sink.

Figuring he should wait at least another half hour before he called Kel, he poured a fresh cup of coffee and headed out to the small deck off of his dining room.  Chilly, dirty air greeted him, although the low, massing clouds promised a cleansing, probably later that afternoon or evening.  The view from his deck wasn't much, just a vacant lot filled with overgrown weeds and beyond that another apartment building bordered by low shrubs and a few scrawny alder trees.  Today a rental truck sat in front of the other building and he watched for a while as boxes and furniture were hauled out and placed in the truck.  Two young boys sat on the hood of a car, kicking their heels against the bumper and keeping a close eye on the proceedings.  One of them noticed Johnny looking down at them and flipped him off.  "Real nice," he muttered.

Behind him, the phone rang, and he spilled lukewarm coffee down his arm as he spun around and sprinted for the kitchen.  Expecting either Kel or Roy, he reached for the phone, but stopped himself.  Better let the machine pick up, just in case.  His eyes widened in surprise when his Aunt Elaine's voice erupted into his kitchen.

"I already tried the station, so unless you had a particularly late night whoring around, or whatever it is you do, quit sitting there staring at the phone and pick up.  I've got places to be and I don't have time for your bullshit."

He rolled his eyes.  No mellowing with age for his Aunt Elaine.  Watching the phone as if it was a live grenade, he imagined her sitting at the kitchen table in her tidy bungalow, a silver haired little spider, sucking on a Virginia Slim and waiting him out.  He sighed and picked up the phone.  "What do you want?"

"For starters, I'd like for you to grow a set and call that woman in Seattle back."

"How do you know about that?"

"Who do you think gave them your number?  Christ, John, those people are relentless.  Do you know they called both of your uncles in Montana trying to track you down?  Rick, my own brother, sent them my way.  That fucker.  You can bet I let him know what I thought of that.  And you should have heard the things he had to say about you.  Jesus, that man can hold a grudge."

Johnny leaned against the counter, waiting for her to wind down, experiencing a little spasm of worry at the thought of both his uncles, Rick and Charles, being reminded of his existence after all these years.  Well, it wasn't like he would be going back there anytime soon.

"John?  You still there?"

"Where else would I be?"

"Don't get smart with me.  You've got to face this thing head on, before that lawyer sends the marshal after you."

"The what?"  He gave a smirk, in spite of himself.  "They saying I rustled some cattle or something?"

"John.  I know he broke your heart.  But you owe it to yourself to at least find out what he wrote.  How bad could it be?"

How bad could anything be?  Pretty bad, in his experience.

He tried to take control of the conversation.  "You heard about the kids?"

That shut her up, at least for a couple of seconds.  "Hm.  Yes.  I imagine that must sting a little."

"Sting?  Sting?!  Sure, if by sting you mean have a red hot knife plunged in my gut."

"You can't blame them.  They're just kids, and they just lost their father.  Try to put yourself in their shoes."

Johnny rolled his eyes again, which he seemed to do a lot of when he talked to her.  "Seriously?  Did you forget who you're talking to?  Do we need to get you checked out for dementia?"

"All right, all right.  Don't be so dramatic."  He heard a rapid clicking noise, and knew she was trying to light up another cigarette.  She always chain-smoked when she was rattled.  Score one for him.  "You know so much about it, maybe you can help those kids out."

"Help ‘em what?  Turn into a screwed up mess like me?"

"John, I already told you I don't have time for your bullshit.  Honey, I know I don't tell you this enough, but I think you turned out remarkably well...eventually, at any rate."

Johnny pulled the phone away from his ear, stared at it, and put it back.  "You never tell me that."

"At least think about it."

"I've thought about it.  And I'm not doing it.  I'm not calling her back."

"John - "

"No.  My father and I pretty much stopped existing for each other twenty-one years ago.  It's done.  It's over.  I'm not calling her back."

She sighed.  "What am I supposed to tell her if she calls here again?"

"Just give her the message, in that special, heartwarming way you have." 

He heard her laugh.  "You little shit.  When are you coming over for dinner?  Tell you what, you can even bring your latest whore with you."

Staring at the ceiling, he opened his mouth and mimed a bloodcurdling scream.  "I'll call you."

"No you won't."

"Bye, Elaine.  Hate you."


He hung up the phone and sagged against the counter.  Talking to Aunt Elaine always made him feel like banging his head against something.  The only reason he took her calls at all was that every now and then she said something which made him believe that she actually cared for him a tiny bit somewhere deep inside her crazy, evil heart. 

Their history together had been rocky, to say the least.  When he was sixteen, she had thrown him an unexpected lifeline and rescued him from an awkward situation at his Uncle Rick's ranch in Montana.  Two years later, just days after he graduated from high school, she had unceremoniously kicked him out of her house.  Not that he could blame her.  He had been completely ungovernable at the time.  Even then, part of him knew that if he had only apologized to her, made an effort to improve, that she would have given him another chance.  His pride had gotten the better of him though, and he had grossly underestimated how difficult it would be to make it on his own.

In order to survive, he had been forced to do things he had sworn never to do again after moving from Uncle Charles' house to Uncle Rick's ranch.  He wasn't proud of that time in his life, but had often reflected bitterly that as much as he despised Charles, he had at least given him a skill he could use, which was more than his father had ever done for him.  Sucking dicks for a living wasn't exactly 4-H approved, but it had kept him fed and occasionally sheltered. 

After a few months of trying to convince himself that he was doing fine, things had spun badly out of control, and he had ended up in the ER at Memorial Hospital.  That had been enough to send him looking for legitimate employment, and eventually prompted him to apply to the fire academy.  And when Jason fucked him so sweetly, he had told him it was his first time.  That was a lie which he justified by silently amending that it had been the first time he had done it while awake and aware.

Since then, he had tried not to dwell on that episode in his life, or to wonder "what if?"  However, learning about his father's other children had dredged it all up for him again.  He doubted that either of them would ever have to face the choices he had, and while he agreed with Elaine that they weren't to blame, still he couldn't help the burn of resentment that flared inside him at the thought of how much easier his life might have been if his father had not run out on him.

God, he hated remembering all of this garbage.  Wasn't life supposed to lead you further away from your past?  Why did his seem to keep circling back around?  He stared at the phone.  Just pick it up.  Call him.  Let him know how much he means to you.  Feeling like a coward, he decided to wait a couple more hours to call Kel.  Right now, he would likely come across as frustrated and angry, which is exactly how he felt.  Instead, he would go to the grocery store, maybe grab some breakfast, and by the time he returned he would feel more in control.

Two hours later, groceries put away and equilibrium restored, Johnny finally made the call, but was disappointed when the phone in Kel's condo rang and rang, not even going to an answering machine.  Hanging up, he debated whether or not to try him at the hospital, but not for long.  No matter that he might appear needy and insecure, he had to see Kel, or at least talk to him.  The events of the last couple of days had his emotions all churned up, what with the walk down memory lane, the drunken confessions with Roy, and the Seattle branch of his family which had just materialized.  He believed Kel's presence, or even just his voice on the phone, would settle him down.  More than that, he couldn't shake the uneasy sense that the longer he waited to connect with Kel, the further he would slip away and their moment would be gone.

He dialed the ER and an unfamiliar voice came on the phone to inform him that Kel was not at work.  Frustrated, he hung up, only to have the phone ring again almost immediately.  He scowled at the sound of Lilah Gage's soft, pleading voice, and when she finished leaving her message, he unplugged the answering machine, thought for a moment, and unplugged the phone.  Grabbing his jacket, he left the apartment, with absolutely no idea where he was going.


The following day on a mid-morning run to Rampart.  Johnny left Roy with Dr. Morton and headed for the nurse's station.  "Hey, Dix.  Can I bother you for some supplies?"  Johnny took a closer look at her as she lifted her gaze from the chart she was reading.  "Whoa.  You look terrible.  You sure you should be back at work already?"

"No, I'm not, and thanks for noticing."  Her tone was uncharacteristically cranky.

"Anything I can do?"

She gave him a considering look.  "Actually, there is.  Is your partner around?"

"He's in getting checked out by Dr. Morton.  He thinks he's coming down with the same bug everyone else seems to have."

"Come on.  Let's go to the doctor's lounge for a minute."

Johnny followed her, wondering what she was up to, and trying to come up with a graceful way to ask if Kel was around.  After checking to make sure nobody was inside, she ushered him in and shut the door.  He was surprised when she didn't go straight for the coffeepot, and instead fixed him with a squinty, almost angry gaze.

"Johnny, just what are you playing at with Kel?"

He was glad that he hadn't poured himself any coffee, because he probably would have sprayed it all over the room.  "What?" he squeaked, then cleared his throat and slid his voice back down to its normal range.  "What do you mean?"

"Let's just save ourselves some time here and skip all that ‘but I'm, you're mistaken' crap.  Kel's my friend, my good friend.  I know you two had a date the other night, because I'm the one that convinced him to give you a shot.  So why are you doing your best to blow it?"

Johnny gaped at her, trying to keep up with what she was saying.  It sounded like she knew everything, which should have alarmed him, but what the hell.  This was Dixie.  Brutally suppressing his natural inclination to freak out, he focused on what she was asking and realized he had no idea what she meant.

"Doing my best to - What are you talking about?"  He lowered his voice, glancing uneasily at the door.  "I...Dix, I had an amazing time with him.  I can't stop thinking about him, I can't wait to see him again, and - hang on - you talked him into it?"

"That's what I said.  But if things went so well, why won't you take his calls?"

He felt like groaning in frustration.  "Calls?  Plural?  I thought I just missed one.  And I had to unplug the phone yesterday because of...well, other people were hassling me.  But I swear, I did call him back.  I couldn't get a hold of him.  Dix, is he around?  I'll go straighten this all out right now."  He made a move toward the door, but Dixie's voice stopped him.

"He's not here."

"I'll call him at home then, as soon as I get a little privacy at the station."

"No, Johnny, he's not here.  He flew out yesterday."

"Flew?"  Oh, not good.

"He's in Boston.  Joe was supposed to attend a conference, but he's not feeling one hundred percent yet after his bout with the flu.  Kel needed a break.  He's been working so many hours.  And his family lives out there."

"How long is he gone for?"

"A couple of weeks, at least.  After the conference wraps up, he's using some of his vacation time.  Don't look so crushed, Johnny.  I'm sure he'll call me at least once while he's gone.  I'll let him know you're still interested."

"Interested," he muttered.  "That's one way to put it.  Ah, the risk of sounding like a complete idiot, did he happen to mention if know..."  He did sound like an idiot, but he was too anxious to get some kind of read on Kel's feelings to care how he came off.

"Johnny, I can't speak for him, but I can tell you that the other morning he looked happier than I've seen him in a long time.  Now, either you're just that good - "

He felt himself blushing.

" - or he cares about you more than he's letting on or admitting to himself.  If it helps any, I'm standing here on the sidelines, cheering you both on."

"It does, Dix.  It helps a lot.  It's know...that you know.  But it helps."

"Good.  Then maybe you won't mind so much if I ask you for a favor."

He didn't care for the gleam in her eyes.  But, again, this was Dix, so he just said, "Sure, whatever you need."

"Kel had to leave in kind of a hurry.  He asked me to go over to his place and water his plants and pick up his mail.  I usually do it when he's out of town, and he returns the favor for me.  As you so tactfully noticed earlier, I'm feeling terrible.  If I do make it through my shift, I'm going to want to just go home and crash.  Do you think you could...Johnny?  Are you listening?"

"Huh?  Yeah.  I heard you.  No problem.  I can head over there in the morning after work."

"Thanks, Johnny.  I'd kiss you, but I might make you sick."

He laughed, then froze as he remembered something., he felt fine.

"Let me get the keys for you."

He followed her to the nurse's station, and managed to slip the keys into his pocket just before Roy reappeared, looking, if possible, even more haggard and miserable than before they had arrived. 

"What's the verdict?" Johnny asked him.

"The brilliant Dr. Morton says I'm sick.  Joanne's coming to get me, and Cap's already looking for a replacement.  Not sure who he'll find.  I guess a lot of guys are out with this stuff."

Johnny handed Dixie the list of supplies he needed.  "Better go sit down while you wait.  You look even worse than Dixie."

They both gave him an irritated glare, then Roy took his advice and headed for the lounge while Dixie started assembling what he needed.  A few minutes later, Johnny headed for the squad, glancing worriedly at the closed door to the lounge as he passed.  After his drinking binge with Roy, his partner had come in this morning as grumpy as ever, but Johnny couldn't decide if it was because he was ill, or if their friendship had been irrevocably damaged by what had been said.  It looked like he would have to wait at least a few more days to find out the answer to that.


The next day was Saturday, and an exhausted Johnny pulled up across from Kel's building around 10:30.  The rain which had started two days earlier showed no signs of letting up, falling in sheets around the Rover and creating a chilly cocoon in the grey morning.  After Roy went home and Cal showed up to cover the rest of his shift, one run after another had kept Station 51 busy all afternoon and half the night.  This morning just before shift change they had been called out to rescue a woman trapped in a flooded basement.  They had managed to get her free before the rapidly rising water drowned her, although it had been a close thing.  Johnny and Cal were soaked and shivering by the time they returned to the station.  The rest of the crew had all left earlier, and Cal headed out immediately.  Only Johnny stayed to indulge in a long, hot shower which had warmed him a little, but hadn't even begun to reach the aches which had lodged deep in his muscles.

Now, as the sound of the downpour threatened to lull him to sleep, he felt oddly reluctant to get out of the Rover and go inside Kel's building.  Not secure enough yet in his relationship with Kel, it didn't seem right for him to enter the man's home without his permission.  He'd promised Dix, though.  Ignoring the dull throbbing behind his eyes, he opened his door, waited for a break in the light traffic and jogged across the street, becoming thoroughly drenched again by the time he reached the front entrance. 

He fumbled with the keys on the key ring, finding the one to the front door by process of elimination.  In the lobby, he located the mailboxes, unlocked Kel's, and grabbed the stack of bills which had collected in the last two days.  When he pushed the up button on the elevator, he heard it whirr into motion from the parking garage beneath the building, and moments later the doors opened, revealing several people, one of whom was Dr. Steve Halstad.

Their eyes met and Halstad gave a curt nod, surprise evident in his look.

"Hey," said Johnny.  "How you doing?"

An elderly couple exited on the sixth floor, and Johnny and Halstad rode up another four floors in silence.  It was Johnny's turn to be surprised when Halstad followed him off of the elevator to Kel's front door and put a hand on his arm to stop him as he was putting the key in the lock.  Johnny looked at the hand, then into Halstad's cool grey eyes.  "You need something, Doc?" he asked, brows furrowed.

The hand left his arm.  "It's Johnny, right?  Could I talk to you for a minute?"


"Can we go inside?"

Johnny hesitated, not sure if Kel would want Halstad in his place, but he remembered Kel's voice in his ear, telling him Steve was a friend, so he opened the door and they both went in.  Johnny set the mail down on a table in the entryway, took a step, noticed he was sloshing, and pried off his wet sneakers, hesitated, and hung his jacket on the doorknob.  "Do you mind if I get started?" Johnny asked.  Seeing Halstad's confusion, he clarified, "I said I'd water his plants for him while he's out of town." 

Johnny padded into kitchen, found the watering can under the sink, and turned on the water to let it fill.  Glancing behind him, he saw Halstad leaning against the doorjamb, watching his closely.  Johnny's gaze roamed over to the kitchen table.  As he remembered what had gone on there recently, he grew warm.  He resolutely turned back to the other man.  "So, Dr. Halstad, what did you want to talk to me about?"  Probably something to do with that creep, Pendleton.  When he didn't reply, Johnny turned off the water, and grabbed the watering can out of the sink.  He headed to the living room with Halstad right behind him.  "He's got some nice plants, huh?" he said, trying to fill a silence he was finding increasingly awkward.  "Never did understand why people keep them, though.  Plants, that is.  Plenty of them outdoors, you know?"

Halstad grunted noncommittally, and Johnny began to grow nervous at the way the man was staring at him.  Crap.  This is bizarre.  Let me just finish up and get out of here.  He moved around the room, darting glances at Halstad as he threw water into the pots, having no idea how much was enough.  Finally, he had hit them all, and returned to the kitchen.  He set the watering can on the counter, thinking that either he or Dixie would likely be back in another week to repeat the process.

"So...I guess I'm going to take off.  Unless...."

"Can we sit down for a minute?"

Johnny shrugged and headed for the couch while Halstad took one of the armchairs. 

"We've met before, Johnny," he began with no preamble.  "You recognized me the other night, didn't you?"

Johnny shrugged again.  "You do seem a little familiar, but maybe you could help me out here."

Halstad crossed his legs and fiddled with the crease on his slacks.  "Well, I'm in private practice now, but ten years ago I was working in the ER at Memorial Hospital.  Ah.  Yes, I can see you do remember now.  You came in pretty bruised up that night.  Bleeding.  Half-drugged.  Worked over by some of your clients."

Johnny shut his eyes.  Oh, shit. 

"You were all of...what...16?"

He opened his eyes, tried to speak, and had to clear his throat to get his voice working.  "No.  I was 18."

"Hm.  Could have fooled me.  Look, Johnny, I can tell I'm making you uncomfortable.  Kel's my friend, though, and he sometimes allows his dick to get in the way of his good judgment.  He is very well known, respected in his profession, and while a lot of people are willing to overlook his...tendencies, how is it going to look if it gets around that he's taken up with someone like you?"

Johnny's voice seemed to have deserted him entirely.  He could only stare at the other man, his guts contracting into a painful knot.

"Besides all of that," continued Halstad, "I'm on the condo board here.  We've met about this.  I was going to talk to Kel when he gets back from his trip, but since you're here now, I may as well let you know that we simply cannot allow you on the property here.  We take the safety of our residents quite seriously."

We've met about this.  I was going to talk to Kel.  What could he say?  No, you're wrong about me, I'm a paramedic now, and people respect me too?  He couldn't tell him that, not without placing his career in jeopardy.  But when Kel found out about his past, what would he say?  Would that end things between them for good?  Johnny didn't think he could stand that.  He could just imagine the loss of respect, the look of disgust in Kel's eyes.  Maybe he wouldn't want to work with him anymore, wouldn't want him to be a paramedic anymore.  Then he would no longer be Roy's partner.  And that would leave him with...absolutely nothing.

All of this flashed through Johnny's mind in an instant.  The man sitting across from him had the power to destroy everything that mattered in his life.  If he had been feeling better, less worn out and aching from the difficult shift, he might have been thinking more clearly.  As it was, he didn't pause to fully reason things out, or worry about trivial matters like dignity and self-respect, and the words left him in a rush.  "Dr. Halstad.  Please don't tell Kel.  He doesn't know about any of that.  I would never do anything to embarrass him.  I'll stay out of the building.  Just...come on, man.  Please don't say anything."

He caught the considering, predatory look in Halstad's eyes, a look he had seen too many times before, and he knew what was coming next, and knew what his response would be.  The knot in his stomach tightened, and the slow throb in his head accelerated and deepened.  "Maybe we can work something out," came Halstad's all too predictable reply.

"Yeah, I guess we can."  Halstad favored him with a cold smile, and Johnny forced all emotion to drain away.  "So where we doing this?"

Halstad pointed to the floor in front of him.  Not pausing to give himself the chance to think or reconsider, Johnny settled on his knees in front of him and reached for Halstad's belt buckle.  Working efficiently, he had him unzipped and freed from his trousers in short order.  He nudged Halstad's legs further apart, moved between them and lowered his head.

"Wait," said Halstad, his tone that of someone used to being obeyed.  "Take off your shirt." 

Johnny shut his eyes briefly.  Sure, why not.  He dragged his t-shirt over his head and shivered when Halstad's cool hands touched his shoulders, moving over them as if Johnny was his latest acquisition.

"Go on then." 

Yes sir.  One Johnny Gage special, coming right up.

Chapter Text

Johnny made it inside his apartment and gave the door a savage slam.  Not satisfied, he whirled and smashed his palm against the door, once, twice, and again, then sank to the ground, shaking his stinging hand.  Resting his head back against the door, he stared into the room, trembling with reaction, face flushed, eyes hot and aching.  He didn't know how long he huddled there, wrestling his thoughts to stillness, forcing his mind to remain blank. 

Finally, he struggled to his feet and lurched into the bathroom.  He stared at himself in the mirror, noting the cracked and swollen lips, the slick sheen of sweat, and the dark eyes staring back at him empty but for the icy accusation they held.  Turning on the faucet, he bent down and sluiced cold water over his face, grabbed his toothbrush and scrubbed his teeth and tongue and tender mouth until his gums throbbed.  He flung the toothbrush away.  This movement revived the pain in his neck and back.  Wincing, he gingerly peeled off his t-shirt, trailed his hand over the finger-shaped bruises on his neck and shoulders and turned, craning his neck for a closer look at the faint gouges in his shoulder blades which still seeped blood. 

His knees buckled, and he sat heavily on the edge of the tub, remembering the feel of Halstad's cold hands and the taste of his cock.  He lurched for the toilet and heaved violently, but still could not stop the scene from replaying.  As he'd sat on Kel's carpet, wiping disgustedly at Halstad's semen dripping down his cheek and chin, the other man, not satisfied with the humiliation already handed out, couldn't resist the contemptuous parting shot.  "I'm surprised at you, Johnny," he'd said.  "A pro like you?  I would have expected you to swallow it all, no problem."  He zipped himself up and gave Johnny's head an indulgent pat.  "You did fine.  Kel's a lucky man.  When he gets tired of you, give me a call.  He's got my number."

He'd left him there alone to dress and clean Kel's living room of all traces of what they had done.  The shaking had started when he made it to the Rover.  That was how long it took for the sheer idiocy of what he had just done to sink in.  He had spent ten years trying to convince both himself and the rest of the world that he was no longer the compliant creature his uncle had turned him into.  Then some prick doctor gave him a not-so-veiled threat and what did he do?  Dropped to my knees like the obedient little cocksucker I am. 

As he drove too fast on the way home, his logical reasoning, which had chosen the worst possible moment to shut down, clicked back on again, and he saw with painful clarity that the act he had just performed in order to keep Kel had instead most likely ensured just the opposite.  Even if Halstad never said a word about any of it, how could Johnny even begin to imagine a future with Kel Brackett filled with lies of the magnitude that would be required to keep a lid on this catastrophe?

Now, head pounding and his throat feeling as if it was coated with broken glass, he finished undressing and stepped under a scalding shower.  Ten minutes later, too weary to do anything more strenuous than claw open a new bottle of aspirin and gulp down some water, he crawled into bed and dropped into sleep.


It was after 8:00 when Johnny woke up in the dark, his blankets twisted and damp.  He jerked upright, groaning at the pain in his skull.  Easing back down, he touched his forehead, surprised at how warm he felt, how weak he was, and it finally dawned on him that he had the flu.  Apparently, sticking his tongue down Roy's throat had resulted in more than just a few minutes of awkwardness.  He had caught the flu from his partner.  A small laugh escaped him which might well have escalated into full-fledged hysteria if it had not hurt so badly.  Oh, jesus god what next?  He lay there, feverish and drifting, miserably reflecting on the unrelenting absurdity of his life.  Must have royally pissed off some deity somewhere along the line. 

Eventually he dredged up enough strength to go in search of more aspirin, and arranged the bottle and two glasses of water on his nightstand before giving himself over to the lassitude of illness.  Floating in and out of sleep, he dreamt of his childhood and the reservation, his parents, his uncle, Jason, Halstad, but when Kel appeared he dragged himself back to wakefulness, because that was one thing he could never allow himself to dream about ever again.


"I'm sorry, John," said Cap when Johnny called him the next afternoon.  "There's just no one to cover your shift.  You sure you can't make it in?"

Johnny tightened the belt of his bathrobe, sniffed, gave a dry cough, and sighed.  "I don't know Cap..." 

Cap was quiet for a minute.  "Tell you what.  If you can just make it in tomorrow morning, I'll keep looking for someone.  Maybe Cal could come in early.  You think you could manage a few hours, at least?"

No.  No, I could not manage a few fucking hours.  "Sure Cap, no problem.  Guess I'll see you tomorrow then." 


When he arrived at work the next morning, Johnny did feel marginally better, at least physically.  Emotionally, his nerve endings felt stretched to their limits and ready to snap.  He had been looking forward to seeing Roy with something bordering on desperation.  Talking to his friend always made him feel better, even if they were just discussing the weather, or last weekend's ball game, or...even the most inconsequential things, really.  So when he found himself standing next to Dwyer at roll call, he felt an uncharacteristic and uncharitable flicker of resentment towards his partner.  Sure, he calls in again, and I can't even get one goddamn day off.

As wrung out as Johnny felt, however, he decided that almost anything was better than spending another day at home replaying the humiliating scene with Halstad. 

Any hopes that the day would be an easy one were dashed on the first run of the day.  An elderly woman, sick with the same flu that apparently had half of LA County in its grip, had waited too long to call her daughter for help.  They did what they could for her, but by the time Johnny backed the squad next to the ambulance and went into the ER looking for his temporary partner, Dwyer was already exiting the treatment room shaking his head and looking grim.  On their way back to the squad, Johnny caught Dixie's eye.  Forgetting for a moment that he had already trashed his future with Kel, he gave her a hopeful look, but she just shook her head, indicating that she had not yet heard from him.

They had two more calls that morning, and when they made it back to the station in time for lunch, Cap called to Johnny from his office.  "If you can last a few more hours, Cal said he could be here around 4:00."

Leaning in the doorway, Johnny just nodded.

"Thanks, pal.  I really appreciate this.  Why don't you go lie down for a while?  You look like hell."

Too tired to speak, Johnny nodded again and headed for the dorm.  After collapsing onto his bunk, he tossed restlessly for another hour before he managed to fall into a light doze, then gave a frustrated croak when Marco came in to shake him awake.

"Johnny," he said, an odd note to his voice.  "You have a visitor."

"No visitor," he mumbled, jamming the pillow over his head.

"Johnny, I really think - " he broke off suddenly. 

Johnny heard light scuffing as another set of feet entered the dorm and stopped near his bed.  What now?  It had grown suddenly silent.  He could hear Marco breathing.

"That's him?" said a man's voice.

"Yeah.  I guess I'll leave you two alone.  Johnny?  Call us if you need anything."  Marco's booted feet took a few steps, hesitated, and left the dorm.

Quiet fell again, and Johnny would have dozed off again, but something about the quality of the silence had his nerves tingling.  He removed the pillow from his head and turned towards the door, then sat up when he saw a young man standing a few steps from his bunk, staring down at him. 

"Yeah?" he said, irritated.  "You my replacement?  I thought Cal..."  He frowned.  No, this guy looked a little on the young side, maybe 19 or 20.  He took a closer look.  He was at least as tall as Johnny, with dark blonde hair, dark eyes, good looking.  Johnny had no idea who he was, but he sure looked mad about something.

"You're John Gage?"  Definitely angry.

"Yeah, that's me.  You think you could keep it down a little?  Head's killing me."

He glared at Johnny without speaking, seeming to study every inch of him.  Finally, Johnny grew impatient.

"What?  You got something to say to me?  Just say it."  More aspirin, that's what he needed.  He stood up, and was halted by the firm grip on his bicep.  "Oh, give me a break.  Do not put your hands on me."  The man stepped further into his personal space and he had had enough.  He gave the other man a light shove.  "Don't fucking touch me again."

The stranger took a step back, his angry expression turning to uncertainty and...hurt?  "You jerk.  No wonder he left you."

Johnny stared at him, a suspicion beginning to form.  "Who are you?"

"I'm Sam.  Sam Gage Jr.  Your brother.  Asshole."


Of course the klaxons chose that moment to go off.  Johnny had only time for one last incredulous look at his blonde, way-too-old brother before he took off for the squad, head pounding.  Chet and Mike and Marco were standing in the doorway to the dayroom watching him, their looks telling him that they already knew exactly who the visitor was. 

The call was to an elementary school, where several dozen children, a couple of teachers, and a handful of parents were gathered in the gymnasium, in the middle of rehearsals for what turned out to be the annual Thanksgiving play.  One of the teachers, an older woman, had tripped on some scenery, broken her ankle, and begun hyperventilating.  Johnny watched Dwyer assess the patient, calming her down and getting her to breathe into a paper bag, while he squatted nearby, setting up the biophone. 

He was doing his best to stay focused on the call, and glanced around at some of the children who hovered nearby, carrying props which consisted of hand drawn and colored pictures of various traditional Thanksgiving foods attached to three foot lengths of two by four which could be raised in the air in order to be seen from the audience.    He noticed that some of the kids were having a hard time balancing their props, and wondered who the genius had been who had decided to mount the drawings on solid pieces of lumber. 

Johnny lifted the receiver to his ear, watching as Dwyer took the teacher's vitals.  "Rampart.  This is Squad 51.  How do you - aaaaahhhh  shit!"  He'd caught a glimpse of something rushing toward the left side of his face, and barely got his arm up in time to block the two by four wielded by a grinning boy who couldn't have been more than eight years old.  "Son of a bi-"  He managed to stop the next profanity from escaping his lips as he lost his balance and fell on his right side, holding his arm.  Through watering eyes he saw Dwyer's look of surprise.  Several parents swarmed over to relieve the child of his weapon.

"Johnny?  You okay?"  Dwyer grabbed the biophone's receiver from him.  "Uh, Rampart, we have a second victim."


In the ambulance, Johnny lay still, waiting for the MS to take effect.  Dwyer kept a close eye on both him and the injured teacher.  Starting to relax a little, Johnny turned his head to look at Dwyer.  "What did that kid get me with, anyway?"

"I think it was a turnip."

"A turnip?  Whoever heard of turnips for Thanksgiving?"

The teacher, Miss Melcott, perked up a little at this.  "It's very authentic.  We researched it thoroughly."

"Oh."  Johnny thought about that for a minute, his eyes growing heavy.  "What did he want to hit me for?"

"He's exploring more suitable ways to express his anger.  He has a bit of work to do."

"Huh.  I guess so.  Shit.  The Dodgers ought to sign him up.  Sorry, ma'am."  He heard Dwyer chuckle softly, but didn't see anything the least bit funny about being taken out by an eight year old kid. 

When the x-rays came back, Dr. Early verified the fractured ulna Johnny had suspected.  "It looks like a clean break, Johnny.  I'd like you to rest here while the swelling goes down a bit, then we'll get the cast on.  Are you in much pain?"

"Yeah.  It hurts like hell.  That kid really packed a punch."

"How are you feeling otherwise?  Charlie tells me you've been a little run down today."

Johnny shrugged, then winced, wishing he had kept still.  "It's just the flu, Doc."

"You're probably a little dehydrated.  I'm going to have Carol start an IV and give you some more MS.  You just relax and by the time the IV finishes we can get you to orthopedics.  Sound good?"

He nodded and closed his eyes.  A little later, Charlie came by to let him know that Cal had arrived with the squad, and he had to take off.  "Okay.  See you later," he mumbled.  As he drifted off, happy not to have to move for a while, his last thought was, Johnny Gage, done in by a turnip.  How appropriately strange.


Carol was helping Johnny finish getting dressed when the door to the exam room opened and Dixie leaned in.  "Looks like your ride's here, Johnny."  After giving him a long look that could only be described as hostile, she left without another word and he wasn't given the opportunity to figure out what that was all about. 

The door swung open again, and he looked up, expecting to see Roy or Joanne.  Instead, Sam stood in the doorway, holding to the keys to the Rover and regarding Johnny coldly.  Fuck.  Almost forgot about him.  He waited until Carol eased his shirt on and adjusted the sling, then stood up, grimacing.  "Who said you could drive my car?" he asked and held out his hand.  "Come on.  Give me the keys."

Carol got between them.  "Sorry, Johnny.  You can't drive until the pain meds wear off.  You can wait here for a few more hours if you don't want this young man to drive you."

Johnny met Sam's sullen glare with his own somewhat muzzy version of the same thing.  It was already after 7:00 and he had no desire to stay there any longer.  Pain meds aside, he wasn't entirely sure he could drive one-handed anyway.  "Fine," he reluctantly conceded.  "Let's go."

He tried to set a brisk pace out of the room and down the hallway, but couldn't help the less than dignified stagger as he passed Dixie at the nurse's station.  She started to come around the desk, but Sam grabbed his good arm and kept him upright.  Ignoring Dixie's wide, questioning gaze, he hurried towards the exit, yanking his arm away from Sam when he decided he wasn't going to pitch forward onto his face after all.

They drove to Johnny's apartment in near silence, broken only by Johnny's occasional muttered directions.  After a bit, his curiosity became too much for him, and he turned a little in his seat to study Sam.  He could not see anything of his father in his face, except possibly the dark eyes, and maybe the dark slant of his brows.  As closely as he looked, he could see nothing of the Native American heritage.  He just looked like some blonde guy with delicate bone structure and full lips. 

"You done looking?" Sam downshifted and took a corner too fast.

"Hey.  Careful."

"Don't worry.  Your stupid truck can take it."

"It's not a - look, traffic around here can be tricky.  The rain's not helping.  Just take it easy, okay?"

"Sure," came the surly reply.

Johnny stared at him some more, then asked the question that had been bothering him all afternoon.  "Just how old are you, anyway?"

Sam shot him an irritated glare.  "I turned twenty last month.  I've been driving for over four years, so you can stop grabbing the dashboard and looking for the brake that's not there."

"It's fine," Johnny said distractedly.  He was doing some rapid math in his head, and his mouth fell open a little as he realized that his father had waited all of about one month after he took off to meet Lilah and conceive Sam.  Sam Jr., he corrected himself.  That pretty much says it all. 

He slumped back in his seat, closing his eyes, and didn't realized he had dozed off until he felt Sam's hand on his leg, shaking him awake.  "Hey.  You okay?"

"Hm?  Yeah, I'm good."

"Then wake up and tell me where to turn."

"Take a left here.  It's right down that street."

Sam pulled up in front of Johnny's building and parked.  They sat there, listening to the rain hitting the roof of the Land Rover, and Johnny wondered how he was going to get rid of him.  " got a hotel room?"

"No."  The one word, probably meant to be angry, came out uncertain and a little lost. 

Johnny was too tired to argue.  He opened the car door.  "Come on.  You can sleep on the couch tonight."  He waited while Sam went around to the back to retrieve Johnny's gym bag and his own suitcase.  Great.  He brought luggage.

Inside his apartment, Johnny stabbed his finger in several different directions.  "Couch.  Kitchen.  Bathroom.  Blankets.  Eat what you want.  No snooping.  We'll talk in the morning."  He stumbled towards the bedroom.



"You mind if I use your phone?  I wanted to call my mom.  Let her know my flight got in okay."

Johnny stared at his brother.  He was twenty, but he looked so young.  Or maybe I just felt so old at that age.  He nodded.  "Sure.  Go ahead.  And it's Johnny."


"My name.  It's Johnny, not John.  I'll see you in the morning."

Chapter Text

Sam dangled the last piece of bacon from the fork, watching the grease drain away before he flipped it onto the folded paper towel with the other seven pieces.  Hearing the shower stop, he cracked four eggs into the already sizzling frying pan, and dropped two more slices of bread in the toaster.  By the time the food was cooked and arranged on two plates, his brother Johnny was shuffling into the kitchen in faded jeans and an unbuttoned plaid shirt, with his good arm in one sleeve, and the casted arm hugged tight against his bare chest.  Johnny yawned hugely and ran a hand through his damp hair.  When he saw the breakfast Sam had prepared, and the fresh coffee, he halted, frowning.

"You cooked," he said. 

Sam shrugged.  "I was hungry.  Figured you might be too."  He waited, holding the plates, but Johnny ignored him and headed for the coffee pot.  "All right.  I'll just put these on the table."

"I eat in the living room," said Johnny, and stalked away, carrying his coffee mug.

Annoyed, Sam trailed after him with the plates, and watched Johnny drop heavily onto the couch and lean his head back, his expression weary and closed off.  The bare feet propped on the coffee table caught his attention.  They were long and narrow with a high, almost elegant arch.  As he stared at them, sudden grief stopped his breath for a moment, and he blinked rapidly and clenched his jaw until he was back in control.

Johnny was watching him curiously.  "Here, give me that," his brother said, putting his feet on the floor and reaching for a plate.  "Are you all right?"  He almost sounded like he gave a shit.

Sam sat down at the other end of the couch.  He shrugged, balancing his plate on his knees, and handed Johnny a fork, then hesitated before he spoke, not sure how his brother would react.  "It's just...I think I'm back to normal, and then something....Your feet.  They look just like my dad's."   He realized his mistake immediately.  "I mean our dad's."    He glanced over at Johnny's tense, downcast profile.  "Sorry.  I'm still getting used to the idea of you."

Johnny gave a wan smile, not looking at him.  "I know how you feel."

Taking a bite of toast, Sam pointed at Johnny's plate with his fork.  "You should eat something.  I'm not the greatest cook in the world, but breakfast I can do."  He wanted to add more, how every Saturday morning he and his father had made this same breakfast, and how every Sunday it was either pancakes or waffles.  Somehow he didn't think this dark, brooding brother of his would appreciate that information right now.  He relaxed a little when, after a moment, Johnny lifted his fork and began to eat.

Neither spoke for a while.  Once, when it looked like Johnny's precariously balanced plate would tip off his leg and onto the floor, Sam reached over to steady it, and received an irritated glare.  He bit back the angry remark that sprang to his lips, remembering his resolve of the night before.  As he had tossed and turned on Johnny's couch, listening to the unsettling sounds drifting in from the street and one of the apartments down the hall, he determined to make an effort, to push down what he knew to be unreasonable resentment, and give his brother a chance.   

His mom had not wanted him to fly down here to confront the man who had so stubbornly refused to take her calls.  His sister Anna had wanted to come with him, even though she still had another week of school before the Thanksgiving break, and as a senior in high school, couldn't really afford to miss many classes.  Even Sam himself had not been sure that coming down here was the best idea.  Then he had talked to Johnny's Aunt Elaine and gotten a better picture of the lonely sort of childhood his brother had endured.  His mother had died even before Sam Sr. had left him in Montana.  It seemed that the aunt was the only relative he kept in contact with anymore, and even she didn't hear from him much.

In the end, he had told his mom, not asked her, that he was coming down to look his long lost brother in the face and hand him the letter, and let him decide what he was going to do about it.  Sam was twenty years old, after all, and had a little money saved up, even if it was supposed to help pay for college next year.  Anna had applauded his decision, and privately revealed that she felt the same guilt that Sam did.  In the end, their mom had reluctantly agreed to pay for his ticket,  had driven him to the airport, hugged him tightly before he boarded the plane, and whispered fiercely in his ear that none of it was his fault, or hers, or Anna's.  He had pulled away a little and stated firmly that it wasn't John Gage's fault either, even though he didn't know that for sure.  Now after having met the decidedly unfriendly man who was his brother, he was beginning to believe that perhaps things weren't as straightforward as he had assumed.  He wasn't giving up, though.  Not yet.

When he arrived at the fire station, Johnny had been asleep, seemingly unconcerned about all the turmoil Sam and his family were going through, or that his mom had spent more on the plane ticket than she could really afford, or that Sam's plane had circled the airport for over an hour, and that he had forked over an ungodly sum of money for the taxi ride which had taken forever in the rain and the traffic.  The stresses of the day had made Sam angry, and then Johnny had nearly shoved him on his ass before he even had a chance to explain why he was there.

After Johnny had rushed away on a call, Sam had had a chance to talk to the firemen that his brother worked with, and they had explained to him that Johnny had not been feeling well, and had been less than an hour away from going home.  He could tell that they were curious about Sam and Johnny and their father, but had been courteous enough not to press him for details.  Well, all except for the curly haired guy with the mustache, named Glen, or Chad, or something like that.  He had been fishing like crazy, trying to pump Sam for any information he could get.  Eventually he had given up when Sam refused to cooperate.  They had all sat around the table in the kitchen area asking him about his flight, and the weather in Seattle until finally they lost interest and drifted off to occupy themselves in various ways and left him alone with his thoughts.

When they received the news about Johnny's injury, Sam had been the one to suggest that he could take Johnny's truck and pick him up.  The only serious objection had come from Chad, who was suddenly suspicious and oddly proprietary about both Johnny and his vehicle.  He had actually made Sam show him his driver's license, and had copied down the information on it.  

Now, Sam watched as Johnny set his empty plate on the table and reached for his coffee.  He gave Sam a quick glance.  "Thanks," he said.  "That was good.  Didn't realize I was so hungry."

"Sure.  No problem."  Sam stood and grabbed Johnny's plate.  "You want some more coffee?"

A curt, negative shake of the head was all he got in response, so he carried the plates into the kitchen and set them in the sink, then turned on the hot water.  He felt someone watching him, and glanced up to see Johnny standing in the doorway. 

"You don't have to do that," said his brother.  "Just leave them to soak."

"So you can wash them later one-handed?"  He let the sink continue to fill with water, and added some soap.

"I said leave it.  I don't need your help." 

Sam flinched at the anger in his brother's voice.  The guy had a temper, something else Johnny had gotten from their father.  Sam wiped his hands on a dish towel, feeling awkward as Johnny just stood there staring at him.  He took the opportunity to stare back, noticing again how his - their - father's features seemed to appear and disappear and appear again in Johnny's face.  It was disconcerting.  The dark eyes, the darks brows, the high cheekbones, were all Sam Sr., but the nose and mouth belonged uniquely to his brother.  Sam experienced a flare of resentment which he immediately dismissed as unfair.  He got a handful of physical traits and similarities of temperament, but I got so many more years. 

"Johnny - "

"Why are you here?"

He nodded.  "Okay.  Let's get to it.  Can we sit down first?"

Johnny led the way back to the living room, this time taking the armchair across from the couch.  Sam sat on the couch and watched him, then realized that Johnny was still waiting for an answer.

"I'm here because you wouldn't answer your phone."  He could tell that answer wasn't going to satisfy Johnny, so he stood up and walked over to the wall near the front door, where he had left his suitcase.  Stooping, he pulled the envelope from the side pocket and returned to sit on the couch, hesitated, then flipped the envelope onto the coffee table and let it lie there between them.  Johnny stared at it with an expression which could have been anger or fear or any of a number of dark emotions which Sam could only guess at.  "The attorney had the first one typed up.  My mom has the original.  The other one's for you.  Nobody's read that one."

Johnny shifted a little, cradling his cast, repositioning it along his thigh.  Sam noticed the lines of strain around his mouth and wondered if his arm was hurting.  "Are there some pills you're supposed to be taking?" he asked.  His brother nodded distractedly.  "Want me to bring you one?"

Johnny dragged his attention away from the envelope and laughed, startling Sam.  "Sure.  It might help.  Better make it two, though."  At Sam's puzzled look, Johnny gave a brief grin.  "They're in the bedroom." 

When Sam returned with the pills and a glass of water, he found Johnny with the envelope resting on his leg.  He handed him the pills, then the water, and Johnny swallowed both.  Nervously, Sam watched as Johnny opened the envelope, removed the first letter and started to read.




"Lilah, you're reading this, so I guess I'm dead.  I had hoped that by now we'd have said everything that needed to be said to each other.  Maybe we have, except for what I have to tell you here.  You know I was married once before I met you, and I've told you many times how you brought me back to life at a dark time.  No need to go back over all that.  What I never revealed is that I have a son you've never met, who I have not laid eyes on in over twenty years.

"I don't quite know how to explain that to you.  I left the boy with my brother Charles near Poplar, Montana.  Me and Charles wrote back and forth a few times over the years.  You never knew about that because I had him send his replies to my work address.  I suppose I was a little ashamed of myself.  But Charles said the boy was doing well.  A bright boy, he said.  A real quick learner.  John.  That's his name.  John Roderick Gage.  It's been over a dozen years since I've heard from Charles.  I figured I'd get back there one day to see how John was making out, but my life with you and the kids has been so full, always something to keep me busy, something more important to do.  Now it looks like I've run out of time.

"Sam Jr. and Anna have asked me many times about my people and where I came from.  My heritage, as Anna puts it.  She's so curious about things like that, which should help her if she decides to go ahead with being a writer.  I'm sorry that I never took them back to Montana to show them around the reservation where I grew up.  There's not much to see, really, but kids put such importance on those things.  Maybe I should have, too, but everything that means anything to me is here in Seattle, not on some poor, muddy patch of grass in Montana. 

"So like I said, I've run out of time.  We've talked about how I would like to be cremated and buried here with you in Seattle.  I hope it won't hurt you to read that I would like part of my ashes returned to the reservation.  It's not exactly a traditional Lakota burial.  I doubt that things like that are allowed anymore.  There is a spot east of Poplar, north of the Missouri River, called Dead Hawk Creek.  I camped there from time to time, and John should remember it as his mother and I took him there often.

"I know it is too much to ask you to make the trip there, Lilah, but I'm hoping you are willing to find John and ask him to meet our kids, introduce them to the family, and take them to Dead Hawk Creek.  If you do locate him, there is another letter enclosed with this one which is addressed to him.

"I guess that covers it.  I've never regretted a single day I spent with you and Sam Jr. and Anna.  I hope you all can say the same about me.  If not, I'm sorry for any hurt I caused you.  Your loving husband, Sam Gage."

Johnny set the letter on the table and picked up the sealed envelope.  His name was handwritten on the front, presumably by his father.  Not that he would have recognized his father's writing.  He held the envelope in his hand, reluctant to read what was inside.  His insides were so tense they felt as if they had solidified.  Noticing the empty couch, he realized with some surprise that Sam had left him alone in the apartment a while ago.  He fiddled with the envelope, toyed with the idea of putting a match to it, but finally gave a sigh, tore it open and forced himself to read the rest of his father's words.

"John.  Do you even remember me?  I know I have no right to ask for your help.  I found out nearly two years ago that I have cancer.  It doesn't look like I'm going to beat it, so I won't have the opportunity to see how you turned out.  To say I regret that sounds so...inadequate.  I guess you did better with Charles than you could have with me.  We would have caused each other too much pain.  I'm not explaining this very well.

"Do you remember camping and picnics with your mom and me?  If not, ask your uncle about Dead Hawk Creek.  It would be fitting if you could take my children there, your brother and sister, Sam and Anna Gage.  I would like my ashes spread near the cottonwood trees, if they are still there.  If not, in the water will do.  Also, if you could please introduce my children to the rest of the family, whoever is left there.  They're good kids.  Please don't hold what I did against them. 

"I wish I had some wise counsel or something similar to share with you, but you are a grown man by now so your choices are your own.  You always had a sweet, forgiving nature, like your mom.  I hope life left you with that, and that you have forgiven me.  Also, I hope you gained more common sense than you had as a child.  I'm smiling as I write that.  Despite everything, you always made me smile, somehow.  Until your mom died, that is.  Maybe I do have some advice after all, and that is simply that when you find that one person who can make you happy, do whatever you can to keep them as long as you are able.

"Also, if you have kids of your own, do right by them, not like I have done to you.  You father, Sam Gage."

Johnny folded the letter.  That's it?  After twenty-one years that's all I get?  He supposed that at least he had gotten an apology of sorts.  And he was expected to help out the children who had taken his place, to carry out the wishes of the man who had abandoned him?  He thought of Sam, standing outside in the rain, still grieving for a father he had known all his life, getting choked up over a pair of feet.  At least his grief was uncomplicated by bitterness and anger, and his eyes were not shadowed by choices and actions that had scarred his soul.

 Johnny sighed, not sure what he was going to do.  When he had left Montana, he had sworn he would never go back.  He hated that he was even being forced to consider it now.  Shaking his head, he slowly reread both letters, and when he was finished he was no closer to an answer.  He needed to talk things over with someone, and the first, and really the only, person who came to mind was Roy.  He carried the letters to the kitchen and dialed the phone.  After two rings, Joanne answered, only to tell him that Roy had gone out.  Frustrated, he left a message, not wanting to say too much, just that he needed to talk to Roy.  It had already been nearly a week since he had seen or spoken to him.  Was Roy avoiding him? 

Weak and bleary from the lingering effects of the flu and the pain medication he had taken, Johnny was ready to crawl back into bed.  First, though, he needed to talk to his brother.  He went outside looking for Sam and found him a few feet from the front door, sheltering under the dripping eaves, smoking a cigarette.  Seeing Johnny in the doorway, he smiled sheepishly, dropped the cigarette and ground it out with his heel.

"Caught me," he said.  "Don't tell my mom, okay?  She thinks I quit."

Johnny gave a humorless laugh.  "If I didn't feel like shit, I'd probably bum one off you right now."  They eyed one another warily.  "Come back inside."  Johnny turned and went in, collapsed in the chair and watched Sam sit across from him, noting the uncertain look that had returned to his face.  Realizing he still held his father's letters, Johnny handed them to Sam.  "You can read the one he wrote to me if you want.  Nothing much new in that one." 

He studied Sam's face as he took his time reading.  When he finished, he was frowning.  "Johnny - "

"Sam, you don't need to feel bad about any of this.  What's the point.... But, I'm sorry.  I just don't see how I can do what he's asking.  I just don't see myself going back there."

Sam nodded, almost as if he had expected this, but appearing angry just the same.  "Anna and I talked about this already.  She was positive you would go with us, but I told her you probably wouldn't.  It doesn't matter.  Everything we need is in Dad's letter.  I'm meeting Anna in Bozeman.  She's already got her ticket.  We're going to drive to Poplar together and ask Uncle Charles for help.  We're both pretty excited to meet him and the rest of the family.  Can't be any worse than you."

Dread invaded Johnny's guts as he listened to Sam blithely lay out his plans as if the Montana Gages were just some normal, happy family.  A small, spiteful part of him wanted to send Sam on his way, and never have to think about him again.  But the thought of both him and his sister driving into that situation all innocent and unprepared.... He found himself perspiring and breathing a little too fast.

"S-Sam, I don't think that's such a good idea."

Flat brown eyes gazed back at him.  "Yeah?  Why not?"

"You just - you can't just go barging in there.  You don't know what they're like.  I - look, I can't go into the details, but you want to stay away from Charles Gage.  No, don't give me that look.  I'm serious about this.  This is no time to be stubborn.  Your dad thought he knew his brother, but there are things... "  He felt himself start to panic as Sam just scowled and shook his head as if Johnny was some idiot lunatic spouting nonsense.

"Don't sweat it, Johnny.  Dad explained to us about the poverty back there.  We aren't exactly the Rockefellers, you know.  And it's what Dad wanted.  That might not mean anything to you, but Anna and I think it's pretty important. I think we can handle anything we come across."

"No.  No you can't.  Goddamnit.  You're not listening to me.  It's not safe."

Sam held up his hands, smiling and unconvinced.  "We'll be careful.  We're not little kids.  If Uncle Charles gives us a bad time we'll just get directions from someone else and move on.  No big deal.  Man, you're getting way too worked up about this."

Johnny laid his head against the back of the chair and huffed out a breath.  Stubborn little jerk.  God, I cannot believe I'm even considering this.  He narrowed his eyes and fixed Sam with a glare.  "I know I'm going to regret this, but you're not giving me a choice here.  When's your sister's flight?"

Sam's expression had softened a little, but he still looked wary.  "Sunday.  She gets in at noon.  Why?"

"Because.  I guess we're driving to Montana.  If we leave the day after tomorrow that should give us plenty of time."

"You're shittin' me."

"Wish I was."

Sam eyed him curiously.  "You are one confusing guy.  Why'd you change your mind?"

Johnny shrugged.  "I guess it's like my dad said.  No common sense."  He kept his tone light, but in truth he felt ill and hopeless and weighted with despair.  Fucking hell.  And here comes the past again, circling back around. 




Freezing rain slanted from the Massachusetts sky, and wind lashed the Atlantic, sending white foam spraying over the rocky coastline and slowing traffic to a crawl on the two lane highway.  Inside his brother's Mercedes, Kel let his sister-in-law's voice wash over him as she navigated the slick road and rattled off news of the family.  His father and brother's law practice was doing well, as usual, and his niece and nephews were prodigies and fine little citizens.  Kel stifled a yawn.  He loved Karen dearly, but every time he made one of his infrequent trips back east, she had a tendency to try to catch him up on everything all at once.  Eventually she would wind down and they could settle in for a nice visit together.

The conference in Boston had been excruciating, three days filled with interminable meetings and seminars and tedious, self-important speakers.  Normally he found a long weekend spent with his peers informative, and returned home reinvigorated and ready to try out a variety of new practices and procedures in emergency medicine.  His head just hadn't been in the game this time.  All weekend his thoughts had seemed to fluctuate between erotic memories of Johnny and worries about leaving town without having a chance to talk to him.  Last night, he had finally decided he was tormenting himself needlessly.  They were both adults, and their relationship had only just started.  One night of incredible physical chemistry could lead to something more profound, or it could end with that one night (and morning, he reminded himself; couldn't forget that morning).

So why do I feel this absurd longing to rush home just to see him and touch him, to reassure myself that I wasn't imagining the things I felt?  And why the hell have I suddenly lost my ability to compartmentalize?  He stared out the window at the sleet striking the side of the car, and shivered despite the heat that was blasting through the vents.  It was ridiculous, and vaguely embarrassing, that he had begun to obsess in this way about a man he had regarded in a different light for so many years. 

To make matters worse, after his conversation with Dixie earlier this morning, Kel suspected he had mistaken Johnny's simple lust for something deeper and more enduring.  He was trying hard not to jump to any conclusions about the young man Dixie had seen pick Johnny up from the hospital, but Dixie was usually a reliable source of information.  It was worrying enough to hear that Johnny had been injured, although not seriously, thank goodness.  He didn't wish to add to that worry with something which might be completely unfounded.

The cumulative effects of all the extra hours he had been putting in, combined with the demands of travel, the conference, and the situation with Johnny, had him exhausted and wanting to just crawl into the king size bed in his father's guest bedroom and sleep straight through the next few days.  As he tuned back into what Karen was saying, it gradually became clear that this would not be an option.

"Did you hear me?" she repeated.

"Hm?  No.  There's nobody special right now."  This wasn't precisely true, but he wasn't in the mood for a lengthy explanation about his maybe, sort of, relationship with Johnny.

"Good.  No, god, I'm sorry, I didn't mean that how it sounded."  Her melodic, infectious laughter filled the car, and he felt the tension in his neck and shoulders ease.  Not for the first time, he reflected on how lucky his brother Paul had been to find and marry this lovely woman.

Kel smiled over at her.  "I know you better than that.  Well enough to be worried about what you've got planned for this dinner tonight."  Karen was forever trying to fix him up with some man or another, and while he appreciated the effort, she had yet to come even close to pairing him with someone in whose company he wanted to spend more than a couple of hours.  He knew she only wanted him to be as happy as she and Paul were, and he usually didn't mind humoring her.  Tonight's dinner involved the whole family, however, and his father would not be pleased with another reminder of what he considered his younger son's moral failings.

"Kel," said Karen, "I think I've hit pay dirt this time.  No, don't give me that look.  David is smart, drop dead gorgeous, a well-established attorney - "

"Oh lord.  Not another attorney.  Please tell me he doesn't work for my father."

"No, and I was just getting to the best part.  He's from New York, not Boston.  Originally, though, he's from the West Coast, and might just be looking to move back there."

"Well, I'll start picking out our china tomorrow."

Karen laughed again.  "You're terrible.  Just say you'll meet him, all right?  What have you got to lose?"

My dignity?  A good night's sleep?  A chance for a future with Johnny?  He let the silence build as he struggled to find a way to disappoint his sister-in-law without admitting his real reason for wanting nothing to do with this David, no matter how perfect Karen made him out to be.  Finally, he sighed deeply.  "You can invite him to dinner if you like, but I'm telling you straight out, I'm just not interested.  Okay?"

Karen grinned, and if he hadn't known her better, he would have accused her of gloating.  He stared out the window at the restless ocean, only half-listening to her as she was off and running once again, giving him more details about David, lodging mild complaints about the hours Paul had been putting in lately, listing all the things she had planned for the next week while Kel was in town.  Suddenly, he found himself missing both the tedium and chaos involved in running the ER back home and regretted his decision to take this extra week off.  He wished he was being driven to the airport for his return flight, instead of to his childhood residence and the father who regarded him as the major disappointment of his lifetime. 

He sighed again, caught Karen's concerned look, and gave her a reassuring smile.  "Just tired," he said by way of explanation.  "And I always forget how cold it can get around here."

"This?  Cold?  Winter's barely gotten started." 

Karen slowed down and took the exit heading to Marsden's Landing.  For the first time since she had picked him up outside his hotel, she lapsed into silence, concentrating on the series of steep, winding streets that led down to the village and up again to the bluff where the Brackett house sat overlooking the small bay and narrow beach.  The handful of fishing boats that still called Marsden's Landing home dipped and bobbed in the bay amid the whitecaps.  Kel could not stop another sigh from escaping as he grabbed his suitcase and headed towards the house. 

His two nephews were nowhere to be seen, and he recalled that Karen had said they would be at basketball practice until 5:00.  Susan, his thirteen-year-old niece, glanced up from the sofa where she sprawled reading a book.

"Hey, kiddo," he said, trying but failing to catch her eye.

"Hey."  All but ignoring him, she kept her nose planted in her book.

He gave Karen an amused look and she rolled her eyes.  "I know.  Not quite the same girl as two years ago.  At least you'll get some peace and quiet without her trailing after you all day."

"I can hear you," said Susan.  She shut her book noisily and sat up, giving Kel a careful look.  "So, Uncle Kel.  Grandpa says you're a fucking queer.  Is that true?"

Kel gaped at her as Karen squeaked out, "Susan!  Apologize to your uncle.  Right now, young lady."

"I didn't say it, Grandpa did," said Susan, her voice all nonchalant teenage surliness.  "Is it true?"

Kel put a hand on Karen's arm, stopping her angry retort.  "I think I'll let you handle this one."  He hefted his suitcase.  "Same room?"  Karen nodded and he headed for the stairs, hearing snatches of the escalating argument below as he climbed wearily to the second floor.

Grandpa said it. 

Inside the bedroom, he shut the door and dropped his suitcase.  Real nice, Dad, you intolerant old bastard.  Flopping onto the bed and kicking of his shoes, he stared at the perfectly painted ceiling.  If his mother were still alive....had it been eight years already?  She had always managed to deflect the worst of his father's hostility.  Apparently there was to be no more pretence.  He could only guess at what had prompted his father to make such a remark in front of his granddaughter.  Shit.  It was going to be a long week.

He almost smiled as he remembered his "date" for dinner.  Well, damn.  This should be a fun evening.  Wishing he had thought to grab a bottle of his father's good scotch before heading upstairs, he decided that a nap would have to suffice.  He stripped rapidly to his underwear, crawled under the covers and closed his eyes, trying to relax. 

Outside, the sleet had progressed to hail, and as he finally drifted towards sleep listening to the percussive click of frozen pellets striking the window, he imagined he was at home, lying in his own bed, with Johnny's slim body tucked up tight next to him and his breath drifting warm across his neck.

Chapter Text

Roy leaned against the counter at the nurse's station, waiting for Dixie to finish her phone conversation.  A young man stood a couple feet from him, and appeared to be waiting for her as well, tapping the counter impatiently.  That won't earn you any points with her, he thought.  Roy kept his gaze on the closed door across the hall, wondering what was taking his temporary partner Neil so long.  Dr. Salish, who he didn't know all that well, was examining the woman they had brought in suffering from smoke inhalation following the early morning fire to which C Shift had responded.  Roy had been called in to cover the last half of Dwyer's shift after he had gone home sick yesterday, giving Roy the chance to finally return the favor for all of his shifts that Charlie had covered lately.  A quick glance at his watch told him it was nearly 7:30.  His regular shift started in another half hour, and he wondered idly if he had the stamina to last another 24 hours.

This would be the first time Roy saw Johnny since going home early with the flu.  He supposed he was a bit of a coward for avoiding him.  Truthfully, though, he had been pretty ill for most of the week.  Once he had begun to feel better, he found himself cringing every time he remembered some of the things he had said that night at Johnny's apartment.  Worse than that, though, were the heartbreaking things Johnny had revealed about his childhood.  He certainly didn't hold any of it against him; he just knew they were both going to be uncomfortable for a while about all the sharing they had done.  In the end, he knew they'd be fine, but he wasn't looking forward to the awkwardness they would have to get through first.  Maybe it would have been better if he had just gotten it over with.

Roy hadn't meant to eavesdrop, but the mention of Johnny's name pulled his attention back to Dixie and the young man who had stepped up to talk to her after she had hung up the phone.

"Why didn't Johnny bring them himself?" Dixie was asking, her tone challenging and a little hostile.

The young man gave a negligent shrug.  "Just asked me to do it for him.  He didn't get much sleep last night and he's a little out of it this morning."  A set of keys lay on the counter between them, and the young man pushed them towards Dixie with one finger.  "So, are we cool?  Johnny's waiting for me out in his truck."  When she didn't say anything, he smiled uncertainly.  "Okay.  We've gotta hit the road.  Nice to meet you." 

Roy had moved closer, blatantly listening now.  He was curious about this handsome young man who was evidently sleeping with Johnny, but he'd kept quiet, not wishing to let on that he knew anything more than he should.  At the mention of "hitting the road," he couldn't keep quiet any longer.

"Hit the road?  What are you talking about?  Johnny's working today."

The man gave Roy a dismissive glance evidently meant to communicate something along the lines of, "Who the hell are you and why should I tell you anything?"

Roy bristled and took a step toward him, but Dixie decided to intervene.

"How long will he be gone?" she asked.

"If I had to guess," continued Johnny's lover, "I'd say up to two weeks.  More, if I can convince him to go home with me."  He smiled, trying to charm Dixie.  She didn't look charmed.  He shrugged and turned to go, his gaze touching on Roy briefly, but didn't say anything more. 

Roy watched him hurry down the hall then looked over at Dixie, seeing the troubled expression on her face.  "What's up with Johnny?" he asked.  "Who was that guy?"

She shook her head, staring at the keys in her hand.  "A friend of Johnny's.  He's the one who picked him up after he was injured."  Something seemed to occur to her.  "You did hear about that didn't you?"

"Injured?  No, this is the first I've heard of it.  What happened?  How bad?"  He suddenly felt like he had been out of the loop for way too long.

Dixie gave a grimace.  "Nothing too serious.  Some kid broke his arm for him."

"You're kidding."

"Nope.  I didn't hear all the details, but Joe said it was a clean break.  Six weeks in a cast, though."

Johnny had tried to call him a couple of days ago, probably to let him know what had happened.  He remembered guiltily how he had asked Joanne to pretend he wasn't home.  Now it sounded as if Johnny was leaving town for a while.  "Did that guy say where they were headed?"

Dixie shook her ehead.  "I didn't ask.  Didn't want to pry."

Something in Dixie's voice had him eyeing her closely.  " you know something?"

She gave him a shrewd look.  "Why?  Do you?"

Hesitating, not sure how much to say, he tried another approach.  "So...has Johnny being seeing any particular nurses lately?"

Now she was staring at him as if he was an idiot.  "Roy.  You're really not very good at this."

"I don't know what you're talking about."

"I think you do, and you're being a good friend and trying to protect him.  I get it.  I'm curious, though.  How long have you known about Johnny?"

He looked to his left and to his right, and behind him at the closed door.  Still no sign of Neil.  "A few weeks."

"You okay with it?"

"What?  Sure.  I guess so.  Truthfully?  It's kind of confusing.  I know he's still my friend, but..."

"But what, Roy?  Either he's your friend or he isn't.  He's still the same guy you've always known."

He watched a young mother dragging her young son toward the waiting area.  Roy was finding this conversation distinctly uncomfortable.

"Roy?  Have you talked to him about it?"

"Sort of.  We were pretty drunk at the time."  He felt himself blush as he thought of that night.

"Want some advice?  Try it again sober."

He nodded.  "Yeah.  As soon as he gets back...from wherever the hell it is he went." 

Neil chose that moment to emerge from the treatment room.  "Ready to head back and start this all over again?"

"Very funny."  He looked back at Dixie.  "I'll probably see you later."  He watched Neil moving down the hall and was about to join him, but instead he turned back to Dixie.  "Uh, look, I was wondering...who else knows?  About Johnny, I mean."

She hesitated before she answered, "I can't really say, Roy.  He's guarded himself pretty well for a long time.  Until he tells us otherwise, I think we need to respect that that is how he wants it."

He couldn't think of anything more intelligent to say than "Yeah," before following Neil out the door.


"Geez, Roy," said Chet, sidling up to him after roll call, "what's going on with you and Gage?"

Roy moved away, giving him an irritated glance.  "What are you talking about?"

"Oh, I don't know.  It just seems that lately, whenever one of you shows up, the other one doesn't.  You two fighting?"

"No, Chet.  We are not fighting.  I was out sick, and now he is.  You need me to explain it to you further?"

"Now, now.  Don't go jumping down my throat.  I was just pointing out what we've all been talking about."

Roy turned to address Stoker.  "That true Mike?"


"You were saying, Chet?"  Roy sat down and stared into his coffee.

"Thanks for backing me up on that, Mike."

"You bet."

Roy hid his smile.  "So Mike, since you're obviously the more reliable source here, maybe you could fill me in on what went on the other day.  With Johnny, I mean."

Mike carried his coffee over, sitting across from Roy.  "Kind of a bad day for him, I guess.  Even before his brother showed up out of the blue - "

Roy blinked, not sure he had heard correctly.  "His brother?  You mean his mom brought him all the way down here?"

Mike just stared at him, and Chet took the opportunity to jump back into the conversation.  "No, just the brother.  Real strange, if you ask me.  The guy looks nothing like him.  And he's, like, twenty years old.  I think Gage's old man must have been playing the field, stepping out on his wife."

"Chet.  You don't know what you're talking about."  Roy shook his head in disgust, but he was a little confused himself.  "You say this guy was around twenty?"  Knowing what he now knew about Johnny's history, it didn't take much thinking to figure out that Johnny's father had wasted no time whatsoever to start a new family.  He could only guess at how Johnny had reacted to that charming revelation.  Something else occurred to him.  "Chet, what did this guy look like?"

"Like I said, nothing at all like Johnny.  He was kinda tall, kinda blonde, nice enough looking, I guess, maybe a little on the delicate side."

Stoker gave an amused snort.

Chet scowled.  "I'm not saying I want to date him.  Just trying to be descriptive."

Roy wasn't really listening anymore.  He had put two and two together, and come to the conclusion that the young man at the hospital, who both he and Dixie had assumed was Johnny's lover, was actually his brother.  And the two of them had just left town together on some mysterious trip.  He frowned thoughtfully, wondering how Johnny had gone in one short week from dodging phone calls from his father's widow to taking a road trip with his half-brother.  As he began to consider possible destinations, he began to grow worried.  Surely not back to, that doesn't make any sense.  Seattle, maybe.  Once again, he regretted having avoided talking to Johnny. 

Rinsing his empty coffee cup in the sink before heading out to the bay to rescue the drug box before Brice had it too messed up, he found himself recalling Dixie's behavior earlier that morning as she had questioned the man who turned out to be Johnny's brother.  He stopped in his tracks, realizing what had seemed so off about the whole interaction.  Exactly why had Dixie been so hostile toward the guy?




Kel stole another furtive glance across the table in the noisy, smoke-filled tavern.  Karen had not exaggerated about David Rellano.  He was definitely a gorgeous specimen, but that wasn't the only reason Kel had agreed to meet him here tonight. 

The dinner that first night had been every bit as dreadful as Kel had expected.  The only thing chillier than the weather outside had been Nelson Brackett's gaze as he watched David trying unsuccessfully to engage Kel and the rest of the family in conversation.  Everything about the evening had been awkward and strained, and perhaps the only person oblivious to it all had been David.  Kel had managed to get just drunk enough to endure it, and had expected never to hear from David again.

Following dinner, when he was finally able to escape upstairs, Kel had also been drunk enough to disregard his pride and call Johnny yet again.  The phone was answered on the second ring by an unfamiliar man's voice, and Kel had hung up without speaking, forced to admit that Dixie had been right, and that Johnny had already moved on.  The disappointment had been more painful than he had expected.

By the next day, the weather had deteriorated badly, and although his father and Paul persisted in their daily commute to Boston in his father's Cadillac, Karen had not wanted to venture far from home, and she and Kel had spent the last two days stuck inside, listening to the wind and sleet assault the hundred year old house.  After two days keeping each another company they had begun to grate on one another's nerves.

So when David had phoned him earlier this evening, asking if he would be interested in meeting for a drink at Joey's Tavern down in the village, he had jumped at the chance, more to get out of the house than anything else.  Now that he was here, he had to admit that his bruised ego was feeling a little better as a result of the attention he was receiving from the darkly handsome man sitting across the booth from him, even though he had to strain to hear him over the blare of the jukebox and the roar of the local crowd.  Many of the patrons Kel had known from childhood, although there were a fair number of younger men he didn't recognize. 

It quickly became clear that David was another member of Nelson Brackett's fan club, and seemed to believe that the more he talked about him and some of the famous cases he had litigated, the better his chances would be with his son.  Kel tried not to hold it against him.  He'd witnessed this type of embarrassing hero worship before, and figured he would just let David get it out of his system.   

 He savored the warm slide of scotch down his throat, watching as David unfolded his slender six foot three frame from the cramped seat and excused himself to visit the men's room.  Kel's gaze followed him as he wove through the crowd, graceful in his expensive suit and silk tie, elegantly conspicuous in a room filled with denim and flannel.  I am so getting laid tonight, Kel decided.

He looked up as the bar's owner, Joey Aldair, appeared next to him, taking David's vacated seat.  A few years older than Kel, Joey had gone to high school with Kel's brother, Paul, and had worked on one of the local trawlers until an accident in his mid-twenties had shattered his knee and prompted him to take over running his father's tavern earlier than planned.

"Been a while, Kelly," he said, holding out a callused hand for Kel to shake.

"Yes, I guess it has.  How's business?"

Joey laughed.  "Around here?  Always busy.  How about you?  How's the doctor business?"

Kel shrugged.  "We always have a steady supply of customers."    

They both looked up as a scuffle broke out across the room.  Joey shook his head.  "Looks like I might have some more customers for you pretty soon if I don't get over there."  He stood up.  "I'll try to stop back later, and we can catch up a little.  In the meantime, how about if I buy you and your friend a drink?"

"You won't get any complaints out of me," said Kel, smiling.  He watched Joey limp away to wade into the noisy ruckus.  This place never changes, he mused fondly. 

David returned, sliding back into the booth with a look of distaste on his handsome face.  "This place is a real shithole," he muttered, taking a sip of his gin and tonic.  "Do you know there's some guy sleeping in the men's room?"

"Was he a redhead?  White streak down the middle?"

"Yeah.  How did you know?"

Kel smiled.  "That's Dooley McAllister.  He's early.  Usually passes out around midnight.  Age must be catching up with him."

David was giving him a funny look.  "You actually know that old drunk?"

"Sure.  I know probably half the people in here.  I grew up here."

"Hm.  Lucky you.  And just what is that all about."  He nodded his head towards the corner where Joey stood mediating between two large young men who were being held back by their friends.

"Not sure.  Probably the usual.  Someone looked at someone else, who didn't want them looking.  Don't worry.  Joey will have them giving one another manly hugs in no time."

"Unbelievable," muttered David.

Just then, Joey's daughter Brenda arrived at the table with the promised drinks.  "Here you go, Doc.  Pops says he's got your drinks for the rest of the night."

She refused the sizeable tip Kel tried to press on her, and headed back behind the bar, but not before giving David a lingering, appreciative stare.

"Wow," said David, when she was out of earshot, "there's someone who needs to pass up the chili cheese fries a little more often."

Kel gave an inward groan.  I knew he seemed too perfect.  "Actually, she's a great lady.  My sister-in-law tells me she just had a second set of twins a few months ago, so I guess she's more than entitled to a few extra pounds."

David's black eyes glittered with annoyance at the implied rebuke, but he remained wisely silent.  They both sipped at their drinks, lost in their own thoughts.  Finally, David glanced at his Rolex and downed the rest of his drink.  "So, you want to get out of here?  Take this party elsewhere?"

Kel looked at him, surprised.  He had been enjoying sitting there in the familiar, somewhat raucous surroundings.  Performing a rapid mental debate, he came to the conclusion that he didn't wish to spend more time with David after all.  He gave the other man a smile, trying to appear regretful.  "I think I'm going to have to take a pass.  Karen's expecting me back up at the house." 

Annoyance flickered once more across David's face, and then was gone.  "Walk out with me, at least?"

"Sure," he said, pulling on his leather jacket.  As David started for the door, Kel caught Joey's eye, miming his intention to be back to reclaim his booth.

Outside, a stiff wind still blew in off the bay.  The sleet and rain had taken a break, and high clouds raced past the stars and crescent moon.  "Where are you parked?" asked Kel.

He was caught off guard as David turned without warning and grabbed his shoulders, pinning him against the rough wooden wall of the building and leaning in to kiss him.  Too surprised to resist at first, and more than a little drunk, Kel gave in to his curiosity, relaxing his mouth, permitting the invasion.  As David's tongue performed its efficient exploration, Kel waited for a spark, an ember, anything that could catch flame and give him an excuse to ignore the man's obnoxious personality for long enough to take what he needed from him.  It quickly became clear that wasn't going to happen.  The kiss did absolutely nothing for him.  Finally, he dragged his mouth free and clamped it shut while at the same trying to pull away from David's restraining hands. 

"Sorry.  Not interested," he said forcefully, stepping out of reach. 

David shrugged, glanced back towards the doorway, and gave an odd smile which Kel would realize later held both malice and satisfaction.  "Guess I'll take off, then.  Bye, Kel."  And then his long legs were carrying him rapidly into the night.

It wasn't until Kel turned to go back inside that he noticed the three young men who had exited the tavern after them.  Judging by the ugly expressions on their faces, Kel realized that they had witnessed the kiss. 

"I can't fucking believe it," said the man nearest to Kel, and by far the largest of the group.  He turned to his companions for confirmation.  "Did you see that?  Two fags making out right outside our bar."

With grumbles and scowls, they advanced on him.

Kel held up his hands.    "Hey, guys.  I don't want any trouble."

He was interrupted by the roar of a sports car accelerating past them and down the street, and turned to catch a glimpse of David's Corvette disappearing into the darkness.  Just hero, he thought sourly.  A meaty hand latched onto his arm, pulling him back to face the three men.

The smell of beer and garlic wafted towards him as the large man shoved his face close to Kel's.  "Looks like your boyfriend had the right idea.  Too bad you weren't smart enough to leave with him."

Yeah, too bad.  "Believe me, I'm outta here." 

"You think so, huh?  You guys think we should just let him take off without giving him the chance to learn a valuable lesson?"

Not quite believing what was happening, Kel gave a grunt of pain as both arms were pulled behind him and a hard fist connected with his stomach.  He was doubled over, twisting and struggling to free himself when the next blows landed on his mouth, to his ribs, near his eye.  Turning his head in an effort to protect his face, he found himself abruptly shoved to his knees on the wet pavement and felt a kick to his back which sent him sprawling.  Scrambling to get out of range, he felt relief wash through him as he suddenly heard Joey's voice bellowing at his attackers.

Gingerly rolling over and sitting up, he could see Joey brandishing the baseball bat he kept behind the bar.  Behind him, curious bar customers were spilling out into the night.  Then Brenda knelt by his side, making small distressed noises at his appearance.  "I think he's okay, Pops," she called over her shoulder, and put a hand under Kel's arm to help him to his feet.  He couldn't prevent a groan from escaping at the pain in his side.

The crowd continued to grow as more people wandered outside to see what was going on.  For a while, it looked as if a full-scale brawl was about to break out.  It seemed to Kel that most of them had no idea what had started it all, they were simply bored and drunk and drawn to the scent of violence.  Finally, Joey managed to make himself heard above the angry voices.  "That's it!  I'm shutting down early.  You all go on home before I have to call the sheriff.  Come on, get out of here."

As quickly as the crowd had gathered, it scattered.  Joey handed the baseball bat to Brenda and took her place in assisting Kel back inside the bar.


It was close to midnight when Kel hobbled through the front door.  Expecting everybody to be asleep, he was surprised to find his father sitting in the dark in his recliner, drink in hand.  He didn't look up when Kel came in, so Kel wordlessly fixed himself a drink and slumped onto the couch.

"Didn't expect you back tonight," said Nelson Brackett.

"Me neither," said Kel, but it came out closer to, "Muh neever," through his swollen lip.

His father did look up then, and switched on the reading lamp next to his chair.  He gave Kel a hard look.  "Christ, Kelly.  What the hell happened to you?"

Kel took a drink, wincing as the scotch stung his cut lip.  "Would you believe I walked into several doors?"

"No, I would not believe that."  As he stood and moved across the room to sit next to his son, Kel noted his unsteady gait.  When his father grabbed his chin to peer at his face, Kel jerked his head out of his grasp. 

He knew he looked awful, with one black eye, an abrasion on his cheek, and a cut lip swollen to almost twice its normal size despite the ice Joey had provided earlier.  His palms were also scraped and sore, and where his side and back ached, he knew he would be sporting some impressive bruises by morning.  Joey had wanted to take him to the hospital, but Kel had determined that none of his injuries were serious enough to merit the forty-five minute drive.  He would likely be feeling like hell for the next couple of days, but he would recover, at least from his visible injuries.   

"Who did this to you?" his father asked.  "Was it that Rellano fellow that was here the other night?  Karen said you'd gone to meet him somewhere."

"No, it wasn't him."  Not directly.  "There was some trouble down at Joey's."

"Ah."  He seemed satisfied with that explanation.  "Did you press charges?"

"Why, Dad?  You planning on taking those assholes on as clients?  Never saw a criminal you didn't like?"  He saw his father growing angry, but Kel couldn't find the energy to feel regret for his bitter words.  They'd had this fight before, back when his father had tried to convince him to go to law school. 

Nelson apparently didn't wish to revive the old fight, so he just said, "I'm going to bed," stood and headed for the stairs. 

"Dad."  His father paused, but didn't turn around.  "I'm going home tomorrow.  I called the airlines from Joey's and changed my flight."

"Oh."  The older man finally turned around, eyeing his son carefully.  "I thought we had a few more days."

Kel gave an exasperated sigh.  "A few more days to what?  Ignore each other?  Give each other ulcers?  Clearly you would have been happier if this ‘fucking queer' son of yours had stayed in LA."  He was gratified to see the chastened look that appeared on his father's face.

"You're taking that out of context," was all he said.

Kel shook his head, not bothering to pursue it.  Tossing back his drink in preparation to heading for bed, he was surprised when his father spoke again.

"I'm not completely naïve, Kelly.  I've known and worked with a number of homosexuals over the years.  Even represented a few."

"And...?"  Kel felt a dull throbbing begin behind his left eye as he recognized the hyper-argumentative tone his father adopted whenever he'd had one drink too many.  This ought to be good.

" seem to be under the mistaken impression that that is the crux of our problems with one another."

"It isn't?"  Could have fooled me.

Nelson carefully lowered himself into the recliner.  "No.  I'm not thrilled that you...are the way you are.  I won't deny it.  I could have put up with that.  But for god's sake, why did you have to go and become a doctor?"

Surprised into laughter, Kel just stared at his father for a moment.  "Dad, I've heard plenty of people pronounce the word ‘lawyer' in precisely that way.  Never heard anyone refer to doctors with quite the same degree of horror."

Nelson scowled.  "That's not what I meant.  It's just that both you and Paul were supposed to inherit the practice from me.  And now...Paul's a fine attorney, but I can tell he'd much rather spend time with Karen and the kids."

"Dad, I'm a little baffled, here.  Don't you have something like thirty other attorneys working at your firm?  And isn't it a little past time to be giving me shit about my profession?"  As he studied the lines of tension around his father's mouth, understanding dawned.  "Have you seen Dr. Klein lately?" he asked carefully.  The annoyance which appeared on his father's face told him that what he suspected was probably true.  "Dad?  What did he say?"

Nelson shook his head dismissively.  "Just the usual round of doctor bullshit.  Slow down.  Take it easy.  Cut your hours.  Take these pills - "

"Dad?  What pills?"

"Oh, I don't remember what they're called.  He says my blood pressure's too high.  What does he know?"

"He knows a lot, at least according to you.  You need to follow his instructions."

His father appeared to be struggling to find the right words, which was a first, in Kel's experience.  Finally, he looked at his son and said, "I was kind of hoping for a second opinion."

"For high blood pressure?  Dad, what aren't you telling me?"

"Blast it, Kelly.  Quit pretending to be so dense.  I was just...I was hoping that while you were here, you could check me over yourself."

Kel shook his head, incredulous.  "Jesus, Dad.  You never cease to amaze me.   You've treated me like shit for most of my life, but you've outdone yourself on this visit."  He stood up, still shaking his head, and took two steps toward the stairs before stopping and glaring at his father.  "I'll make you a deal.  Take Dr. Klein's advice.  Take some time off and come out and see me in LA.  You can stay at my place, and I'll show you around the hospital.  See for yourself where I work, how I live.  If you'll do that, I'll give you a full workup while you're there.  What do you say?"

His father was quiet for nearly a full minute before answering.  "I'll think about it, Kelly," was all he said.

Kel was halfway up the stairs when he heard his father call out to him.  "Kelly?  If you're ever arrested for anything, I'd be pleased to represent you.  You know that, right?"

Chuckling, Kel continued up the stairs.  "Thanks, Dad.  I'll keep that in mind."




Johnny watched Sam exit the Utah convenience store, a paper bag full of junk food in his arms.  The kid had an appetite, no doubt about it.  Johnny would have to make sure they stopped at a real restaurant for dinner.  He didn't know how much more he could take of Fritos and Twinkies and Slim Jims. 

The passenger door opened and Sam leaned his head in.  "Johnny, what do you think you're doing?" he asked.

"I'm taking over the driving.  What's it look like?"

"Your arm...don't you need two of them to drive this heap?"

Johnny's eyes narrowed, but chose to ignore the slur on his Rover.  "The road's pretty straight, and there's not much traffic.  Just help me get back on the freeway."

"You can't drive while you're taking those pills."

"I haven't taken one since last night.  I figured you must be tired."

 "And you must be in pain."

"I took some Tylenol.  I'm fine.  Besides, you drove all day yesterday.  I think you need a break."  He waited for more objections, but his brother apparently decided it wasn't worth arguing about it anymore, and dropped into the passenger seat.  Johnny started the Rover.  Without speaking, just nodding when he needed Sam to shift for him, they made it to the freeway and he settled into a comfortable speed.

Johnny fiddled with the radio, but found only static.  The silence stretched, broken only by the sounds of Sam devouring yet another bag of chips.  Johnny glanced over at him.  There were a lot of things he wanted to ask him about their father, but he wasn't sure he really wanted to hear the answers.  Instead he chose what he thought would be a safer topic.  "So, Sam, you got a girlfriend?" 

His brother stopped mid-chew, then swallowed noisily.  "Yeah."  He stared to his right at the distant foothills then turned back to Johnny.  "How about you?  I bet you get lucky with those nurses at the hospital.  With their little white outfits."  He waggled his eyebrows suggestively.

"I've dated a few."  He watched in his rearview mirror as a pickup truck raced up right to his bumper before pulling around and speeding away.  Johnny shook his head.  Montana plates.  Figures.

"You have anyone special?" asked Sam.

Good question.  Johnny shot his brother a glance, wondering how much he should reveal.  "Sort of.  I don't know.  I think I blew it."

"Oh.  Too bad.  Was she hot, though?  Did she wear her nurse's uniform, know?"

Johnny rolled his eyes.  "You seem a little fixated there, Sam.  Anyway, who said it was a nurse?"

"Not a nurse?"

"No."  He hesitated.  What the hell.  "Actually, it was a doctor."

"Ah.  Well, did she wear anything but her white coat when - "

"Sam."  Johnny tried to hide his smile.  Sam might have a girlfriend, but he'd bet he wasn't getting any action.  Probably still a virgin.  He looked over at him again, knew he should change the subject, but he was actually kind of enjoying talking to the kid.  He might not see him again after this week, and even if they did keep in touch, Sam would be a safe distance away in Seattle.  Besides, Roy knew, and Dixie knew, and the earth hadn't opened up and swallowed Johnny.  So, staring steadfastly at the road ahead of him, he said, "Who said it was a she?"

The silence in the Rover was deafening.  Then, "Oh," said Sam.  Johnny waited while he let that process, curious to see which way his reaction would fall.  "Well, I know how you must feel.  I might have blown it with Megan, too."

Johnny was surprised and secretly pleased at Sam's casual acceptance of what he had just revealed.  "How did you blow it?"

"She found out I applied to some out-of-state schools without telling her."

 "That doesn't sound so bad." 

"We've always told each other everything.  She was pretty mad.  I was going to tell her.  I never thought I'd be accepted, and even if I was, I knew I could never afford either one anyway.  At least that's what I thought, until..."  He trailed off, and Johnny caught the uncomfortable look he gave him.

"Until what?"

"After Dad died, we found out he'd set up accounts for me and Anna when we were kids.  For college.  Not even my mom knew about them.  Sorry."

Johnny could see he felt guilty, so he tried to smooth things over.  "How long have you and Megan been dating?"

"We've known each other forever.  Since the fifth grade."

"Wow.  You sound like my partner and his wife."

Sam's face scrunched up in confusion.  "Your partner is married?  Does his wife know about you?"

Johnny laughed, genuinely amused.  "Wrong partner.  I meant my work partner, Roy.  You didn't meet him because he was out sick.  He and his wife Joanne met in the fourth grade, and they have a great marriage.  Maybe you and Megan will be lucky that way, too."

Sam appeared to think about that, but didn't reply.  After a while, Johnny asked, "So what's your major going to be?"

"Not sure.  I'm trying to decide between psychology and archeology.  I know.  You don't have to say it.  They couldn't be more different."

Johnny gave him a sideways glance and grinned.  "Oh, I don't know about that.  Either way, you'd be digging around in the past."

"Huh.  Yeah.  I guess you're right.  Never thought of it like that."  He was quiet for a while as he seemed to digest that.  "So, Johnny, what did you do?"  Seeing Johnny's confusion, he clarified.  "How did you blow it with your boyfriend?"

He lost his grip on the wheel for half a second and felt the right front tire briefly swerve into the other lane before he managed to get the Rover back under control.  Luckily there were no other cars nearby.  Sam gave him an odd look.  "You sure you didn't take any pain meds this morning?"

"Yeah," Johnny muttered. 

"Want me to take over?"

"I'm fine.  I just slipped.  I made a mistake.  Everyone makes mistakes.  Don't make such a big deal out of it."  Sam didn't say anything, and when Johnny looked over at him, he caught the tail end of an exaggerated eye roll.  "Sorry," he muttered. 

They were both quiet after that, lost in their own thoughts.  As the morning gave way to afternoon, thick, wet snow began to fall.  Johnny was reluctant to turn the driving back over to Sam, but he had begun to grow tired, and his arm was hurting more than he had let on.  Sam assured him he knew how to drive just fine in the snow, and it wasn't even sticking to the road yet, so after they stopped for lunch, Johnny swallowed another pill and they switched places.  As they headed north, the air grew colder, and the snow slowed and finally stopped as they crossed the border into Idaho. 

Johnny had been dozing when he felt them slowing and looked up, rubbing his eyes.  It was growing dark, and they were driving through a town.  "Where are we?" he asked.

"Idaho Falls.  Thought we could spend the night.  We should have plenty of time to make it to Bozeman before noon tomorrow if we leave early enough."

After finding a motel and checking in, they went looking for somewhere nearby to eat.  The both agreed that a big steak dinner sounded good, and pulled into The Lodge Restaurant.  The interior was heavy on varnished pine and wagon wheels and antlers.  They were seated right away, and were halfway through their enormous dinner when the sound of raised voices drew their attention to the front of the restaurant. 

A group of a half dozen or so men were arguing with the middle-aged hostess, who appeared to be trying unsuccessfully to control her rising temper.  The men were dressed like hikers or hunters, in denim and down vests and camouflage, all except for one man who stood near the back of the group, dressed all in black - black jeans, black shirt, black coat.  He was tall, at least six foot four, Johnny estimated, with dark hair brushing his shoulders, and swept back from his forehead.   At first, he hadn't appeared to be part of the other group, standing behind them and holding himself apart, but Johnny noticed that they seemed to defer to him, turning often as if looking for his approval. 

Suddenly, the voice of the hostess could be heard over the men.   "We told you nuts last time not to come back around here.  Now get out before I call the cops."

Johnny tensed a little, ready to give the woman some support if she needed it, but the group gave up and left the restaurant.  Forcing himself to relax, he turned back to his brother.  He was about to speak when something made him glance over at the window, and he was startled to find the tall man staring directly at him.  As he locked gazes with the man's pale eyes for perhaps five seconds, he thought, wolf eyes, and gave a shiver.  Then the man turned and was gone.

"Wonder what that was all about," said Sam, who had not been looking at the window.

Johnny shrugged, gave a weak laugh and took another drink of beer.  "People who say big cities have all the wackos don't know what they're talking about."

By the time they finished their dinner, Johnny had put the brief incident out of his mind.  As they walked outside to the dark parking lot next to the restaurant, his thoughts were already on the next day.  He still couldn't quite believe that he was returning to a place that he had only seen in his nightmares since he left twelve years ago.  He had spent the last several days trying to convince himself that he and his brother and sister could do what they needed to do and get out of there without running into any trouble.  The biggest obstacle to that plan appeared to be the stubborn curiosity of Sam.  He only hoped that Anna wouldn't be as insistent about wanting to meet her Montana relatives. 

Sam had unlocked the driver side door then looked up, distracted, patting his pockets.  "Forgot my cigarettes," he said.  "Be right back."  He tossed the keys over the front of the Rover towards Johnny and took off at a jog back towards the front of the restaurant. 

Johnny made a grab for the keys with his good hand, but missed them in the dark.  Hearing them land close by, he was peering down at the gravel surface trying to locate them when a dark figure materialized next to him.  Startled, he spun halfway around and took a step back, alarmed as he recognized the tall man he had seen in the restaurant earlier.

"Whoa, you almost gave me a heart attack," he said, giving a smile which the man probably couldn't see.  Dressed in black as he was, the man's pale skin and eyes were all that Johnny could see clearly, catching the light of the crescent moon and the occasional headlights which passed on the street behind Johnny.

Without warning, the man leaned his face close to Johnny's, giving him an intense stare, grabbing his arm and whispering, "Raphael, I thought that was you.  Have you come to dwell among us for a time?  It's a shame you were injured in the fall.  Your father must grieve your absence, but we shall prepare a feast of rejoicing in your honor."

Johnny took another step back, trying but failing to shake off the man's muscular hand.  "Uh, I think you have the wrong guy."

"I understand, Raphael."  Johnny wasn't sure, but he thought the man winked at him.  "Don't worry.  I'll guard your secret.  We will await you in the appointed place.  You are the sign."

"I'm not --  the what?"  He was still trying to form a coherent sentence as the man released him and disappeared into the darkness. 

Sam came around the corner, whistling tunelessly, and stopped.  "Hey," he smiled.  "I thought I saw some guy talking to you when I was inside."  He looked around the parking lot.  "Guess he took off.  So what are you doing still standing around in the cold?"

Johnny just shook his head.  "He was talking, but I don't think it was to me.  You wouldn't believe it if I told you.  Come on.  Put out that cigarette and help me find the keys."

They found the keys and Sam drove them back to the motel.  Johnny lay in his bed watching television, trying to get sleepy, and listening to Sam on the phone, talking to his mom.  He let the sounds wash over him, the flickering images from the television barely making an impact as he replayed the strange things the man had said to him in the parking lot.  What a freak, he thought.  No wonder they kicked him out of the restaurant.  Resolutely, he tried to put him out of his mind, but as he drifted off to sleep, for the first time in over a week it wasn't Kel, or Halstad or his dad or his uncle that haunted him, but a pair of pale green eyes shining in the darkness.

Chapter Text

Kel had fully intended to go in to Rampart for at least a few hours on Sunday.  Saturday, however, had been filled with one travel delay after another, from a cancelled morning flight, to several hours on standby, to an unscheduled layover in Denver, and culminating in an early morning traffic accident on I-405 which had lengthened the normal twenty-five minute cab ride home to nearly an hour and a half.  He collapsed into his bed around two in the morning and slept until nearly ten o'clock.  By the time he showered, drank several cups of coffee and shook off some of his lethargy, it was nearly one, so he decided to just postpone his return to work for one more day.  Technically, he was still on vacation anyway, and although the swelling to his face and lip had gone down, he wasn't in the mood to have to explain the black eye to everyone at the hospital.  One day probably wouldn't make much of a difference in his appearance, but he hoped the extra rest would give him the patience he would need to handle the inevitable round of questions.

He was just about to call Dixie and let her know he wouldn't be coming in, when someone knocked on his door.  Glancing through the peephole, he saw Steve Halstad.  Kel hesitated, not sure if he was up to dealing with the man.  Although they were friends, neighbors and colleagues, Steve's smug arrogance could be a bit much at times.  Kel didn't take it personally, mostly because it was never directed towards him, but he had seen Steve make plenty of other people squirm, generally a nurse, or his wife Mary, or one of their neighbors.  No, they got on fairly well, but all too often Steve seemed a little too interested in Kel's relationships, pressing him for details in an almost offhand way which Kel usually managed to deflect with little difficulty.  Steve's marriage seemed strong enough, but Kel had long suspected that he strayed regularly.  Whether the straying involved men or women or a little of both, Kel didn't know and didn't care.  He just wished Steve would leave him out of it. 

The knocking came again, a little louder, so Kel took a deep breath and opened the door.

"Steve," he said.  "Nice to see you."

"Hi, Kel.  Yikes, looks like someone clocked you pretty good there.  You okay?"

"Yeah.  It's not as bad as it looks."

"Good, good.  Dixie said you were coming back early, so I figured I'd stop by."


"I ran into her yesterday morning in the lobby when she came over to water your plants."

Kel smiled to himself.  Typical Dixie.  Anyone else would not have bothered, knowing he was on his way home early.  He waited for Steve to say more, but the man just stood in the hallway, looking at him expectantly.  After a pause that stretched a little too long, Kel opened the door wider.  "Would you like to come in?"  Steve nodded and moved into the condo, heading straight for his usual chair.  "Coffee?" Kel asked, following behind him.

"No thanks."

Kel sat on the couch, sipping his coffee and watching Steve, wondering what he wanted.  The other man didn't seem in any hurry to get to the point, staring at the floor in front of him in a distracted way, then looking around the condo and out the window.

"When are you going to get around to redecorating this place?" he finally asked.

Okay, not what Kel had expected.  "What?  I don't know Steve.  I just never seem to have the time."

"Hm.  I seem to remember you telling me when you bought this place over a year ago how much you hated what the last owner left you."

Kel shrugged.  "It's a look.  Not my taste, exactly, but at this point I don't honestly know how much longer I'll be here."

Steve's eyebrows lifted in surprise.  "You planning on selling already?"

Kel smiled.  "Maybe.  Let's just say condo life isn't exactly what I expected."

"How so?"

"Oh, I miss my yard.  The nosy neighbors on my old street were at least safely tucked away behind fences.  And I didn't have to deal with some self-important condo board that seems to make rules just for the sake of rules.  No offense."

Steve chuckled.  "None taken.  I guess."  His gaze roamed around the room again and Kel realized that he was stalling.

"Steve, is there something I can do for you?"

"Ah.  Maybe.  I had a nice chat with Dixie.  She mentioned that things didn't work out with that young man.  Johnny, I think it was?"

What the fuck?  "Is that so?"  He couldn't keep the annoyance out of his voice.  It wasn't like Dixie to gossip about him.  Steve must have finagled the information out of her somehow.  He sighed.  "It's not like it was ever going to last anyway.  Apparently Johnny doesn't do commitment."

"No, I wouldn't think so."

Kel frowned.  "Really.  And why is that?"

" he is.  What he is."

Kel rubbed at his forehead, staring out the window at the grey sky.  "Steve, is there a point to any of this?"

The man gave a laugh which Kel didn't care for.  "I don't want to step on any toes here, but if you're done with him..."

"If I'm done with him...what?" 

"Well, maybe you could talk to him for me.  I was maybe a little harsh with him last time."

"Last time.  What -- "

"I'd pay him what he's worth.  Now that I know how good he is.  And I could fix things with the Board."

Kel could only stare, trying to process what Steve was saying. 

After a moment Steve continued.  "Ah, and I was sort of hoping...:"

"Hoping what, Steve?"  He could barely contain his growing anger, but the other man seemed not to notice.

"Well, it's kind of difficult, sometimes, with Mary.  To, you know, find somewhere...we could do it while you're at work, or if you'd prefer to stay and watch...if Johnny doesn't mind, of course."  He glanced at Kel and finally seemed to notice that he was not getting the hoped for response.  "You did say you were through with him."  Kel glared at him.  Growing flustered, Steve stood up and started to pace a little.  "Okay, let's forget the part about meeting here.  If you'll give me his number I suppose we can work out some other arrangement."

"I don't think so."

Hands on hips, Steve glowered down at him.  "And why the hell not?"

Kel set his coffee mug carefully on the end table and stood, meeting Steve's angry gaze with one he hoped conveyed all the building fury he felt.  "You are the last thing Johnny needs.  And I'm pissed as hell that you have the gall to stand here and talk about my friend as if he is just some piece of ass to be passed around to the highest bidder.  Johnny is a good man, and he is most definitely not for sale."

 "Oh my god, you actually believe that, don't you?"  At Kel's look of confusion, he stepped closer, his expression ugly, and pointed at the floor.  "Then maybe you can explain what he was doing on his knees right there on your carpet, with my dick in his mouth, just, oh, about a week ago."

"You're lying."

"Come on, Kel.  You of all people should know what a promiscuous bunch you queers are."

Barely registering the insult, Kel took a step back.  His mouth had gone dry, and he had to clear his throat before speaking again.  "Why, Steve?  What did you say to him?"

Steve shrugged, not bothering to hide his smug smile.  "Nothing much.  We just came to an understanding.  Payment for services rendered and all that."

"What payment?" 

"Well, no cash exchanged hands."

"Quit being so fucking coy and tell me.  What payment?"

Steve gave him a tight smile which didn't reach his grey eyes, and Kel wondered how he could have ever considered this man his friend.

"I promised I'd be discreet about...certain things in Johnny's past."

My god, it's Pendleton all over again.  Johnny, I swear I'll never let one of my colleagues near you again.  Out loud, he said, "So if I have this right, you blackmailed Johnny into having sex with you?"

"He wasn't exactly reluctant.  You wouldn't believe how quickly his knees hit the floor.  Or maybe you would."

"Get out."

"Don't you want to know what he was so anxious to keep from you?"

"No, I do not.  Now get the fuck out of my home before I forget that I'm supposed to be saving lives, not taking them."

He stalked after the other man as he retreated towards the door, reaching impatiently past him to yank the door open.  It was all he could do to keep from shoving Halstad bodily from the condo.  When Halstad turned as if he had more to say, Kel took a step into the hallway until they were practically nose to nose.  "Stay away from him, Steve.  I swear if you go near him again I won't be responsible for my actions."  Down the hall, the Dobsons' door had opened, but quickly shut again, presumably at the sound of Kel's angry voice.  He continued to glare at Halstad, until he finally turned to leave.

Before he rounded the corner to the elevator, however, Halstad paused and turned back.  Here it comes.  He always has to have the last word.  "Better watch your back, Kel.  I've been protecting you with the Board, but don't expect that to continue."

Kel gave a snort of laughter.  "I wouldn't go in that direction if I were you, Steve.  How do you think your wife would like hearing about what went on in my home with my friend?"  He would never actually say anything to Mary, but the alarmed look on Halstad's face was well worth the baseless threat.  Halstad disappeared around the corner and Kel went inside, giving his door a satisfying slam. 

Sinking back down on the couch, the anger rapidly drained away, and he was left feeling depressed and wondering whether he'd even had the right to say those things on Johnny's behalf.  Whatever else they were to each other, he still hoped he could call Johnny his friend.  How could everything have gotten so unbelievably messed up in so short a time?  After what Halstad had revealed, he couldn't blame Johnny for putting as much distance between them as he could.  He wished he knew how to get in contact with him, but all Dixie had been able to tell him was that he had left town, and not even Roy knew where he had gone. 




"Stay in the car."  Johnny followed up the terse order with a stern look at Sam and Anna before he opened the door and stepped out into the dry, frigid air.  He didn't care for the look Sam gave him in return, innocence and defiance somehow mingling together on the finely drawn features.  Sick tension, which had settled in Johnny's stomach ever since they crossed the border into Montana two days ago, ratcheted up another notch.  Choosing to ignore it for the moment, he scanned the immediate area for familiar faces.  He didn't see any, but noted a few new buildings, as well as some older businesses which had been boarded up and appeared to be abandoned.  Despite these superficial changes, the raw sensory familiarity of the place - the bite of wind on his cheeks, the muddy smell of the nearby river, the scuff of dirt beneath his boots, the circling hawk high overhead in the pallid blue sky - all of these things hadn't changed since a lifetime ago, and had his tension threatening to turn into suffocating panic. 

He slowed his breathing and turned in a small circle, focusing his gaze outside of the town to the barely visible looping meander of the Missouri River running slow and wide to the south, and the narrower Poplar River bordering the west and north sides of town.  Flat prairie was interspersed with stands of bare poplar and cottonwood trees and rectangular fields which he knew would be gold and green in the summer with wheat and alfalfa.  He supposed that at certain times of the year, some people might see a harsh, spare beauty in the place.  As he gazed around with the memories of a child, everything he saw was overlaid with loneliness, pain, and fear.  He knew there were good people here, knew that if not for some of them he might not be alive today.  Knowing that, however, didn't change one damn thing, or make him hate the place any less.

Sighing, he gave another glance inside the Rover.  Sam was fiddling with the radio dial again, running down the battery, searching for something other than static or country western music or half-shouted evangelizing.  Anna's gaze was on Johnny, but darted away when she saw him looking.  He couldn't figure out this new sister of his.  She had been quiet for most of the trip from Bozeman, alternating between staring out the window and scribbling feverishly in her journal.  Joking easily with Sam, she had barely said two words to Johnny since their initial meeting, and he couldn't decide if she was fascinated, frightened, or uncomfortable in his presence.  Probably a combination of all three.  As he crossed the street and headed for the small grocery store halfway down the block, his thoughts went back to his first sight of Anna at the airport.


"Here she comes," said Sam.

Johnny stood in the Gallatin Field terminal, watching passengers straggle through the gate from the flight which had just arrived from Seattle.  He followed Sam's pointing arm to a petite young woman with long dark hair wearing jeans and a short red down jacket and lugging a huge suitcase.  He hung back as Sam approached her, gave her a brief hug and took the suitcase from her.  As they made their way back to him, he caught the tail end of their conversation.

"Packed light, as usual," Sam teased, pretending to have trouble with her suitcase.

"You're so stupid," she said, laughing, then stopped as she spotted Johnny.  "Oh my God," she breathed, staring up at him.  "Sam wasn't kidding.  You look so much like him."

Johnny stared back, having just enough time to note the dark eyes, straight, thin brows, delicate features similar to her brother's and a dusting of freckles across her nose and cheekbones, before she launched herself at him.  He moved his injured arm out of her trajectory just in time, giving a grunt and looking down in astonishment at the top of her head as she wrapped her arms around him and squeezed hard.  After a moment, he settled his right arm around her back and patted uncertainly while giving Sam an alarmed look over the top over her head.

"Uh, Anna," said Sam, "you planning on squeezing the life out of him before I get the chance to introduce you two?"

She disentangled herself from Johnny with apparent reluctance.  "Sorry," she said, her cheeks pink.  Nobody said anything for a minute until Anna gave Sam an impatient glare.  "Well?  You said you were going to introduce us."

"And she calls me stupid," muttered Sam.  "All right, Johnny, this little spazz is my sister Anna.  Yours too, if you want to claim her.  Anna, this is Johnny.  Pay no attention to that frown on his face.  He's really a pussycat."

Johnny and Anna both regarded him indignantly before turning back to one another.  "Nice to meet you," she mumbled, suddenly shy.

Johnny gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile.  "You have a good flight?"

She nodded, staring down at her hiking boots.

An awkward silence stretched for a little too long.  "Let's go get some lunch," Johnny suggested, for lack of anything better to say, and led the way back to the Rover.

Having expected a protracted argument with his brother and sister about meeting the Montana Gages, Johnny was a little surprised to find Anna siding with him against Sam.

"Come on, man," said Sam, in between bites of both Johnny's and Anna's leftover fries.  "They're not just your relatives.  They're ours too.  You don't own them."

"Johnny," said Anna, peering at him closely, "why did you leave anyway?  Your aunt said something happened, but she wouldn't say what."

That's because not even she knows the whole story.  Johnny put on his most intimidating scowl.  "Let's get one thing straight.  I'm on this trip for one reason and one reason only, and that is to keep you two from getting yourselves into trouble.  You're just going to have to take my word for it when I tell you that you do not want to go messing around with things you don't understand.  So we're going to do what we need to do, and get the hell out.  Is that clear?"

Sam looked back at him, wearing that stubborn set to his mouth that Johnny was starting to recognize.  Anna, her cheeks pinking up once again, looked as if she might cry, but nodded.

"Sam?  Can you give me your word you're not going to go doing anything stupid?"

Sam finally shrugged, not appearing happy.  "Yeah, I guess so.

Anna looked back and forth between the two of them.  If she had anything more to add, she kept it to herself, and lapsed into a silence which would last almost all the way to Miles City, where they spent the night. 

Although Johnny slept poorly again that night, he did receive an unexpected laugh as they were checking into the motel.  The office contained a rack of brochures showing various local attractions and lodging for visitors to the area.  His eye was drawn to the words, "McManus Guest Ranch," and he reached down and pulled out one of the brochures.  Sure enough, the pictures were of his Uncle Rick's ranch, which had apparently been changed from a working ranch to a "guest ranch," whatever that was.  Undoubtedly Sam and Anna would have been happy enough to take the hour detour north to meet Johnny's uncle, even though they weren't technically related, but when Sam asked him what was so funny, he just shook his head and tucked the brochure back in the rack.


Now, as he approached the grocery store, Johnny experienced a moment of disorientation as the reflection of a dark-haired young boy suddenly appeared in the glass door.  He froze, incredulous, half-believing he was looking at his own reflection.  Then the spell was broken as the boy ducked past him, giggling as he pushed through the door trailed by a second, younger boy.  Johnny shook his head at his foolishness, gave a short laugh, and followed the boys into the store.

He grabbed a basket and stalked up and down the aisles grabbing bread and meat and cheese and mustard, not quite sure what Sam and Anna had in mind for their picnic, and not much caring.  After the three hour drive from Miles City, Johnny had hoped they could head straight to Dead Hawk Creek, dump the ashes and make it back to Miles City, or even Billings if they wrapped things up here quickly enough.  He had heard Sam and Anna last night talking about missing Thanksgiving with their mom.  Today was Monday, and Johnny hoped that if they made it to the airport by tomorrow, he could get them both on a plane back to Seattle and then head home alone. 

Sam seemed determined to drag this out as long as possible, however.  Despite the fact that the temperature was hovering somewhere around 25 degrees, this morning he had announced his desire for a picnic, had gotten Anna to go along with him, and had insisted that they stop in Poplar to pick up the food.  Shaking his head, Johnny tossed a few sodas in the basket, some chips, Sam's favorite Twinkies, and wondered briefly what Anna might like.  Stumped, he threw in some more chips and some Ding Dongs for good measure, and went to stand in line at the front counter.

Betty Yellow Bird perched on her stool behind the cash register.  She and her husband had owned the store since before Johnny had been born.  Aside from a few extra wrinkles and more grey in her neat bun, she looked just like he remembered, tiny and efficient, an odd mixture of severity and warm good humor.  When her gaze rested briefly on him and moved away disinterestedly to finish ringing up the man ahead of him, he relaxed somewhat, starting to hope that maybe he had changed enough in fourteen years that he could pass through the town unrecognized.  The two young boys who had preceded him into the store came running up from behind and skidded to a halt at the counter, each clutching a candy bar.  Johnny watched as they jostled for position next to the tall man in front of him, giggling but growing instantly silently when the man turned to glower down at them.

The transaction completed, the two boys grabbed their candy bars and raced out the front door.  Johnny heard a soft laugh from Betty, and an answering grumble from the man, presumably the boys' father.  Then the man turned away from the register and Johnny found himself standing face to face with his cousin, Charles Gage Jr.

Johnny froze.  The breath caught in his throat as he stared into the face which was so like both his uncle and his father, made unmistakable by the crescent shaped scar on his right cheek that he had gotten from the thick silver ring on his father's hand.  Perhaps two seconds clicked by during which Johnny dared to hope that Charles would simply look past him and keep moving, but those seconds passed and Charles kept staring and Johnny saw the moment when recognition dawned, followed in rapid succession by shock, anger and fear.  It was the last of these which had Johnny rooted to the floor, at a loss for words.

Charles apparently did not have the same difficulty.  "John," he said, his voice as cold as the air outside.  "Heard you might show up here.  Didn't believe it, but I guess you never were too bright."  His gaze shifted to the front door and back before he stepped in closer, his voice dropping, and his eyes not quite meeting Johnny's.  "I don't give a shit about any of the rest of it.  But if you come anywhere near my boys, I swear I'll cut your fucking throat."  And then he was moving past Johnny, knocking into him in his hurry to get out of the store.

Stunned, Johnny could only stare at his retreating back.  He was breathing too quickly and felt warm, overheated with the shame of remembering.  Shaking it off with an effort, he turned back to where Betty Yellow Bird sat, having witnessed it all.  Her face remained carefully blank as he set the basket of food on the countertop.  His tense jaw ached as he watched her ring up the items and place them in a paper bag.  The total sale appeared on the cash register and he yanked his wallet from his back pocket, grabbing bills and slapping them on the counter.  She avoided his eyes as she gathered up the money and began counting out his change.  The words slipped out before he could stop them.  "What does he think I'm going to do?  I'd never hurt those kids.  How could he even think that?"

Betty finally met his gaze.  "When you left, the shit really hit the fan.  He won't let his father near those kids.  Because of you."


"People knew what was going on the whole time."

Johnny shook his head.  "I don't know what you're talking about."  He grabbed the bag, ready to flee, but she wasn't finished yet.

"After you left, it was all folks could talk about for a real long time.  You and your uncle and what he and his friends did.  No one knew who to blame.  Plenty of people blamed you, you know.  Like a boy your age had any control over how those men treated you.  At least most people knew better.  It took months before things settled down again."  She shook her head, her expression shrewd.  "Ever since that lawyer talked to your uncle, he's been drinking practically nonstop, worried you'd come back. He was in here yesterday.  Seemed pretty scared about what you planned to do, what kind of revenge you might want."

As she spoke, Johnny felt a sense of unreality settle over him.  How could she just say those things so matter-of-factly, just blurt them out like that?  He was feeling way too exposed and needed to get out of there.  "Look," he said, trying to smile but aware that he was failing miserably, "that's all just gossip.  Anything that happened back then was too long ago for it to matter anyway.  I'm not out to hurt anyone.  My reasons for coming back don't concern anyone but me.  I'll be gone so quick no one will even know I was here."  Except that his cousin already knew.

He began to turn away, but watched, startled, as Betty pried her sneakers off of the middle rung of her stool, unbent her legs and hobbled around the counter, scowling in obvious pain.  "Arthritis," she muttered, almost apologetically.  Johnny couldn't remember ever seeing her anywhere but perched on that stool, and had no clue what she intended until she limped right up to him and wrapped her thin arms around him in a weak hug.  Bewildered by her actions, he tried to back away, but she looked so frail and he didn't want to be too forceful.  Finally, she released him and stepped back, craning her neck to look him in the eye.  "Can't tell you how many times I wanted to do that when you were a scrawny little kid."

"Why?" was the only thing he could think to say.

"Somebody needed to."  She shook her head.  "I knew your family too well.  Anything we did would have only made it worse."

He wanted to laugh at the absurdity of what she was saying.  How could it possibly have been any worse?  "Too little too late," he muttered, almost to himself.  Her face fell as her gesture and her words were thrown back at her.  As he opened his mouth to reassure her, he saw her glance past him and her eyes widened fractionally. 

Curious, he turned to see what had caught her attention, then nearly groaned as he spotted Anna standing behind them, her eyes huge and her cheeks flushed.  From her expression alone, he knew immediately that she had heard too much.  His frustration boiled over.  "God damn, Anna.  I told you to stay in the car!"  He cast a distracted glance back at Betty before striding toward his sister, thrusting the paper bag into her hands, and grabbing her by the arm.  "Let's go."  She gave a little stutter step as he dragged her out of the store, but he kept a firm grip on her.  When they reached the Rover moments later, he stopped in his tracks, staring in disbelief at the empty vehicle.

He turned an accusing look at Anna, and was ready to explode, when he spotted his brother already a block away, smoking a cigarette and walking slowly, head swiveling left and right like a tourist taking in the sights. Johnny saw two older men exit the Pony Tavern just ahead of Sam and stop and stare at him.  They said something to him which Johnny couldn't hear, but he didn't like the looks they were giving him.  Looking down at Anna, he saw the worried frown on her face as she, too, watched Sam.

"Can you drive a stick shift?" he asked her, keeping his voice deliberately calm.  When she nodded, still watching Sam, he let go of her arm.  "Did he leave you the keys?"  She dangled them in front of him.  "All right.  Just get in the car, wait about half a minute, and drive slowly up the block, okay?"  She nodded.  "Good girl."

He forced himself not to run as he headed up the sidewalk toward Sam.  His brother appeared to be holding an animated, one-sided conversation with the two men, oblivious to their guarded, unfriendly expressions.  As Johnny got closer, he heard the word "uncle" and the mention of "Charles Gage."  Sam, I am so gonna kick your ass.  One of the men said something to Sam that Johnny couldn't hear.  He heard the ugly laugh that followed, however.

Sam saw Johnny approaching and turned towards him.  "See?" he said, addressing the two men.  "Here he is.  You can ask him yourself."  The look he gave Johnny contained equal parts guilt and triumph.  "Hey, Johnny.  These guys know your uncle.  This is Ben - "

"I know who they are."  From the corner of his eye, he saw the Rover coast to a stop just behind him.

"Come on, Sam, let's go."

"We're talking," said Sam.

"Get in the car."

"Johnny - "

He put his hand on Sam's shoulder.  When he spoke, he kept his voice as quiet and calming as he could manage, despite the roiling dread tearing up his insides.  "We have things to take care of, Sam.  We're here for your father, remember?  Anna's waiting."

"Then afterwards - "

"We'll see."  They wouldn't see, but he would find some way to convince Sam of that later.

Johnny could almost feel the resistance radiating off of his brother, but after a moment Sam moved past him and Johnny heard the Rover's door slam.  Johnny was still watching Ben and the other man, whose name he couldn't recall at the moment.  He could recall plenty of other things about him, but he pushed them out of his mind and started backing away.  Ben's gaze was fastened on him, seemingly impassive, but everything about his body language showed the tension he was feeling.  As Johnny eased his way into the backseat of the Rover, he saw the two men turn and, walking with purpose, disappear back inside the Pony.

"Let's get out of here," he said to Anna.  "Just head east."  He sank back into the seat, ignoring the worried brown eyes which watched him periodically in the rearview mirror.  Johnny moved his gaze away from Anna's, and found Sam turned in the passenger seat, staring back at him with a strange look on his face.  "What?"

"That guy, the older one.  Ben?  He said I should ask you something."

"What was that?" asked Johnny, not much interested in hearing the answer.

"He wanted to know if you still like kittens."

Johnny shut his eyes and rested his head against the seat.

"What did he mean, Johnny?  Why would he ask you that?"

When Johnny didn't answer, Sam persisted.  "Does he raise cats or something?"

"Sam," said Anna, "shut up."

"I'm just asking - "

"Shut.  Up."

And Sam did.

Johnny opened his eyes and met hers once more in the mirror, then turned his gaze out the window, watching the dry, winter landscape through which they were moving.  He resigned himself to endure the day, and made up his mind right then that he would insist on driving on the way back, and wouldn't slow down for anything as they passed through the town and put this place behind him forever.

Chapter Text

When Kel arrived at the hospital Monday, he headed straight for the lounge and his first coffee of the day.  Dixie and Roy were huddled at one of the tables, in the middle of what looked like an intense discussion.  Dixie stopped midsentence, a guilty look on her face, and Roy blushed.  They both did an almost comical double-take as they caught a glimpse of Kel's face.  He held up a hand to forestall any questions.

"I know.  I know.  Let's just say it looked worse a couple of days ago.  And no, I don't want to talk about it."  He gave Dixie a look meant to convey that he would tell her about it later, then he headed for the coffeepot.  "You two looked pretty serious just now."

Roy opened his mouth to speak but his HT crackled to life.  He responded, gave Dixie an apologetic look, waved at Kel and hurried out the door.

"Thought you were coming in yesterday," said Dixie, crossing her arms as she leaned against the counter.

"Sorry, Dix.  I meant to call you.  It's been a miserable last couple of days."

She took a step closer and peered at his face.  "I can see that.  Looks like you had an eventful vacation." 

He took a sip of coffeeAs he .  "You could say so.  Next time I tell you I'm taking some time off, remind me not to."  Dixie's eyes were still on his bruised face.  After a moment he sighed.  "All right, if you have a couple of minutes, let's go to my office and I'll tell you all about it, and you can fill me in on what's new around here."


Twenty minutes later, Dixie had heard a slightly abridged version of Kel's trip home, and she was giving her head a sympathetic shake.  "Well, thank god you're all right.  Too bad your sister-in-law has such bad judgment.  Has she ever set you up with someone decent?"

He laughed.  "I guess I keep hoping she'll get it right one of these times.  And if we had met almost anywhere else besides Joey's, I probably would have ended up getting laid, flying home and never thinking about David Rellano again."  He sighed, looked with distaste at his overflowing inbox, and swiveled his chair to stare out the window.  "Maybe I just need to swear off relationships for a while."  Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Dixie make a small movement.  He turned his head to look at her.  Seeing the expression on her face, he swung the chair back around.  "What?"  As he had observed earlier in the lounge, she appeared guilty.  "Come on, Dix, what is it?"

"Kel, I'm so sorry."

He began to grow alarmed.  "For what?"

"Johnny - "

Kel half rose in his chair.  "Is he all right?"

She waved a hand, motioning him to sit back down.  "Yes.  As far as I know.  It's just..."  She looked away.  "I sort of misinterpreted something.  That's what Roy and I were talking about.  It seems that young man we saw with Johnny was his brother."

He was staring, and thought his mouth may have dropped open a little.  Wanting more than anything to latch onto that tiny piece of hope, he examined the idea for a moment, then shook his head.  "Johnny doesn't have a brother."

"Kel - "  She was cut off as a page for Kel came over the intercom.  They both stood and hurried from the office.  Dixie spoke rapidly as they headed for the base station.  "We need to talk.  Dinner tonight?"

"Sounds good." 

With that they were plunged into the chaos of a day filled with nearly nonstop accidents, injuries, heart attacks, drug overdoses and several vomiting children thrown in for good measure.  Kel missed lunch, and it wasn't until after eight o'clock that things finally calmed down enough for him to think about dinner.  He went looking for Dixie and found her in the corner of the lounge, smoking a cigarette which she hurriedly extinguished when she saw him.

"You hungry?" he asked, not bothering to lecture her on her habit.  It never did any good.

"Starved," she said.  "We'd better get out of here while we can.  Tell you what.  If you follow me home, I'll even cook."

"If you're as bushed as I am, I doubt you're in the mood to cook.  I'm all for eating at your place, but how about if I pick something up on the way?"  He didn't add that going to his place and possibly running into Steve Halstad was something he would just as soon postpone.

"You've got a deal."


Kel carried two bags of takeout from Garza's to Dixie's front door, gave two raps and went in.  She came out of the kitchen dressed in powder blue pajamas and a flowered robe, carrying a glass of white wine in one hand and a scotch and soda in the other.  Setting the drinks on the glass-topped coffee table, she sat on the couch with her feet curled underneath her and accepted one of the bags from Kel.

"Arroz con pollo for you and carne asada for me."  He sat down on the couch, took a sip of his drink, and tore open his takeout box.  As he wolfed down the first few bites, then slowed his pace, he allowed the familiar comfort of Dixie's home to work its usual magic on his frazzled nerves.  He felt himself really relax for the first time in more than a week, and wasn't sure if it was the alcohol, the plush, enveloping furniture, the muted colors and soft floral prints, the scent of vanilla from the candles she was so fond of, the quiet sounds of the residential neighborhood, or just the presence of the woman herself, always so calm and warm and practical.   

After he had satisfied the worst of his hunger pangs, he set down his takeout box and took another drink, then turned towards Dixie and smiled.  "I think I may just survive my first day back now."

Dixie gave him a slightly sour smile in return.  "I just hope some of my nurses survive your first day back."  She had only eaten about a third of her meal before giving up and picking up her wineglass.

"Was I that bad?"  He took a sip of scotch, knowing full well the answer to that question.  The busy day and the delay in getting the answers he needed about Johnny had sent his temper spiking on more than one occasion.  Still, he felt a reluctance to bring up that subject now.

"Bad?  I overheard Sandra calling Human Resources to check on any openings in pediatrics."

He gave a grunt.  "Unless she can learn the difference between #1 and #4 suture silk, maybe she'd be better off somewhere else."

"Christ, Kel.  If you'd been glaring at me like you were at her, and snapping your fingers in that annoying way, I probably would have handed you the wrong size too." 

He sighed.  "I know.  You're right.  I'll apologize to her tomorrow."

Dixie's expression lightened a little at that.  She finished her wine and shifted a little on her end of the couch.

"Want some more wine?" he asked.  She shook her head.  "You look tired."

"My feet are killing me."

Kel patted his leg in invitation.  "Come on.  Stretch out.  I'll give you one of my famous foot rubs while you finish what you started to tell me this morning."

One of Dixie's eyebrows arched upwards.  "Famous, huh?  How come I've never heard about them?  All right, all right.  I'm stretching out."

Kel removed her fuzzy blue slippers and positioned her pale feet on his thigh, noting their slightly swollen appearance and the delicate pink polish on each toenail.  As he gathered one foot in his hands and began rubbing circles in the high arch with his knuckles, he reflected, not for the first time, on the combination of toughness and utter femininity that Dixie exuded.  Her eyes drifted shut, and she gave a throaty little moan of pleasure which made him smile.  Whoever the mysterious new man in her life was that she had mentioned in their last phone call, Kel hoped for her sake that he was capable of drawing that sound out of her.  He continued his ministrations, holding the foot in both hands and moving this thumbs from her heel to the ball, keeping the pressure firm but gentle.  Dixie was almost purring.  As he set her foot down and picked up the other, he glanced over into her half-lidded, impossibly blue eyes and gave her a smile.  "What?" he said, not pausing as he went to work on the second foot.

"Whoever you end up with is going to be a very lucky man," she said.  "Ooh.  Ohmygod.  Where did you learn to do that?"

He laughed.  "Medical school?"

"I don't think so." 

Neither spoke again for a few minutes as he concentrated on pleasuring her feet, and she continued to squirm and produce a fascinating repertoire of gasps and hisses and moans.  Finally, he watched in amazement as her head went back, her back arched as she tensed, holding her breath then expelling it and shuddering a few times on another soft gasp before going limp.  He let go of her foot and waited for her to collect herself.

"Uh, Dix?"

"That was...nice."

He watched as her eyes opened and she regarded him without a hint of embarrassment.

"Enjoy yourself?" he asked.

"Uhm hm."  She smiled.  Seeing his expression, she said, "What?"

Kel reached over her feet to grab his drink and took a healthy gulp.  "Wow, Dix, that was kind of...dirty."

Giving another laugh, she pulled herself up a little and removed her feet from this thigh.  "Oh, brother.  Look who's a prude all of a sudden."  She gave him a playful nudge with her foot.  "Listen, Kel, if you ever want to use those talented hands of yours a little higher up, you won't get any argument out of me."

Kel choked a little on his drink and set it down.  "How much wine have you had?" 

"Anything of yours you need massaging?"  She aimed her foot at his crotch and laughed when he jerked to his feet and retreated to the rocking chair next to the couch.  "Coward."

"You better believe it."  He shook his head, amused.  "Let me guess.  You and your mystery man have yet to seal the deal."  The look of disgust on her face was all the answer he needed.  "Maybe you need to give him a foot rub to get him in the mood."

"Maybe.  He insists on being a gentleman."  She gave a yawn.  "Can't help but notice that you're avoiding the subject."


"Johnny.  I thought that's who you came over to talk about."

Kel felt himself tense up again.  "All right.  Let's get it over with.  You told me this morning that the man you thought he was sleeping with is now his brother.  I don't know how that can be, since I happen to know that Johnny doesn't have a brother."

"According to Roy, Johnny didn't even know he had a brother until recently.  Half-brother, actually.  And he has a half-sister as well.  Not to mention a step-mother."  She patted the cushion next to her.  "Come on back over her.  I promise not to compromise your honor any further."

Kel gave her his patented Dr. Brackett scowl, which had absolutely no discernible effect on her.  Finally, he moved back to the couch, keeping a firm grip on his drink.  "Are you sure these folks are legit?  What made them get in touch with him now?"

"I only know what Roy told me.  Johnny's father died - "

"That, I knew."

"No, you didn't.  Evidently, none of us did.  Johnny's father didn't die when he was a boy.  He abandoned him after Johnny's mother died, and married some woman in Seattle.  He only passed away recently.  The family contacted Johnny about some letter his father left him.  And that is basically all I know."

Staring across the room at Dixie's collection of potted plants, Kel took a moment to digest what she had told him.  "Poor Johnny.  His father sounds like a real prick.  And you say Johnny left town with this brother?"

"That seems to be the case."

"And you don't know where they went?"

"Johnny left without talking to Roy, but he said he might have some ideas.  We were interrupted before he could share those with me."  She gave him a pointed look.  "If you want to know anything more, you should talk to Roy.  Incidentally, I got the distinct impression that there was more to the story that he wasn't willing to share."

Kel frowned.  This all went a long way towards explaining Johnny's disappearing act before Kel left town.  Still, something didn't seem right about all this.  "Dix, Johnny and Roy are pretty close.  Why wouldn't Johnny let him know where he was headed?"

"Once again, you're going to have to ask Roy."

"I don't think I should - "

"Kel, Roy knows Johnny's gay."

He felt his eyebrows elevate towards his hairline.  "Oh.  I didn't realize..."

"I gather it was a recent revelation."

"Oh," he said again.  He tried to remember if Roy had been acting any differently today.  "Does he know...?"

"About you?  No, not unless Johnny told him.  Frankly, Roy seemed just a tiny bit thrown by the whole thing, but I think he'll be fine.  Eventually."

Kel nearly groaned.  "I'd be willing to bet that's the reason Johnny left without talking to Roy."

 "Kel, I'm positive Roy still considers Johnny a friend.  He told me he feels pretty bad about avoiding him, and not taking his phone calls."

This was sounding worse and worse.  Kel shook his head.  "So Johnny left town thinking Roy had rejected him."  And after the shit Halstad had pulled, he probably assumed Kel wouldn't want anything to do with him either. 

"Johnny's a big boy.  And he's got his brother to look after him."

"Alleged brother," he grumbled.  "I don't know, Dix.  I have a bad feeling about all of this." 

She shrugged and yawned.  "Well, I don't know what to tell you.  I'm too tired to think about any of this anymore tonight."  She gave him another pointed look.

"You're kicking me out?  Fine.  I'm going."  He stood and headed for the door, turning back to her with his hand on the doorknob.  "You're sure Roy didn't give indication - "

"Kel.  Talk to Roy.  More importantly, get the hell out of here so I can get some sleep."

Talk to Roy.  Right.  Sure thing.  Hey, Roy, I slept with your partner, and I think I might be in love with him, but I sort of left town when he needed me, leaving him vulnerable to my asshole of a neighbor.  And it's just a gut feeling, but I'm worried about him and need to know where he is.  So, if you wouldn't mind...  He froze, replaying his thoughts.  Did I just think what I think I thought?  He stared at Dixie, who was looking at him curiously.  Oh my god.  It's true.  I love him.  I'm in love with Johnny Gage.




Johnny walked away from the Land Rover, leaving Sam and Anna alone with their meal.  Although he knew he had been to Dead Hawk Creek plenty of times as a child, he hadn't thought about it in years.  It surprised him how familiar it all looked, from the small, crooked finger of water and the matted grass and cluster of bare trees, to the one tippy table and benches badly in need of paint.  How strange, he reflected, how one's memories could pick up after being away for so many years, almost as if you had been there only yesterday.  He supposed that if he returned here in another fifty years, he would still remember the heat of coals from his father's fire, the fragrance and sizzle of crisping trout and the sound of his parents laughing together while he poked in the slow moving water, searching for tadpoles and young snakes.  Even now, in the winter, with the freezing air and wind burning his cheeks and trapping shivers in his back and thighs, it was almost as if he was back during that summer, with the air warm and still and his life as placid and serene as the water pooling among the tree roots. 

He perched on the picnic table, feeling the ache of the cold in his injured arm.  As tempted as he was to reach into his pocket for the bottle of pain pills, he knew he needed to stay alert until they were well away from here.  All he needed to do to get warmed up was walk the thirty feet back to the car, and climb inside where Sam and Anna had the motor running and the heater cranked on high.  Watching them through the side window, he felt as much of an outsider as he ever had.  As they ate the poor excuse for a picnic that he had bought for them, they teased one another and laughed easily together, making do with seeming good humor, innocent and untroubled by the events in town which had left him shaken and anxious.  He stayed where he was, turning his gaze north, waiting them out.  Finally he heard the car door slam and glanced up to see Sam carrying the small jar of remains, the fraction of Sam Sr. which was all their father had deemed worthy of return to the place where he had been born.  Anna paused, her gaze following her brother's progress towards the trees, then walked over to stand in front of Johnny, not quite meeting his eyes.

"I guess we're ready to start," she said.

"Go ahead," he said.  "I'll be in the car."  He gave her a small smile.  "Getting kind of cold out here."

She frowned, darting a glance at him.  "I thought you'd be joining us."

He shook his head.  "This is for you guys.  For you to say goodbye."

Her hair lifted in the breeze, and she raised a hand to tuck it behind her ear.  "We both want you there."  He didn't move.  "Please?  We want you to hear this.  If you're too weirded out, you can always leave."

She looked so earnest and sincere and young.  Sighing, feeling about a hundred years old, he stood and followed her to the creek where Sam stood waiting.  Sam glanced at him, his expression unreadable.  To his bones, Johnny felt that he shouldn't be here, shouldn't be witnessing their private farewells, but he couldn't figure out a way to refuse without seeming petty, so he moved a little bit away from them out of their line of sight, and settled in to wait and watch the road for trouble.  After the scene in town, instinct told him it was inevitable.  He let his attention wander as Sam began a long, meandering story about Sam Sr., speaking as if addressing his father.  After a few minutes, Johnny began to listen to what his brother was saying.

"Dad, you were angry all the time that year.  You spent so many hours down in the basement, and we were all convinced you were just down there drinking, reading dirty magazines, or god knows what.  So I finally got up the nerve to sneak down there to join you in your workshop, your private domain."  He glanced over at Anna, then behind him at Johnny.  "You guys know what he was doing down there?  He made me swear not to say, but I guess I can tell you now.  He had sent away for this mail order course, to learn electronics repair.  He wanted to open his own shop.  This was after all those layoffs a few years back."  Sam looked at Anna again.  "Did you know he actually got his pink slip?  And then they told him he could keep his job if he would accept a transfer to the east coast.  I asked him why he didn't just take the transfer, and he said he had no intention of uprooting his family ever again.  I remember wondering what he meant, since we had lived in the same house since I was born."  His gaze flickered towards Johnny, then away. 

Johnny shut his eyes at this, tuning out the rest of Sam's story.  When he heard Anna start to speak, he opened them again and blinked rapidly at the cold, harsh sting of the wind.

 "My best memory," Anna was saying, "is one time when I was about four.  I was mad or sad about something, I don't remember what.  I was sitting on that old brown sofa we used to have - remember that, Sam?  And Dad had just gotten home from work.  He still had his coveralls on, and he was probably exhausted.  He was working two jobs at the time, Johnny.  Anyway, he comes in the front door, and there I am bawling my eyes out, face all red and squinchy.  He sits on the sofa, picks me up, holds me in his lap, and just glares at me with this really mean face, the full treatment, scrunched down eyebrows, scary frown.  Just stares right at me until he gets my attention, and I remember just starting to laugh, he looked so funny.  I forgot what I was so upset about and just laughed.  He snapped me right out of my tantrum.  I don't recall ever crying like that since then.  Not until I found out last year how sick he was."

Anna stopped abruptly, evidently done with her story.  After a brief interval of silence broken only by the low murmur of t, she and Sam both turned expectant gazes towards Johnny.  He gave them back a startled gaze of his own, and was about to protest that he didn't have anything to say, when suddenly he heard an engine rattling in the distance, getting closer.  Turning to the west to see if he could locate the source, he spotted the dirt being kicked up on the road from town.  As the dust cloud grew and the rattle became louder, he recognized his uncle's ancient green pickup truck approaching and gave a low curse.

"Uh, guys," he said, "we need to wrap this up and get out of here."

"Come on, Johnny," said Sam, smiling his encouragement, "it doesn't have to be anything long or involved, or even a good memory.  We don't care.  Just tell us one thing about our dad that we don't know."

Johnny watched as the truck came closer.  It would probably be another two or three minutes before it reached them.

"Go get in the car."

Anna turned and saw the truck.  "Who is it?" she asked.

Johnny spared her a quick look.  "It's Uncle Charles' truck.  Not sure who's driving."

"Well, good," Sam said.  "Guess we get to meet him after all.  Let's ask him to join us."  He took a step toward the road, as if he planned to meet the truck halfway.

Johnny reached out and grabbed his arm as he moved past, and was rewarded with a glare from Sam.  "I'm not kidding, Sam.  You two go wait in the car while I find out what's going on."

Sam yanked his arm out of Johnny's grasp.  "You can't keep treating us like little kids.  Why are you so dead set against us meeting him?  I bet Uncle Charles just wants to meet us too."

"No," said Johnny, watching the truck's approach.  "No he doesn't.  Not now.  Maybe when you were younger."  At Sam's look of confusion, Johnny appealed to Anna.  "Do something with him, would you?  Talk some sense into him?" 

The truck slowed as it grew near, and Johnny cursed again when he saw Charles behind the wheel.  At least he was alone.  Johnny was only vaguely aware now of Sam and Anna's whispered argument behind him, or of her trying to drag Sam towards the Land Rover and him pulling back, creating a scuffling little dance which might have been humorous under other circumstances.  The larger portion of Johnny's attention remained fixed on the man in the truck.  Johnny couldn't make out his expression through the layer of dirt on the windshield, but the tension in the broad shoulders and slightly tilted head was unmistakable.  As the truck coasted to a stop and the door opened, he took an involuntary step backwards and nearly collided with Sam.

"Sam," he said, a little breathless, "take Anna, get in the car and lock the doors."  When he didn't move, Johnny turned halfway around, careful to keep Charles in view.  "Did you hear what I said?"

Sam looked less sure of himself, as if, recognizing the alarm Johnny was feeling, he finally sensed the danger that Charles represented.  "No," he said.  "I think I should see what this guy wants first."

Johnny wanted to argue with Sam, to somehow persuade his stubborn brother to do as he had asked.  Charles had exited the truck, however, and stood only ten feet away, and Johnny's vision narrowed to include only him.  For the moment he forced away all thoughts of the two people standing behind him and kept his full attention on his uncle. 

The years sat poorly on Charles.  In his fifties now, his once dark hair had turned almost completely white; his face was creased, splotched with red and spidered with veins, his eyes bloodshot and cloudy.  Although still lean, a paunch had developed, making him appear bloated.  As he took a few limping steps forward, Johnny stayed where he was, breathing rapidly, jaw tense and eyes narrowed.  When Charles spoke, Johnny gave an involuntary jerk at the sound of the familiar, raspy voice.  Wanting nothing more than to flee, he somehow managed to stand his ground.

"So, it's true.  The kid finally came back."  He squinted, trying to see behind Johnny.  "Who are they?"

Johnny ignored the question.  "I don't know what you think, but I didn't come here to make trouble.  We were just leaving."

"No trouble, huh?  That's all you ever brought me was trouble."  He took a step closer, and Johnny realized that he was extremely drunk.  The smell of whiskey wafted towards him on a white puff of frigid air.

"We're leaving," Johnny repeated.  He glanced behind him.  Wide-eyed, Anna nodded her agreement, and even Sam looked like he wouldn't put up any more of a fight.  Seeing a furtive movement out of the corner of his eye, Johnny spun back around in time to see Charles pull a revolver from his coat pocket and let it dangle at his side, swaying a little as he fixed Johnny with a bleary stare.

"You're going to listen to me," said Charles.  "You're going to hear all about how you ruined my life.  Then I might let you leave.  Or I might finish off the job Willie Tremblay didn't have the guts for."

"Okay," said Johnny, hands held in front of him in a warding gesture.  "Let's just stay calm.  My friends here will go get in the car and leave, then you and I can talk.  Just the two of us."  He jerked his head towards the Land Rover, indicating to Sam and Anna that they should leave.

The gun swung upwards, wavering between Johnny and some point behind him.  "They need to stay right there.  Ben and Jack said you had your brother and sister with you.  Sam's kids.  Is that them?  You better not lie to me, boy."  He moved the barrel of the gun directly in front of Johnny's chest, and smiled grimly at the look on Johnny's face.  "I bet they don't even know about you.  What you done to me.  Well, I want them to hear this."

Johnny's throat had gone dry, and the cold wind seemed to be trying to claw its way inside his jacket.  He ached with the effort of trying not to shiver.  "What I did to you?  Don't you have that backwards?"

"I treated you good!"  Charles took a step closer, his face contorted with rage.  Only three feet separated them.  "Nobody wanted you.  Your dad didn't want you.  Your Aunt Grace wanted to drive you across the state line and drop you off, didn't much care where.  I took care of you.  I protected you.  I fed you, put clothes on your back, made sure you didn't get worse than you did from my boys."  His face crumpled.  "I loved you."  This last emerged as an anguished whisper.

Anger filling him, Johnny shook his head.  "Don't you use that word to me.  Don't you dare.  That wasn't love.  And don't you stand there with those fake tears acting like you deserve some kind of medal or something.  You didn't protect me.  How could you?  You were what I needed protecting from!"

The revolver began to wobble back and forth in front of Johnny's face as Charles grew agitated.  "You can't talk to me like that.  You got no right.  If you had just done what I told you....Why'd you have to go after Willie like that?  I could have told you he wasn't like that.  You only got what you deserved.  You're lucky he didn't bust you up more than he did."  Seeming to remember that Sam and Anna were still behind Johnny, Charles looked past him to address himself to them.  "Told the doctor at the clinic he done it to get five dollars for a bus ticket.  Not only was he a little whore, he was a cheap little whore."

"Charles - "

"You shut your mouth!  I'm talking to my new niece and nephew.  Huh.  They sure are pretty.  Can't believe my brother made them." 

Alarmed at the considering look which had appeared on Charles' face, Johnny stepped closer, trying to block his uncle's view of Sam and Anna.  "Don't talk to them.  Talk to me.  They have nothing to do with this."  He flinched as he felt Charles' hand wrap around his upper arm, and then the freezing metal of the gun barrel nudged his cheek.  He remained still and passive.  With Charles in this state, there was no telling what he might try. 

"I don't think I like the way you've changed, John.  You never used to talk back like that."  He spoke again to Sam and Anna.  "Did your brother ever tell you about the things we used to do?  We had some great times together.  No one ever made me feel the way he did.  Hey, John.  How about if we show them, huh?"


"If I say so, we will.  You owe me that much and more.  You had to go and shoot your mouth off at the clinic, let everyone know about us.  Grace took off after that.  Took my boys to her sister's place and never came back.  Just about everyone turned their back on me.  I can't get work no more.  I have two little grandsons that I've never seen, except from a distance.  I can hardly go into town without some nasty remark tossed my way.  So, like I said.  You owe me.  And you're going to pay up right here, right now.  Get down on your knees and do like I taught you."

Johnny tried to move his head away, but the barrel of the gun followed him, pressing more deeply into his cheek.  Behind him, he could hear Anna start to cry softly.  He could feel the gun vibrate with his uncle's trembling, and could only guess whether it was from the cold, the force of Charles' emotions, or the alcohol in his system.  Looking into his eyes, at the anger and hatred mingled with desire, Johnny swallowed painfully and wondered if Charles was capable of pulling the trigger.  All at once, he wasn't sure it mattered.  There was nothing and nobody left for him back in Los Angeles.  He had ruined his chances with Kel, and his friendship with Roy was over.  Any hopes for a future relationship with his new family had just been destroyed by the things Charles had revealed.  He might save himself by doing as Charles had demanded, but he couldn't do it.

"No, Charles.  No way.  You might as well just shoot me and get it over with.  I'm not touching you again.  Not ever."  He watched as Charles' expression darkened, and he seemed to be stumped for the moment as to what to do next.  Anger flaring once again, Johnny held his hands away from his sides in invitation.  "Come on, man.  Just do it.  What's the matter?  It's a little harder to hurt a grown man than a little kid, isn't it?  I always knew you were a coward.  Go on, big man.  Shoot me or get the hell out of here, because I'm not touching you."

He waited, breath held, as Charles gaped at him, blinking rapidly.  Then a sly look came into his eyes and he dragged the revolver sideways, scraping the side of Johnny's face.  Before Johnny could react, it was pointing past him and straight at Anna.  "How about if I shoot her, then?"  The gun shifted.  "Or him?  Which one first?  You tell me.  Choose one right now, or do what I fucking told you!"

Johnny closed his eyes briefly, thinking he would have preferred a bullet to the brain than this.  Once again, his uncle had left him with no choice.  With a strong and sickening sensation of déjà vu, he dropped slowly to his knees and watched dully as Charles fumbled with his belt.  Noticing how his uncle struggled to keep a grasp on the gun, Johnny tensed, thinking he might have a chance.  All too quickly, Charles realized the danger and changed his grip, pointing the revolver once more at Johnny's face and smiling. 

"Naw.  You do it, John."  He rested his free hand on Johnny's head and stepped closer, slipping the gun behind Johnny's neck and caressing him with the barrel.  Johnny shivered at the feel of cold metal.  Taking this as an invitation, Charles pushed Johnny's head down and ground his groin into his face.  "Can't hardly wait," he gasped.  "Unzip me, boy.  No more stalling."

Wondering numbly how his uncle could even consider the thought of exposing himself in the freezing air, and hoping maybe his dick would freeze solid when the wind hit it, Johnny reached for him with his good hand, unable to control the shaking which would have made the task difficult even if he had had two good hands to perform it.  He felt Charles move impatiently, the hand in Johnny's hair tightening painfully. 

A rush of movement from his left had Johnny's head turning even as Sam collided heavily with Charles.  All three of them went down in a tangle of limbs.  Dimly, Johnny saw the gun make a shallow arc through air and land three feet away.  Charles and Sam made a dive for it, and Johnny wasn't far behind.  Sam was quicker, and managed to snatch the gun off of the ground.  Seconds later, though, Charles' powerful hands closed over Sam's, threatening to tug it right out of his grasp.  As Johnny watched, he did just that, and Sam fell backwards as Charles lurched to his feet.  He had an awkward grip on the revolver, however, and Johnny took advantage of that brief moment of inattention to push off from his knees and drive his shoulder with brutal force into Charles' midsection.  His uncle crashed to the ground, landing on his back with Johnny on top of him, but managed to keep his hold on the weapon.  Shaking his head as if to clear it, he attempted to rise, while aiming the revolver past Johnny at Sam.  Without thinking, Johnny reared back, raised his casted arm and smashed it into the side of his uncle's head.  Time seemed to stop for the space of several seconds.  Then Charles dropped like a rock, releasing the gun, at the same moment that the pain caught up with Johnny.

"Sonuvabitch," he grated, rolling onto his back and hugging his arm to his chest with his eyes squeezed shut.  "Ahh, shit.  Son of a goddamn fucking bitch." 

Finally, the pain receded a little, and he forced his eyes open to see Anna standing over Charles with the gun pointed at him.  It shook in her grasp in time to her gasping sobs.  Sam knelt next to Charles, prodding him warily.  Charles appeared to be out cold.  A trickle of blood tracked its way down the side of his face.  Johnny pulled himself into a sitting position, then performed an awkward crawl the short distance to Charles' side and nudged Sam out of the way.  He placed his cold-numbed hand against his uncle's neck, locating the strong and steady carotid pulse, then checked the gash on his forehead, which didn't appear to be serious.  Sitting back on his haunches to collect his thoughts, he was startled when Anna spoke.

"Do-do you w-want me to sh-shoot him, Johnny?"  Tears slid down her cheeks, which were as red as her nose. 

Johnny scrambled to his feet and gently pried the gun from her hands, feeling how chilled they were.  "No, sweetheart.  I don't want you to shoot him."  Minutes ago, he might have considered doing just that, but now that the danger had passed, he realized that his uncle wasn't worth the trouble his death would bring them.  Glancing at Sam, and seeing that he wasn't doing much better than Anna, Johnny knew his priority had to be getting them all out of this bone-chilling wind and away from here as quickly as possible.  They could deal with the rest of it later.  He looked at the gun in his hand, and with a hiss of disgust he tossed it toward the creek where it made a satisfying glug as it hit the water.  "Come on, guys," he said.  "Help me get him in his truck."

Sam pulled his gaze from their uncle with seeming difficulty and stared at Johnny.  "Why?  Just leave him there.  He's a piece of shit and he doesn't deserve anything from you."  He looked at Charles and back at Johnny.  "This is who our father left you with?  How could he do that?  Damn, Johnny.  I can't even - "  Sam clamped his mouth shut and shook his head slowly back and forth. 

"It's okay, Sam.  We can talk about it later.  Right now, we all need to get out of this cold.  And no, we can't leave him out here.  I don't think he's hurt all that badly, but if we leave him there he'll freeze to death.  Come on.  Let's stand him up."  He waited, but Sam and Anna both appeared to be frozen by more than the temperature.  Striving to keep a lid on his own roiling emotions, he kept his voice as calm as he could, and thought he managed pretty well, except for the betraying tremor of reaction.  "Sam.  Anna.  It's going to be okay.  I promise.  I'll get this side, and you two get the other.  We can do this.  That's right, get his arm over your shoulder, just like this."

Carefully talking them through it, they finally managed to drag Charles to his truck and lever him inside.  Johnny reached in and switched on the ignition, making sure the heater was working, and noted that the tank was nearly half full.  As he debated what to do next, Charles tipped slowly over onto the seat, mumbled unintelligibly, settled himself more comfortably and started to snore loudly.  Guess he's going to live. 

Eyeing Sam and Anna, Johnny decided that he couldn't ask either of them to drive Charles' truck back to town, and he didn't think he could handle the temperamental gears with one hand.  As he slammed the truck's door shut, he suddenly remembered something.  "What happened to your dad?"  Two blank stares greeted the question.  "The ashes.  What happened to them?"

Sam frowned.  "I dropped the jar.  Over there in the grass."  He stalked over to where they had been standing before Charles showed up, and bent to pick up the jar of remains, which had somehow survived intact.  Regarding it with an angry expression, he suddenly cocked his arm and heaved it into the creek, then spun back around and glared at Anna and Johnny as if daring them to say anything.  Neither one did, although Johnny knew he would have to speak to Sam later, try to talk him out of his anger.

Becoming aware yet again of the cold, Johnny broke the silence which had fallen.  "Let's go.  When we get back to town we'll stop at the grocery store and let Betty Yellow Bird know where to find him.  Then we are getting the hell out of here."

There were no objections, so they all hurried back to the Land Rover.  Johnny got into the back seat, hoping that at least one of the others would feel clearheaded enough to drive.  He could feel his left arm throbbing, and wondered if he had reinjured it.  Right now, he didn't care.  Pulling the bottle of pain pills from his pocket, he stared at it stupidly, trying to figure out how to get it open.  His hand was shaking too hard, so he handed the bottle to Anna in the passenger seat, giving her a pleading look.  As Sam started the engine and headed them back towards Poplar, Anna shook two of the tablets into Johnny's trembling palm, and he swallowed them both at once, then leaned back and shut his eyes.

Maybe...maybe I'll survive this trip after all.

Chapter Text

For what felt like the hundredth time, Sam cast a worried glance at Johnny, who lay stretched out on the motel bed, two pillows and his good arm shoved behind his head, staring at the ceiling, his expression blank and distant.  He had been like that for over an hour, ever since they had arrived back in Miles City and checked into the same motel they had stayed in the night before.  Sam could only guess at what was going on in Johnny's head.  Now that he thought about it, for all Sam knew he may have been in the same state during the three hour drive from Poplar, but Sam had been too keyed up and focused on calming Anna down to do much more than concentrate on the road.

It had taken nearly every bit of resolve he possessed when they reached Poplar to hit the brakes instead of the accelerator, and to hop out of the car and jog into the grocery store to blurt out the condition and location of Charles Gage.  The old woman perched on the stool behind the counter had given him back a flat, hostile stare until he mentioned that he was Johnny's half-brother.  After that, she had peppered him with a dozen questions which he had answered as well as he could without revealing too much.  She had wanted to follow him out to the car to talk to Johnny herself, and he had to skirt the edges of rudeness and tell her they didn't have time for that, or to come in for a hot drink, and just needed to hit the road.  Finally, as he strove to make a hasty exit, she flitted along beside him, loading him down with cheese doodles and Milky Way bars and pecan sandies, most of which slid from his arms as he half-ran across the street to where the car was parked.  His last glimpse of the woman who Johnny had called Betty Yellow Bird was in the rearview mirror as she stood on the sidewalk next to the scattered junk food, clutching her sweater close against the cold, her dark eyes glittering with what might have been unshed tears.

After that, he just drove.  Anna had settled down some by then, but shivers shook her for at least another half hour, even though he had the heat turned as high as it would go.  Sam knew that as long as he lived, he would never forget the sight of her standing over their uncle with that gun, offering to shoot him, and looking as if she would have done it if given the slightest encouragement.  That was only one of the images burned into his brain, which replayed over and over as he drove west, putting as much distance as he could between them and the disastrous scene at Dead Hawk Creek.  He had hoped to make it to Billings, or even Bozeman, but after three hours, when he saw the signs for Miles City and hadn't heard a word out of either Anna or Johnny for too long, he made a quick decision and pulled off the highway.

Now, he chewed his thumbnail nervously, wondering what he should do.  Johnny continued to stare at the ceiling with that vacant look in his eyes, and Anna lay on the other bed, huddled underneath the blankets, only the top of her head visible.  Sam wished he hadn't insisted, over and over again, that they make this trip while refusing to listen to any of Johnny's arguments against it.  And he wished he hadn't disregarded Johnny's warnings in Poplar and had instead gone wandering off and practically given those two men a map and engraved invitation enabling Charles Gage to find them.  He just had not been able to understand why Johnny had seemed so anxious and jumpy.  He understood now, all too well.

It made him ill to think of what Johnny had almost been forced to do in front of them.  Although he realized that Johnny had been willing to submit in order to protect Sam and Anna, it didn't sit well with him that his brother hadn't put up more of a fight.  After that initial resistance, he had grown so passive and...accepting, almost.  No, not accepting.  Resigned.  Sam frowned.  Why hadn't Johnny fought back, instead of waiting for Sam to jump in?  Refusing to think about that and unable to sit still, Sam stood and paced the length of the room a couple of times before pausing at the foot of the two beds and glancing between Johnny and Anna.

"So, guys," he said, "what should we do for dinner?"  He wasn't hungry, and doubted if either of them had much of an appetite, but he couldn't take the silence in the room any longer. 

Johnny's gaze drifted towards him and back to the ceiling.  The only indication that Anna had heard him came in the form of a small movement under the bedcovers suggesting either a sigh or a sob.  Sam gave a sigh of his own and sat back down in the worn armchair.  "Look we have to eat something.  Maybe it would do us good to get out of here.  Hey, Anna, did you know the drinking age in Montana is 18?  Maybe we should all go get a beer or something.  Might make us feel better."

The blanket shifted fractionally downwards, revealing Anna's puffy, reddened eyes.  "He was drinking," she sniffed, and there was no doubt who she was talking about. 

"Okay, so we skip the alcohol.  How about a nice, big, bloody steak?  According to that sign we passed, we are in the ‘Cow Capital of the World'.  So let's eat a cow."

"Not hungry," she said.  The blanket snapped back up over her face.

When Sam looked back over at Johnny, he was surprised to see the brown eyes turned his way, with life finally stirring behind them.  As he watched, Johnny pushed himself up and swung his legs over the side of the bed, holding his casted arm against his chest and scrubbing his good hand over his face and back through his hair.

"Sam's right, Anna," he said.  "Maybe that's what we need to do."

The blanket drooped a little.  "Eat a cow?"

Sam's anxiety level dropped slightly when he saw the small smile that tugged at Johnny's mouth in response to Anna's question.  "Maybe," said Johnny.  "Eat something, anyway." 

Anna's entire face appeared, although she didn't say anything.

Johnny met Sam's gaze.  "Pizza?" asked Johnny.  "Burgers?"  Not getting an answer, he heaved himself to his feet.  "All right, you two work it out while I go grab a shower."

They watched Johnny's retreating back as he moved down the short hallway and into the bathroom.  The door shut behind him, and moments later Anna disentangled herself from her blanket and sat up, rubbing her eyes. 

"You okay?" he asked her.

He saw her try to smile, but the attempt fell far short of success.  "Not really."

"I know.  Me neither."

She shook her head, staring down at her hands with a lost look on her face.  "Sam, what are we going to do about Johnny?"


Her mouth trembled, and she fought to get herself under control before speaking again in a whisper.  "That man had him for seven years.  How could Dad not have known?"  Her eyes met his, and he knew the anguish in them probably matched that in his own.  Anna glanced down the hallway, where they could both hear the shower running.  "I feel like it's our fault."

Sam looked away, out the window to the dark parking lot.  "Don't.  I'm the one who fucked up, not you.  If it wasn't for me pushing him and pushing him....Why didn't I just listen to him?  I should have seen how freaked out he was, the closer we got to Poplar."

Anna seemed to be only half listening.  "I thought I was going to pass out when Char - he - pulled that gun out of his pocket.  God.  Then he pointed it right at us." 

She closed her eyes and gave a shudder, looking as if she might start crying again.  Sam moved to sit next to her on the bed, put his arm around her, and she let her head rest against his shoulder.   "Hey.  It's okay.  We're okay now."

Anna sniffed, and Sam felt more than heard her muffled voice as she spoke softly against his shoulder.  "What about Johnny?  He's not okay.  Did you see how he just stood there, almost like he expected to be shot?  And then, he was going to do...that...just to keep us safe.  Why?  I don't get it.  He hardly even knows us.  He should hate us."

Sam didn't have an answer for her, so he just tightened his hold.  After a while, she pulled away and stood up, searching the other side of her bed until she found her boots.  As Sam watched her sit in the armchair and struggle to pry them onto her feet, something occurred to him.  He knew he shouldn't ask, but he had to know.  "Anna, when you were holding the gun, could you, I mean, would you really have -- ?"

She raised her head from where she had been tying her shoelaces.  The hard look in her eyes shocked him.  "Would I have shot that piece of garbage?  Yes.  In a heartbeat.  I wish I had."

"No you don't," said Johnny.

Sam and Anna both jumped in surprise.  They hadn't heard him come out of the bathroom.  His hair was dripping and he wore only a towel wrapped around his waist.  He looked angry.

"Sorry, Anna," he said when she looked away, embarrassed.  "Forgot my clothes."  He grabbed his suitcase and disappeared back into the bathroom, leaving the door cracked open.  Sam could hear the sounds of him getting dressed, interrupted every so often by a soft curse, presumably caused by his jostling his injured arm.

"Did you guys pick a place to eat?" called Johnny after a minute or two.  He emerged, dressed and barefoot, towel drying his hair.  When he caught a glimpse of their somber faces, some indecipherable emotion contorted his own features before he got them under control.  He didn't say anything more, just sat heavily on the bed, looking as if he might retreat into silence once again.  Sam grabbed the phonebook off the nightstand and started flipping pages.


They ended up at the pizza place two blocks from the motel.  An hour later, they sat at their table, staring at the remains of their meal.  None of them had been terribly hungry, but they all had done their best to eat, if only to act for the moment as if everything was normal, that nothing had changed, when they were all perfectly aware that everything had changed.  Finally, Sam watched Johnny wipe tomato sauce from his fingers and toss his crumpled napkin onto the table.  Johnny glanced around the nearly empty restaurant.  They were sitting in a booth near the back wall, which Sam assumed was no accident.

 "Guys," said Johnny, "I think it would be best if both of you fly home tomorrow."

Sam caught Anna's eye.  He expected her to protest, so he was surprised to see the look of relief which appeared on her face.

"I've been thinking about that too," she said.  "My return flight isn't until Saturday.  But I think I can get it changed.  I'll fly home and help Mom get ready for Thanksgiving.  Sam can drive back with you, Johnny.  I really want you to meet her.  Mom, that is."

Sam stared at her, surprised that she had thought it all out so thoroughly.  Must have been plotting while she hid under that blanket.  In truth, Sam had been hoping for the same thing, knowing how much their mom wanted to meet Johnny.  He held his breath as he waited for Johnny to answer.

Johnny, however, was already shaking his head no.  "I don't think so," he said, staring down at his hands.

"Wait," said Sam, "I think it's a good idea.  Anna needs her mom right now."  He ignored the look of indignation she sent his way.  "And you can't drive all the way home with that arm."

"I'll manage."  He fiddled with the plate in front of him, turning it in circles.

"Come on, Johnny.  Spend Thanksgiving with us."  Sam watched Johnny's downcast face.  "You don't need to be back in LA for any reason, do you?"

Johnny looked up, his expression pained.  "No, I suppose not."

"Please?" said Anna.  "You should be with your family right now."

Johnny looked startled, but after a moment he smiled, if a bit grimly.  "Can't say that's done me much good so far."  As if realizing how that had sounded, he held up a hand.  "No.  Sorry guys.  I don't mean you.  That was - I appreciate what you both did for me today, how you handled yourselves.  I know it got pretty bad out there.  If we could just forget about it, that would be great."  He appeared to do some rapid thinking, then he blew out a breath and stared across the restaurant, back at Sam, over at Anna, then down at the tabletop.  "Yeah, okay.  Why not?  Like you said, I've got nothing back in LA.  Might as well see what Seattle's got to offer."




 "Why did you want to know, again?"

Kel sat behind his desk, tapping his pen absently on the wood surface as he tried to decide how to answer Roy's question.  He had been surprised to see Roy bring in 36's burn victim, and had barely given him the opportunity to explain that he had traded shifts with O'Leary in order to get Thanksgiving off, before practically pouncing on him and dragging him down the hall to his office to ask him, as casually as he could, if he knew Johnny's current whereabouts.  All he had succeeded in doing, apparently, was to confuse Roy.

"I'm concerned about him, Roy."

Roy began to look worried.  "Concerned medically?  Is something wrong?  Have you heard something?"

"No, I just need to talk to him."

Roy shrugged.  "Sorry, Doc.  Can't help you."  He stood in front of the desk, nervously shifting the HT from one hand to the other.

Kel thought for a minute, then tried another approach.  "Doesn't Johnny normally spend Thanksgiving with you and your family?"

"Guess he's not going to make it this year."  Roy chuckled.  "And I can tell you, that's all I've heard about from Joanne for the last two days.  She thinks I should be able to locate him, I don't know, telepathically or something.  I'm about ready to leave town myself just to get some peace."

Kel gave a distracted laugh, trying to decide how much further he could push without making Roy suspicious.  Ah, hell.  I'm through dancing around here.  Who cares if he suspects?  He'll find out eventually.  "Roy, Dixie tells me you might know where Johnny went."  Ignoring the look of surprise on Roy's face, Kel continued.  "Yes, she told me about your conversation.  I would really appreciate your help here.  Is there anything you can tell me, any information regarding where you think he may have gone?"  Kel watched Roy scratch behind one ear while shaking his head, and almost missed the little flicker of something in his eyes, the little darting glance to the side that told him Roy wasn't telling him everything.  "Roy, if you know anything, please tell me."

"No offense, Doc, but I'm not sure how that's any of your business."  This time the look he gave Kel was direct and challenging.  "Johnny's on medical leave.  He can go wherever he wants to.  Do whatever he pleases.  So unless you're planning on being a little more upfront with me about your reasons for wanting to know, I'm not going to stand here and divulge private information to you."

Kel felt his eyebrows lift.  Divulge what information?  You just said you didn't know where he went.  Well, well, well...I guess Dixie hit the nail on the head.  The friendship is intact, as far as Roy is concerned.  Good for you, Roy.

Out loud, he said, "Fair enough.  I guess all I can really tell you is that my reasons are none of your business."  He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms.  "I will say, though, that I already know about Johnny's father, and I know about his family in Seattle, and the brother who came down to see him."  His eyes narrowed as Roy grew visibly tense.  "Do you think he's in Seattle, Roy?"  This time Roy looked away, then stared down at the HT he clutched in his fist.  Better work on your poker face, Roy. 

Kel uncrossed his arms and leaned forward.  "Come on, Roy.  I'm Johnny's doctor.  Discretion is my middle name.  Do you honestly believe Johnny would be harmed if you shared what you know with me?"  He waited, but Roy appeared unconvinced.  "All right.  How about this?  If you locate him, could you please ask him to give me a call?"

"It's that important to you, Doc?"

"Yes.  It is."

"Okay, then.  I'll do some checking.  If I can find him - and that's a big if - I promise to give him the message."

"Thanks, Roy."  He watched Roy as he left the office, then sat staring into space, frowning, and unable to shake the feeling that he needed to find Johnny, the sooner the better.




When Roy left 36's Wednesday morning, he nearly turned his car towards home, but he had promised Joanne that he would try to locate Johnny, and now that he had promised Dr. Brackett as well, he was doubly stuck.  Although he hadn't lied to Brackett when he told him he had no idea where Johnny was, he had remembered something.  It was a probably a long shot, but maybe it would help to find him.  So instead of turning right out of the parking lot, he went left, towards Johnny's apartment.

As expected, the Land Rover was gone, so Roy parked in Johnny's spot, climbed the stairs to the second floor and used his key to get inside.  He opened the drapes to let in some light, noting the usual neat appearance of the living room, except for a fine layer of accumulated dust and a scatter of papers on the coffee table which looked as if they had been dropped there haphazardly. 

Moving into the kitchen, he eyed the answering machine with its blinking red light.  He and Joanne had not taken the plunge yet and bought one of these contraptions, but it looked fairly straightforward.  He knew the flashing light meant there were new messages.  He didn't care about those, it was the older messages he was concerned with.  Most likely they had been erased already, but he had a slightly fuzzy memory from the night he had gotten drunk with Johnny of a message left by his stepmom in Seattle, and he was pretty sure she had included her phone number. 

So, hoping, but not really expecting much, he hit what he decided must be the rewind button, and was rewarded by a whirring noise which told him he had been correct.  When the tape had unwound back to the beginning, he mentally crossed his fingers and pressed the play button.  After a brief pause, a man's voice came on, and suddenly Roy remembered another part of that drunken night he had spent here, something which hadn't made any sense at the time, and which he had immediately forgotten.  It was Brackett's voice speaking, and this time Roy listened to the message all the way through.

"Hi, Johnny.  I've been trying to reach you.  I looked for you yesterday afternoon, but I guess you left early.  Everything all right?  I was hoping we could get together later and pick up where we left off the other morning.  Sorry I couldn't stick around.  You looked so tempting, lying there.  I had a great time, by the way.  It was...well, fantastic, actually.  Maybe we could go out somewhere and grab some dinner next time.  Anyway, I suppose I should get back to work.  Give me a call, okay?  Talk to you soon."

As the message ended, Roy hit the stop button and stared at the machine, astonished.  He clearly remembered how flustered Johnny had become when he had accidentally played the first part of the message.  Now, after hearing the rest, all the pieces clicked into place.  Brackett's voice coming out of the machine had sounded so...intimate.  Wow.  Johnny and Brackett?  Guess that explains that weird conversation in his office.  Roy couldn't decide how he felt about this revelation.  He supposed it didn't surprise him all that much to discover that Brackett was gay.  He just couldn't seem to wrap his head around the idea of him and Johnny together.  Doing their gay sex. 

Staring at the Formica countertop, his gaze unfocused, Roy made a stab at imagining the two of them, but quickly acknowledged this for the bad idea it was.  None of my business.  Go away, image.  Erase, erase!  Cancel!  Ehhh...why am I here again?  He stood there stupidly for another minute until he recalled the reason he had come over:  to find Lilah Gage's phone number.  Eyeing the answering machine with no small amount of trepidation, he punched "play" again.  The next message was the one he had been hoping to find, and yielded a phone number with a "206" area code. 

He plucked a pen from the misshapen clay pot by the phone, and smiled a little as he recognized it as the one his son Chris had given Johnny for his birthday last summer.  After he had rewound the tape to hear the number again, he realized he had nothing to write on.  Remembering the discarded papers in the living room, he trotted out to grab them as he repeated the phone number in his head.  He flipped the typewritten page over and scrawled the number on the back.  Curious, he turned the page back over and read the first few lines, and his eyes widened as he realized he was reading the letter that Lilah Gage had mentioned in the message he had just listened to.

 Roy sat heavily on the couch and debated with himself briefly, then started reading, fully aware that he had no right to do so.  He winced a few times at some of the things Johnny's father had written.  Good thing he's dead or I might just kill him myself.  At least now I know where Johnny and his brother went.    God.  "...something more important to do"?  What could be more important than making sure your goddamn kid was okay? 

He finished reading and picked up a second, handwritten letter and gave it a cursory glance, noting that Gage Sr. had written it directly to Johnny.  After skimming it for any additional information, he set it back on the table, shaking his head.  Knowing Johnny as he did, Roy could only imagine how he would have reacted to the guilt trip his father tried to lay on him.  How dare Gage Sr. ask Johnny to return to the scene of his childhood hell in order to do a favor for the children who had replaced him?  The word "clueless" didn't begin to cover the man.

Suddenly utterly weary, all he wanted to do at that moment was drive home and wrap his arms around his wife and kids, sleep for about twenty-four hours, and enjoy the upcoming holiday.  He glanced at the phone number he had jotted down, feeling resentful of the woman he had never met, but knowing that he needed to talk to her, the sooner the better.  He heaved himself up and walked back into the kitchen to discover that he had left the tape in the answering machine running, and he caught the last few words of another message from Brackett.  "...out of town for a couple of weeks.  Sorry I never heard from you.  I guess I thought... Well, never mind what I thought.  Uh, take it easy.  I'll see you at work."  The disappointment and - hurt? - in Brackett's voice surprised Roy.  Reaching over to shut off the machine, he paused when another message started.  He let it play, knowing he was once again prying into places he had no business going, but justifying himself with the hope that he might discover more useful information.

An unfamiliar man's voice began speaking.  If Roy had to guess, he would say this was an older man, perhaps because the self-assurance and arrogance came through on the scratchy recording with absolute clarity.  "Johnny.  Steve Halstad here.  Say, I just had a nice chat with Kel Brackett.  Didn't expect him to grow tired of you so soon, but he said you were all mine if I wanted you.  I know I got a little intense last time, but then, I didn't hear you complaining.  Hazards of the profession, eh?  Let's block out a few hours this time, all right?  Whatever you were charging Kel is fine.  And of course, I have particular preferences I don't mind paying extra for.  You've already proven you can handle the rough stuff so I think we'll get along fine.  Give me a call, and we can work out the details.  Oh, better make it at my office.  I'm in the yellow pages."  There was a brief pause before the voice dropped to a harsh whisper.  "Johnny, thinking about that sweet mouth of yours has me hard as a rock.  You make me want to...god, I want to mark bruise so pretty...I can't wait to give it to you hard and dirty, like you deserve." 

The message continued in that vein, but enough was enough.  Roy punched the stop button with a little more force than necessary, and stood staring at the machine.  What the hell was that?  Shock didn't begin to describe what he was feeling.  That guy had spoken to Johnny as if he thought - well, Roy couldn't even think about that right now.  Maybe it was just some kind of dirty sex game, or role-playing.  Whatever.  The thing that had really thrown him for a loop was the mention of Brackett.  His last message had left Roy feeling sorry for the Doc, but now it appeared that he was passing him around to his friends like...leftover pizza, or something.  Damn.  Johnny had been going through enough shit lately.  How could Brackett lead him on like that, acting like an eager lover one minute, then just casually handing him over to a ...a...freak like the guy in that message? 

Roy's brows lowered as it occurred to him that he was way out of his depth here.  Maybe Johnny did like it hard and dirty.  Maybe he was totally into what that guy was offering.  Roy just didn't know, and his head began to ache with the effort of trying to work it all out.  He remembered the advice his own father had repeated often enough:  When in doubt, go with your instincts.  His instincts told him that this Halstad character was bad news, that Johnny had liked and respected Brackett for a long time, that Dr. Brackett had betrayed him in the worst way, and that Roy needed to get back to Rampart right now and let Brackett know that what he had done was most definitely not okay.  Nobody treated his friend like that, not even the great and powerful Dr. Brackett.

After a quick phone call to Joanne to tell her he was headed back to Rampart and that he would be a little later than planned, and another somewhat longer call to Lilah Gage, Roy stomped down to his car and made the twenty minute drive back to Rampart in thirteen minutes flat.




Johnny had hoped they would be farther along by Wednesday morning, but one thing after another had delayed them, and at 8 a.m. he and Sam were still in Idaho, and still had a nearly eight hour drive left until they reached Seattle.  That was under ideal conditions, and the conditions were anything but ideal.  The snow had started Tuesday morning just before they reached Bozeman, slowing the traffic on the interstate to a crawl.  Anna barely made her 10:30 flight, but she had been able to rush to the gate and board at the last minute.

When they reached Missoula, they discovered that a series of multiple vehicle accidents a few miles ahead had all but shut down the freeway, forcing a detour north to intersect with highway 2, which would add about three hours to the trip.  Still, he figured they could make it to Coeur d'Alene by 8:00 Tuesday night, leaving about a six hour drive on Wednesday.  Allowing for holiday traffic and any weather delays, he felt confident they would be in Seattle by Wednesday night.  That had been the plan, at any rate.

The snow slowed them down more than either had anticipated.  By 6 p.m. they had reached Kalispell, where they grabbed some burgers at a drive thru, then pushed on hoping to reach Coeur d'Alene around 10 p.m.  Unfortunately, the snow began to come down harder and two hours later they pulled off the road in Libby, leaving Johnny frustrated that they had not even made it out of Montana yet. 

Wednesday morning, they were up and ready to leave again by 5 a.m., and headed to the coffee shop next door for a quick breakfast.  The snow had let up somewhat during the night, and it looked as if the snowplows had been by already.  When Sam offered to drive, Johnny agreed, thinking that as they got into more traffic later in the day, he could take over.  For all of Sam's protests that he could drive just fine in the snow, Johnny had his doubts.

They headed west in early morning darkness.  Traffic was light, most other drivers apparently following the more sensible strategy of waiting for daylight before they set out.  Woods thick with Douglas-firs and hemlock and red cedars pressed towards the highway, giving the sensation of driving through a dark tunnel.  Most of Johnny's life had been lived on either the flat, open prairie of northeastern Montana, or the urban areas of southern California, and although he had spent a fair amount of time hiking and camping in some fairly rugged territory, this denseness of trees and foliage, blocking out the sky with a smothering, claustrophobic effect was different, and brought back nearly forgotten memories of his travels with his mother and father through parts of Washington state, Oregon and Idaho while his father searched for work. 

As the snow began to fall again in earnest and the road became more and more slick, Johnny began to grow uneasy.  They would probably have to pull off somewhere and wait it out, but he had no idea how close they were to the next town.  Meanwhile, Sam, seemingly oblivious to the possible danger, had spent the last hour attempting to open a dialog about Charles Gage and what had happened at Dead Hawk Creek.  Johnny had told him pointblank at least ten times since they had seen Anna off yesterday, that he did not want to talk about it, now or in the future, but Sam couldn't seem to let it go. 

"Johnny," said Sam, "you can't bottle it up inside like this."

"It's worked pretty well so far."

"Making light of it - "

"Is what I do.  Just leave it alone Sam."  Johnny felt the tires slip in the snow before regaining traction.  "Slow down a little."

Sam eased off of the accelerator and stayed quiet as he maneuvered around a curve.  Johnny started to relax.  When Sam spoke again, he seemed to have given up his quest to paw around in Johnny's psyche, and moved on to other topics.

"I think you're going to like Seattle," he said.

Johnny gave a distracted grunt as he hunted through the glove compartment for a map of the area.  He was sure he had bought a regional map when he visited one of his buddies a few years ago in Oregon, but now it was nowhere to be found.

"You know, Johnny, they have paramedics there, too."

"So I've heard."  He did know something about Seattle's Medic One, recalling that along with his own program, it had been one of the first in the country.  In fact, he had had it in the back of his mind to do some checking into it once he had decided to accompany Sam to Seattle, but he hadn't bothered to mention that to Sam or Anna, and told himself it was only professional curiosity that had given him the notion.

"Well," said Sam, "I just thought I'd mention it.  In know."

"Thanks."  Johnny looked worriedly out at the thickly falling snow.  "If you see anywhere safe to pull off, a motel or restaurant, we may have to postpone the rest of the drive."

Sam glanced over at Johnny and gave him a confident grin.  "And miss my mom's Thanksgiving dinner?  It's just a little snow.  What's the matter, Johnny?  Southern California making you soft?"

Johnny almost laughed.  Yeah, kid, it's been a real cakewalk.  He leaned back and shut his eyes, hoping Sam would get the message and just shut up for a while.  Without meaning to, he dozed off, and was startled awake by Sam's next question.

"What did that man mean?  About the kittens?"

Johnny opened his eyes and turned to give Sam a hard stare, but didn't answer him.  Although he knew he would never tell that story to anyone, that didn't stop him from remembering.  It had happened the winter he was nine.  His uncle had been injured, he didn't remember how, and his aunt had been at home every day taking care of him, so Charles had been forced to stay away from Johnny.  School was out for the holidays, which meant Johnny had been free to wander where he wanted to during the day, as long as he returned home in time for dinner.  It had been during one of those aimless, chilly walks that he had discovered the litter of kittens in old Ben's barn.  He had snuck in to visit the horses, and heard the soft mewling in the far corner. 

To say it was love at first sight would have been an understatement.  He had taken to the five squirmy bundles of fur just as strongly as they had to him.  Their mother seemed to have only a passing interest in them, so Johnny started returning daily, bringing what scraps of food he could sneak from home, and staying for hours to play with them and let them curl up in his lap and on his chest when they got sleepy.  A week passed before Ben caught him in there.  This had been before Charles started sharing Johnny with his friends, but he had already bragged to them about his young nephew.  Johnny didn't find out any of that until later. 

That day in the barn, he was confronted with his angry neighbor, who threatened to tell his uncle he had been caught trespassing, then suggested another option which would give them both what they wanted.  That was how Johnny ended up with Mickey and George.  He had wanted all five kittens, but after the first two sessions, he simply could not bring himself to continue.  As it turned out, the three left behind had been the lucky ones.  Within a week, Mickey and George were dead, victims of a malicious prank played by Johnny's cousins, Charles Jr. and Frank.  And the following spring Uncle Charles dragged Johnny along on a fishing trip with Ben and two of their friends.  As the whiskey was passed around the campfire, so was Johnny.  The fragile hope he had begun to feel during those few carefree weeks of winter died as cruelly as Mickey and George.

"You said you would."

Johnny blinked, pulled back from the memories by his brother's petulant question.  "Would what?"

"Talk about it.  Back there, you said we could talk about it later."

"Yeah, well, I lied.  I was just trying to get us away from there, and you looked like you were about to come unglued."  He could tell by the scowl on Sam's face that this had been the wrong thing to say.

"No I wasn't.  Don't forget, I saved your ass.  You were ready to do whatever that jerk wanted - "

"Shut up, Sam."

"Why should I?  I've been walking on eggshells around you for two days.  All you do is sit there all tragic and dramatic.  What's the big deal?  What is the big fucking deal?  So you got pushed around a little when you were a kid.  Get over it!  You're not a kid anymore, and you should have stood up to him.  He's just some pathetic old drunk and you were acting like he had this power over you or something, like he was so strong and powerful.  Why did you give in like that?  Why didn't you stick up for yourself?"

"In case you didn't notice, I tried.  He threatened you and your sister."

"He was so drunk he probably couldn't pull the trigger, much less hit anything."

"You don't know that.  I had to keep you safe."

"Who asked you to?  I didn't ask you to make that sacrifice for me, and I sure didn't hear Anna ask you to either."

The Land Rover skidded a little on the slick road.  "Slow down, Sam."  The heavily falling snow had accumulated quickly.  Aside from the Rover, Johnny didn't see any other cars on the road.

Sam seemed not to have heard him.  "Damn it, Johnny.  Why didn't you fight back?  I thought firemen were supposed to be strong and brave.  All I saw out there was a weak coward.  And you know what I think?"

"No, Sam," said Johnny through clenched teeth, "what do you think?  What do your twenty years of safe existence with the father you stole from me lead you to conclude?"

"I think you must have wanted it.  Maybe you're some sad fuck who has a thing for his uncle."


"And I did not steal your father.  He left you.  You killed your mother and he couldn't stand to look at your face ever again."

"Pull over."

"Why should I?"

"Because it's not safe, you idiot.  You're driving too fast!"

"What's the matter, brother?  You scared of a little snow now?  Is there anything you're not afraid of?"

Enraged beyond rational thought, Johnny leaned over and wrenched the wheel away from Sam, who responded by tugging it in the opposite direction and jamming his foot on the accelerator.  They fought for control for a few seconds.  When the car began fishtailing wildly, a glimmer of sanity returned as Johnny realized what was about to happen.  He let go of the wheel, but the car had already started to slide.  Reacting instinctively, Sam hit the brakes hard. 

"Don't!" yelled Johnny.  "Turn the wheel.  No.  The other way! "

It was too late.  The car spun out of control and skidded off the road, crashing through several feet of undergrowth, making unerringly for the trunk of a large fir tree, and slamming into it with a bone-rattling crash. 

Johnny felt himself snap forward and back, but his seatbelt did its job.  Blinking a few times and determining he wasn't bleeding anywhere, he gulped in a deep breath and forced the last of his anger to die away.  A quick glance over at Sam showed him to be dazed but apparently uninjured.

"You okay?" Johnny asked.

"Yeah.  Yeah, I think so."

They sat in silence, absorbing the implications of what had just happened.

Finally, Johnny heard Sam sigh shakily.  "Johnny...I'm sorry.  I don't know why I said all that stuff.  I don't even know where it came from."

Johnny grimaced.  "We both said some things we'd probably rather take back.  Let's not worry about that now.  Besides, I'm the one that ran us off the road."  He looked over at Sam and curved his mouth into what he hoped was a reasonable facsimile of a grin.  "Hey, at least we got some things out in the open.  Who knows?  Maybe it was good therapy for us." 

 "Is freezing to death in the wilderness going to be good therapy too?"

"We're not going to freeze to death.  And this isn't exactly the wilderness."  He fumbled with his seatbelt, glad that for once he'd been wearing it.  "Come on.  Let's see how bad the damage is."

Chapter Text

Kel gave Dixie a wary look as she sidled up to him in the lounge Wednesday morning.  "Morning, Dix.  Did you have a good day off?" 

"Morning."  She nudged him aside none too gently to get at the coffee.

"Well, help yourself," he said, not sure whether to be amused or irritated.  "Late night?"

"Look who's talking.  Your dark circles have dark circles."

"Shitty night," he muttered.  "What's your excuse?"

"Not a completely shitty night."  A slow smile, half-satisfied and half-rueful, lit her face.

"Your mystery man?"'


Kel sipped his coffee.  "Was he worth the wait?"

She shrugged.  "Adequate.  Nothing special.  It was no foot rub."

He rolled his eyes.  "Give me a break."  He headed out the door and down the hall towards his office, hoping she would get the message and leave him alone, but she stuck to his side, eyeing him with concern.

"You want to talk about it?" she asked, as they entered his office.

Sighing, he dropped into his chair and watched as she sat across from him.  "It was just one damn thing after another.  First, a rock hits my windshield on the way home, and now I've got a crack in it, huge like you wouldn't believe.  Then I get to my front door and find this taped to it."  He yanked an envelope from his coat pocket and threw it on the desk between them.  "Pulled up half the paint on my fucking door trying to get it unstuck."

Dixie picked up the envelope.  "The condo board?"

"They're fining me.  Nearly $300.  Go ahead.  Read it."

 She removed the one page notice from the envelope and unfolded it.  As she started to read, her perfect eyebrows began a slow climb towards her hairline.  "Excessive noise?  Open flame on the deck?  Illegal parking?  Unauthorized visitors?"  She looked across at him.  "Since when do you need to authorize your visitors?"

"Keep reading.  It gets better."

"Immoral acts?  Well, that one I can see."  She smirked at him.

"You're hilarious."

"What's the story?  Does someone on the board have it in for you?"

"Oh, yes.  Apparently I'm officially at war with Steve Halstad."

Dixie set her coffee mug on his desk, spilling a few drops and coughing.

"You okay?"

She nodded, wiping at his desk with her fingers, not looking at him.  "I, ah, thought you two were friends."

"Not anymore."  He watched her swipe at the desk as if she intended to rub the finish right off.  "Just leave it.  It's fine."

"You're sure Steve's behind this?"  She indicated the notice.

"I phoned him as soon as I read it.  He wasn't home, but Mary confirmed that he called an emergency board meeting the Monday night.  It's pretty much what he threatened to do when I saw him on Sunday, but I didn't think he had the balls."

Dixie gave another little choking cough.  "Mary?"

"His wife.  Poor woman.  She sounded about three sheets to the wind, and had no clue what the meeting was about, but managed to recall that it was definitely his idea."  He picked up the notice and read through it, growing incensed all over again.  "It's positively Orwellian.  God.  Vindictive little... little... Orwellian prick."  He glanced up and was surprised at the level of distress on her face. 

"I may just kill him," she grated.

"Whoa, Dix.  I appreciate the empathy, but this isn't your problem.  I can handle a $300 fine.  It's just so infuriating."

She stared across the desk at him, her eyes wide and dark with anger.  "You want to know where your friend Steve was last night?"

"I told you, he's not my - "

"He was at my house, trying like hell for hours to get it up.  You wouldn't believe the things he had me do to help him along.  Let me tell you, the payoff was nothing to write home about.  No wonder his wife drinks.  And before you ask, I did not know that he was married.  Why the hell didn't you tell me?"

"Why would - I thought you knew!"

"Obviously not."

They sat in silence, both trying to absorb what they had just learned.  Shaking his head slowly, Kel looked over at her, and away again.  "I'm so sorry, Dix."

"For what?  It's not your fault.  I'm a big girl."

"I think - "  He stopped, debating how much he wanted to reveal.  "Dix, I think Steve used you to get back at me."

"For what?" she repeated.  "Illegal parking?"

He rested his elbow on his desk and propped his head on his hand.  "No."  Dixie knew most of his secrets already, had proven to be absolutely trustworthy, and he figured he owed her an explanation.  "We argued about Johnny.  It was...Jesus, I don't even really know what went on between them.  I know how it ended up, though.  At least according to Steve."  Rising abruptly, he walked over to stare out the window.  "Steve knows something about Johnny.  He essentially blackmailed him into...I don't know, servicing him, I suppose."  The rain had returned.  He watched drops strike the glass, making erratic patterns as they slid downward through the layer of grime.  Doesn't anyone ever wash these fucking windows?  "Dix, I hate thinking about Johnny that way.  Talking about him like this.  He deserves better."

"What is Steve holding over him?"

"I don't know."  He smacked his palm on the window and spun around to face her.  "I don't care.  It doesn't matter.  It doesn't fucking matter!"

She let the echoes of his outburst die away before answering, her voice soft.  "Sounds like it matters to Johnny."

He sat heavily in his chair and rubbed a hand over the back of his neck.  "I'm just afraid that Johnny left town because of this thing with Halstad.  If anything happens to him, I'll never forgive myself."

"He really got to you, didn't he?"

"That fucking prick has a lot to answer for."

When Dixie laughed, Kel looked up, surprised, but saw only compassion in her eyes.  "I was talking about Johnny.  Johnny.  He really got to you."

He nodded, suddenly filled with despair.  "Dix, I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I think he's the one."  Feeling his cheeks grow warm, he ducked his head, despising this unaccustomed feeling of vulnerability.  "Does that sound stupid?"

"No.  It sounds like there may be hope for at least one of us after all."  She placed her hands on the armrests, preparing to stand.  "Try not to worry too much about any of this.  I'm sure it will all work itself out.  In the meantime, I'd better get out there before my nurses start to believe they can get by without me."

"Never.  Hey, Dix?  I am sorry about Steve.  I'd be happy to punch his lights out for you."

She laughed.  "No.  I'm okay.  At least I got to get naked with somebody besides my gynecologist for a change.  Although, if you do feel the need to make it up to me...."  She leaned back, lifted a foot and waggled it at him.

He was still laughing as she slipped out the door and closed it behind her.


Christ, if I don't get some of this paperwork cleared off of my desk, someone's bound to notice eventually.  Won't they?  Hmm.  Maybe not.  Maybe I should test that theory, and just let it go indefinitely.  I'll probably discover that no one gives a fuck about it after all.  Kel rubbed his eyes wearily, almost hoping for a catastrophe somewhere in LA County to distract him.  A minor, catastrophe, of course.  Maybe just something sprained or slightly scorched.

When Dixie left him alone in his office, his thoughts kept returning to the previous evening.  Following his phone conversation with Mary Halstad, he had fixed himself a drink and forced himself to eat a light dinner, then fell asleep on the couch, only to wake up less than an hour later in the midst of confused dreams featuring himself and Roy and distant half-glimpses of Johnny, who moved farther and farther away as they searched for him, racing against some unknown menace which was closing in on him.  Sitting abruptly, disoriented, and with his heart racing, he sat hunched over as he tried to catch his breath. 

After a while, he stood unsteadily and made his way out onto the deck where he leaned against the railing, drawing in deep gulps and staring out over the streetlights and houselights scattered below him.  He welcomed the feel of the chilly November air on his overheated flesh.  Overhead, the half moon glowed pale under high wisps of clouds.  Kel sighed, trying but failing to push away the heightened anxiety the dream had brought on.  As he stood there, allowing the lights to blur in his unfocused gaze, he wished that he could simply turn the clock back a few weeks and start all over again with Johnny.  Hell, he wished he could go back further than that, make up for all those wasted years when they could have been together, if only they both had not been so intent on hiding from each other.

Their early encounters had almost all been defined by anger, both Johnny's and his own, starting with the time Johnny had arrived in the ER following his first on-the-job injury.  It was until later that Kel had seen those attributes of Johnny's that made him so appealing:  his intelligence, skill, compassion, and humor, to name a few.  But there remained something complicated and dark that kept all but his closest friends at arm's length.  Until recently, Kel had continued to feel that distance between them, but it had begun to close almost imperceptibly.  Given time, he hoped to be able to find out all there was to know about Johnny, to answer all the unanswered questions, and perhaps to share some of his own secrets. 

The night they had spent together, Kel had witnessed for himself the vulnerability and longing that he suspected few people were allowed to see.  Even more than the mind-blowing sex, the thing that stayed with him most strongly was the moment when Johnny had wrapped his slender, muscular arms around him and just held on as if Kel were something unspeakably precious that he feared would disappear if he didn't keep a firm hold on him.  Now, as Kel stood staring blindly into the night, he ached with regret at the very real possibility that he might never feel those arms around him again.  Come on, Kel.  You're being a little dramatic here.  Johnny will be back, and we'll get everything straightened out, and this time I'll make sure he knows what he means to me.  Recalling the scene with Halstad, he couldn't help another flicker of worry, curious in spite of himself about what it was that Johnny had wanted to keep him from finding out.  It doesn't matter, he told himself angrily.  Whatever it is, it's his business, and it won't change the way I feel. 

He kept telling himself that as he went back inside and tossed back the rest of his discarded drink, stumbled to the bedroom, undressed, and collapsed into bed.  And he was still trying to convince himself hours later as he stared unseeing at the ceiling, waiting without much hope for sleep to come.


Sitting at his desk now, he felt himself nodding off as his lack of sleep caught up with him.  Jerking upright, he was debating whether to walk down the hall for some more coffee or just lay his head down on his desk and give in to his exhaustion, when the door suddenly flew open, rebounding off of the wall with a crash.  Roy DeSoto stormed into his office, hands clenched and eyes dark.  Assuming that Roy had news about Johnny, Kel started to stand, but more quickly than he could have imagined, the other man had crossed the room and was around the desk, looming over him, every fiber of his body radiating fury.

"Roy?" said Kel, alarmed and moving his chair back a few inches.  "What's happened?"

A taut finger poked Kel's chest.  "You tell me, Doc.  I just came from Johnny's apartment, and...."  Roy's gaze slid sideways, his momentum appearing to falter as a distinctly uncomfortable look replaced his anger.

Kel eased his chair backwards again, putting some space between himself and Roy.  "Maybe you'd better sit down and tell me what's wrong." 

The sound of Kel's voice seemed to refocus Roy's emotions.  He advanced on Kel once again.

"Roy?  What's wrong?  Did you hear from Johnny?"

"Doc.  I know.  I know about you and Johnny.  I heard the messages you left him.  I know all about what's going on, all about the sick, twisted game you dragged him into."

Kel stared at Roy, surprised by his reaction, and growing angry himself.  He couldn't decide if what he was witnessing in Roy was based on intolerance, or if he was reacting as an enraged father might, with Johnny cast in the role of the deflowered virgin.  In either case, judging by the clenched fists, the throbbing vein in Roy's temple and the twitch in his cheek, it appeared to be even odds that Kel was about to get his ass kicked by one very pissed off firefighter. 

Briefly, Kel flashed back to Marsden's Landing and three young men stinking of garlic and beer.  Roy moved closer, too close, and Kel shot to his feet and stepped back.  Stumbling, he reached for the chair, but it had rolled a few inches more.  Unable to regain his balance, he fell backwards and landed in an undignified heap on the floor.  The back of his head bounced off of the padded chair seat and he cracked his elbow on the floor.  Giving a grunt of pain, he squeezed his eyes shut and threw up his other arm to ward off the blows he was certain were coming.  When they didn't, he chanced a peek upwards to find Roy staring down at him with a confused look on his face.

"Doc?  Are you okay?  Doc?"

Embarrassed, Kel tried to sit up, breathing deeply to calm himself down.  "I think so," he muttered, pushing himself up with one arm.  He was halfway to his feet when he felt himself start to slip again, and suddenly two strong hands had a firm grip on him, steadying him, and helping him into his chair.

"Geez, Doc.  Take it easy.  Are you hurt anywhere?"

"No," he said faintly.  "Roy.  Could you please stop hovering and move over there - "  He indicated the other side of the desk.  "Please, Roy, just sit down and tell me what in the hell has you all worked up."  In trying to cover his panic, his words came out more forcefully than he had intended.  He took a few more deep breaths and crossed his arms, ignoring the throbbing in his elbow and hoping that Roy couldn't see his trembling.  Hiding his distress behind a scowl, he waited until Roy slowly sat down before allowing himself to relax.  Shit.  I must look like a complete idiot.  Time to take control of this situation.

Roy was beginning to look agitated again, so Kel held up his hand.  "I think I know what this is about, Roy, and I suppose I can understand, up to a point.  Johnny's your friend, I'm his boss, and you think I've taken advantage somehow."

"You better believe I do."

"What happened between us was completely mutual."

"Is that right?"  Roy's eyes had narrowed dangerously once more, and he began to rise.

"Roy!"  Kel's hand shot out, warding him off.  He closed his eyes for a second then began again in a calmer tone.  "Roy, please stay where you are and listen to me.  I know this has all caught you off guard, but it may surprise you to hear that I was caught off guard as well.  Johnny too, for that matter.  This...attraction just happened.  Maybe we shouldn't have acted on it, and maybe you don't approve of us, but Johnny and I are adults, and frankly I don't see how it's any of your business.  No.  Wait.  Before you go getting all worked up again, I realize you're his friend, and you are certainly allowed to care about him.  I wouldn't expect anything less.  So let me assure you that the last thing I would ever do is intentionally hurt Johnny."

Roy did not appear convinced, and Kel watched as his expression darkened once more.  Roy's voice when he spoke again had lowered to a dangerous growl.  "You talk a good game, Doc, but unfortunately for you, that friend of yours left his own message, and he made it real clear what you two are up to.  Now maybe Johnny claimed that his participation in your sick little game is voluntary, but that just goes to show that you don't know him as well as you seem to think.  The things...his childhood...well, I can't share that with you, but I know Johnny pretty well and I can almost bet that he wasn't thinking clearly when he agreed to all that.  If he agreed.  Understand?"

Kel stared at him, thoroughly confused.  "No, Roy.  I don't understand."  They continued to glare at one another as Kel tried to make sense out of Roy's extraordinary speech.  "Let's take one point at a time.  First of all, what friend are you referring to?"

"Like you don't know.  Fine.  Steve something.  Hall?  No, Halstad.  Steve Halstad."

Kel leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes.  "Aw, hell.  Sonuvabitch!  Fucking unbelievable."  He opened his eyes and met Roy's narrowed gaze.  "It all starts to make sense now.  Roy, up until a few days ago, I would have called Steve my friend without giving it a second thought.  We had words the other night, and yes, it had to do with Johnny.  I'm not going to go into any details, but let's just say the way I feel about him now, I could cheerfully run over him with my car and then back up to make sure I'd finished the job."  Roy's eyes widened at his uncharacteristically harsh words, but Kel didn't care.  He was sick of hearing Halstad's name and discussing his latest bullshit move.

They were both quiet for a few minutes while Roy appeared to digest what Kel had said.  For his part, Kel was relieved to see the expression on Roy's face gradually change from tense and angry to thoughtful.  Finally he nodded a few times.  "Okay, Doc.  Fair enough.  Sorry I flew off the handle there.  Maybe I jumped to some conclusions I shouldn't have.  But, Doc.  He said a lot of things that didn't make any sense.  Don't take this the wrong way, but I've got to ask.  Did you pay Johnny to have sex with you?"

"No!  God, no.  I mean, I cooked him dinner, but..."  Kel shrugged.

"You did?  Huh.  That was nice of you.  I bet he liked that."

Kel tried to hide his smile.  "He seemed appreciative.  Roy...are you blushing?"

Roy scowled.  "So sue me for being a little uncomfortable with all this."

"All what?  Two men having dinner together?"

Roy crossed his arms and gave Kel an annoyed head tilt.  "Yeah, Doc.  Dinner.  Whatever you say.  Look, I've got to head home."  He stood, hesitated, then reached into his jacket pocket, withdrew a cassette tape and placed it on Kel's desk.  "Do you have something you can listen to that on?"

Kel gave him a questioning look, but nodded.

"Johnny's stepmom left a message for him.  It's got her phone number.  That's what I went over there this morning to find.  The other messages I mentioned are on there too.  Uh, about Lilah Gage.  I spoke to her before I came back here.  She talked to her kids last night and I guess Johnny is going to be spending Thanksgiving with them in Seattle, and maybe stay with them for a while."

"That's great," said Kel, trying to hide his disappointment that Johnny would not be returning anytime soon.  He caught the look on Roy's face.  "It is, isn't it?"

Roy chewed his lower lip and gave his ear a quick tug.  "Maybe.  I'm not sure, to tell you the truth.  She implied that something had happened in Montana, but she didn't go into any details.  I'm not sure she knew.  The daughter's home already, but it sounds like she's not talking.  I got the impression Mrs. Gage was waiting to grill her son once he gets home, probably this afternoon some time."


"That's were Johnny's originally from.  You knew that, right?"

Kel shook his head, but didn't say anything.  He wasn't about to confess all of the things he didn't know about Johnny.

"Well, I left her my home number, and the number at the station.  If I hear from Johnny, I'll ask him to call you.  I'll leave it up to you to decide whether or not you want to talk to Lilah Gage yourself."  He hesitated again then looked down at the tape.  "The message from Halstad is on there too.  You're probably going to be pretty steamed after you listen to it.  If you need any help disposing of the body, let me know."  He gave a small smile to show he was only kidding, but Kel noted that his eyes were as hard and angry as they had been when he had first slammed into Kel's office.

"Thanks, Roy.  I'll keep that in mind."  Not bothering to tell Roy that he doubted if he could be more steamed at Halstad than he already was, he picked up the tape and sat staring at it, turning it over and over in his hands.  Realizing that Roy still stood in front of him, he glanced up.  "Was there something else?"

"Yeah, well, uh, I was just wondering..."  Roy began turning an interesting shade of red.  "Johnny's my friend, and well, I wanted to know if you...what your...."  He blew out a breath in apparent frustration.

"Roy, I really hope you're not about to ask me what my intentions are."  Roy's blush deepened.  "My god, you are."  Kel sighed, weariness overtaking him once more.  "All right.  Fine.  I care about him.  I need him to come home so I can tell him that, and I hate that he left without knowing how I really feel."

Roy gazed at him sadly.  "I know what you mean."  He gave a weak smile.  "I guess I'll see you in a few days."

"Yeah, Roy.  I'll see you."  As he watched the other man leave he heard activity in the hallway, and suspected that the quiet morning was at an end.  Relieved, he got up and went to see what level of catastrophe the day would bring.




"It's definitely stuck."  Johnny shut off the ignition and sagged back, frustrated.  "Can't get any traction.  It's jammed pretty good against that tree, and the snow isn't helping.  I think we're going to need a tow truck.  Come on.  Get back inside."  He rolled up the window and leaned forward, craning his neck to stare up through the windshield at the still falling snow as Sam climbed into the passenger seat.  Glancing over at him, Johnny noted the dejection in both his expression and posture.  "Don't look so worried, Sam.  We're going to be fine."

It was obvious that Sam blamed himself for the accident, but Johnny knew better.  It was his own fault.  Johnny had known that his brother was still confused and disturbed by what had happened with Charles, and it hadn't helped that Johnny had refused to talk about it with him.  Some eventual venting had probably been inevitable.  I should have kept my cool.  That had to be one of my dumbest stunts ever, grabbing the wheel like that.  He would have to make up for his stupidity by getting them out of this predicament in one piece.

"All right, looks like we've got two choices here.  We can either stay with the car and hope that someone comes by soon, or we can start walking."  He waited, assuming the always opinionated Sam would have an opinion, but he continued to sit and stare blankly out the window.

"Sam?  You want to weigh in on this?"

One shoulder lifted and drooped again, clearly indicating indifference.

Johnny sighed.  "Okay, I'll go first.  What I think we should do - "

"I don't care," said Sam.  "I'll go along with whatever you decide."  He finally looked over at Johnny and gave a wan, thoroughly unconvincing smile.  "I gotta take a leak." 

Johnny watched as he trudged through snow which reached past his ankles, and disappeared behind a trio of young Douglas-fir trees.  The faint sounds of him crashing through bushes and undergrowth continued long enough that Johnny leaned over and rolled down the passenger side window.  "Hey, don't go too far."  There was no reply, but the crashing and rustling stopped.  Man, does he think I've never seen a guy take a piss before?

Too antsy to just sit in the car and wait, Johnny had already decided that they should try walking to the next town before the snow got too deep, even though waiting would probably be the more sensible thing to do.  He got out of the car and walked around to the back of the Rover to see if he could find any supplies which might be useful.  Hearing the sound of an approaching vehicle, he gave a relieved smile and turned towards the east to see not one, but several pickup trucks traveling at what appeared to be excessive speeds for the conditions.  As they came closer, Johnny felt the first stirrings of alarm when he realized the back of all five pickups held four or five men each, and all of them appeared to be armed with either rifles or side arms.

Clumsy crashing sounds signaled Sam's return.  Striving to appear casual, Johnny eased around to the passenger side of the Rover and spoke softly.  "Sam.  Hang on a minute.  Stay where you are."  He dragged his boot across Sam's footprints, obscuring them as well as he could.

"What?" came Sam's voice from a few feet away.  He was completely hidden behind the trees and bushes.

"Be quiet and listen.  Several trucks just passed by and stopped up the road.  I think they're turning around."

"That's good, right?"

"No.  I don't know.  I see quite a few guns." 

"Oh, man.  Okay.  I'll be right there."

Johnny kept his voice low while trying to convey the urgency he felt.  "Just this one time, Sam, you've got to listen to me.  We don't know what these men want.  Maybe they're here to help, but until I know for sure, I want you to stay where you are and be quiet.  I hope like hell that I'm overreacting, but if anything happens, you may need to go for help."  He waited.  "Tell me you understand, Sam."

A dramatic sigh, then, "I understand."

"Good.  Here they come.  Not a sound."

Johnny moved back around to stand at the side of the highway, composing his features into a neutral, expectant expression while his heart thudded in his chest.  The last thing he wanted to deal with right now was more guns, but he tried to remain hopeful that this was simply an exceptionally large party of hunters with benevolent intentions.

The first truck pulled level with him, and he gave the driver a smile and a friendly wave, neither of which was returned.  "Man, I'm sure glad to see you.  Managed to drive myself right off the road."  Johnny's nervous laugh died in the smothering closeness of the forest and the snow as five men jumped down from the back of the truck and swarmed around him and the Land Rover.  Two of them peered inside the car before turning back to the driver of the truck.  "He's alone," said one.

"That's right," said Johnny, willing for Sam to stay where he was.  "I'm all alone.  You think you guys could give me a hand getting my car back on the road?"  By now, he didn't think that was too likely.  This was immediately confirmed when five rifles were lifted and leveled at him.  Slowly, he raised his hands.  "Take whatever you want, guys.  I don't want any trouble."

"Search him and put him in the back," said the driver.

Hands grasped Johnny's forearms and he found himself being roughly patted down, relieved of his wallet, and manhandled towards the back of the truck.  "Now hang on just a minute.  I think there must be some kind of misunderstanding."  He began to struggle, but stopped when one of the rifle barrels moved to within inches of his nose, and he felt another nudge the small of his back.  None too gently, he was prodded forward, then half-dragged, half-lifted into the back of the truck.  "Guys, this is crazy - "

A muttered debate broke out among the five men, seeming to center on Johnny's cast, and how best to bind him securely.  Johnny nearly rolled his eyes at this.  What did they think he was going to do with a broken arm against five armed men?  He took the opportunity to study his captors more closely.  Most of them looked as if they had just been rounded up from the local tavern or hardware store, not like criminals at all.  He saw at least two impressive beer guts, and several pairs of running shoes, the latter striking him as almost humorously incongruous.  These observations did nothing, however, to alleviate the sick fear which had settled in his chest and stomach, and which blossomed into full-fledged panic when a pair of handcuffs suddenly appeared.  Knowing it was pointless, he still couldn't stop himself from resisting as one end of the cuffs was snapped around his right wrist and the other to an iron ring bolted to the floor of the truck.  After a brief struggle which ended up with him on his knees grimacing from several blows which had landed more strongly than the rest, he gave a surreptitious tug on the cuffs and determined that he wasn't going anywhere. 

The pickup performed a quick, sliding u-turn before accelerating westward down the snowy road, followed closely by the other four trucks.  Jerked backwards, Johnny fell on his butt and toppled over to one side.  He managed one last glance back at the Land Rover and caught a glimpse of Sam's blue jacket.  Praying that none of the approximately three dozen men in the five trucks happened to look behind them, he held his breath until they sped around a wide curve and the Rover and Sam were no longer visible.  Pulling himself upright, he looked around at the men surrounding him.  "What is this?" he asked.  Silence.  "Hey, come on.  Is anybody going to tell me what's going on here?"

Johnny was starting to think that he wasn't going to get an answer, when the thickset man who sat across from him turned and smiled grimly, melting snow dripping from his full, red beard.  Johnny recoiled at his expression, which, unlike the other four men, held a hard, dangerous edge.  "What's going on is you need to sit still and shut the fuck up.  As of right now, you should consider yourself a prisoner of war."

Johnny nearly choked on a swirl of snow as his mouth fell open.  "What?!  That's ridiculous.  I'm not at war with anyone.  You can't just go grabbing people out of their cars like this - "

Red beard slid his gaze towards a thin, twitchy man seated next to Johnny.  "He just doesn't know when to shut up, does he?"

"Guess not."

"Well, take care of it!"

Sharp pain exploded in the back of his head.  You have got to be fucking kidding me.  "Ow," he said, and gave the twitchy man an accusing look.  When the rifle butt struck him again, he winced, groaned, thought for a second, then slumped obligingly and shut his eyes, since that is what they seemed to expect.  Morons.  If you're going to war you should at least learn how to knock a guy out on the first try.  Or the second.  He must have made a movement or a sound, because moments later he discovered that where slightly inept, rifle-toting, war-declaring lunatics were concerned, the third time, apparently, was the charm.  His face hit the truck bed, and the world dissolved into darkness.




Sam watched the caravan of trucks disappear into the snowy woods.  "Fuck."  He stared at the stranded truck, then back at the highway and shivered, trying not to panic.  Now what?

He had really messed up this time.  Despite the frigid air, he felt himself grow warm with shame as he remembered his earlier outburst.  Shit.  Why had he said those things?  It had been so obvious that Johnny just wanted to be left alone, but once again, Sam had kept after him, provoking him, prodding him, trying to get him to open up and speak.  He had been like some bratty kid intent on seeing his tantrum through to the end, no matter what.  He couldn't blame Johnny for reacting the way he had, and after they crashed, he almost wished Johnny had just hauled off and punched him.  That would have been easier to deal with than all that reasonable forgiveness and self-sacrifice.

No wonder Johnny avoided his Gage relatives.  All the males with that last name seemed intent on causing him nothing but pain. 

Sam stood still, his gaze unfocused as the snow swirled around him, speckling his hair and jacket, melting down his face in tiny rivulets.  Finally, he gave himself a shake, realizing he couldn't just stand there all day.  He had to get moving, find help.  Because of him, Johnny had been taken by unknown people for God only knew what reasons.  It was time for Sam to stop acting like a spoiled child and start acting like a man.  No sooner had he made that resolution than he felt hot tears sting his eyes at the hopelessness of the situation.  He brushed at them angrily.  No time for that.  You need to fix this.  The only problem was, he had no idea how to do that.  I've got to at least try.  I owe it to Johnny.

His eyes narrowed as he studied the tire tracks heading west, and decided to follow them.  He had no chance of overtaking them on foot, but it looked like the snow was beginning to slow.  If the trucks left the highway, perhaps he would get lucky and reach that point before new snow covered the tracks.  Buoyed somewhat by his plan, and determinedly ignoring its flimsy premise, he stuffed his pockets with as much of their remaining food as he could, and locked up the Rover.  It was only mid-morning.  At the very least, he should be able to make it to the next town, or flag someone down who could alert the authorities. 

Sam started walking, trying not to dwell on another possibility, that the trucks would return, or that more of their group might come racing down the road at any moment.  Trying to keep a firm grip on his tenuous resolve and his even more tenuous courage, still he couldn't keep a selfish, trivial thought from intruding.  Guess I'm going to miss out on Mom's Thanksgiving dinner after all.

Chapter Text

Sam nearly missed the turnoff.  After several stumbles, he had been watching where he placed his feet as he trudged along the deserted highway.  Even keeping to the snowy ruts created by the pickup trucks that had taken Johnny, the wet snow remained deep enough and slick enough to make for treacherous footing.  His jeans were soaked to the knees, and his sneakers squelched with each step.  At least the snow had stopped falling, and despite the cold air, weak sunshine now filtered through thinning clouds.  Every so often he flinched as softening mounds of snow slid from tree branches bowed under the cold weight and plopped wetly to the ground.

Not a single car had passed him in either direction since he left the Land Rover.  Granted, this was a remote stretch of highway, but it seemed strange nevertheless.  Tomorrow was Thanksgiving, and at the very least there should have been some pre-holiday traffic on the road.  The snow wasn't all that deep, and this wasn't hilly Seattle where a few flakes were enough to send people diving back under their bedcovers until spring arrived.  Where was everyone?

He tore into his third Milky Way bar, glancing around nervously at the thick forest on either side of him.  The quiet was unnerving.  Except for those wet plops of snow and the whooshing shift of unburdened branches, his sloshing, muffled footsteps were the only sounds.  Studying the seemingly impenetrable forest, he forgot to pay attention to where he stepped, and his leg sank into a drift up to the middle of his calf.  He lost his footing once more and fell to one knee, and then he stared at the road, surprised to see that the slushy tire tracks had disappeared.  "Shit."  He scrambled to his feet and turned in a circle.  A shiver unrelated to the temperature crawled up his spine as every fairytale he could recall featuring haunted forests and lonely travelers coalesced in his overwrought imagination.  Shaking off his unease, he forced himself to focus on the more concrete problem at hand.

Since the tire tracks had been perfectly visible the last time he had thought to look downward, he figured the spot where the trucks had turned off the main road couldn't be that far back along the highway.  He stood for a moment, undecided.  Should he follow the tracks wherever they led in the hopes of finding Johnny, or should he continue along the highway and seek help?  Might as well find out which way they went.  He headed back the way he had come, retracing his footprints perhaps fifty yards until he found the place where the tracks abruptly ended.  At first it seemed as if the trucks must have simply vanished or levitated off of the road, but as Sam examined the site more carefully, he could see a sizable area free of ruts where the snow appeared to have been smoothed over.  They must have tried to cover their tracks.

He was certain he had found the right spot, but he couldn't see any roads leading off the highway in either direction.   Slowly walking up one side of the road then back down the other, he began to grow frustrated, and was ready to give up and continue his westward trek when the strengthening sun caught a bright glint of silver behind a tangle of blackberry vines on the north shoulder.  Approaching carefully, he gave a tentative pull on the closest vines and felt a surge of triumph as the entire clump gave way.  Obviously someone had rearranged the vegetation recently, and he grabbed more of the uprooted vines, grateful that he wore gloves thick enough to protect his hands. 

It didn't take long to discover that the vines had been placed to disguise a narrow road that branched off to the north, and the metal gate that barred entrance to the road.  Deep troughs where the trucks had passed were clearly visible on the other side of the gate.  The gate itself was weather-worn and speckled with rust, but the heavy lock looked brand new, and it was most likely this that had caught the sunlight and his attention.  Several "No Trespassing" signs hung from the gate, one of which threatened to shoot on sight anyone who chose to disregard the warning.  This gave Sam pause.  He stood on the edge of the quiet forest, listening hard but hearing nothing.  Wherever the trucks had taken Johnny must be well north of this gate.  He could easily climb over, or even go around the gate if he didn't mind tramping through drifts of snow and shoving his way past the wet branches and thorny vines which were still anchored to the soil. 

Don't hesitate.  Don't think about it.  Just follow the tracks.  He knew if he stood there too long, all sorts of unpleasant scenarios would wear down his resolve.  A movement flickered beyond the gate and off to the side of the narrow road perhaps 100 yards from where he stood.  Staring intently, still he saw nothing.  To his left, more snow slid off a branch and hit the ground.  He gave a breathless laugh.  Quit being such a little girl, Sammy.  He moved closer to the rusty gate, grasped the top rail, and placed one foot on the bottom rail.  It was then that he heard the distant sound of vehicles approaching along the highway.  He froze, not sure whether to keep climbing, return to the highway and flag down the drivers, or duck into the bushes until he had a better idea what sort of people they were. 

As he stood indecisively, half on and half off the gate, he saw lights in the east, bright white headlights, and red and blue flashing lights, and seconds later what seemed like an entire fleet of state troopers, local police and dark, unmarked sedans came speeding around the corner, lights flashing and sirens off.  Wow.  Talk about the cavalry....

Whether it was the cessation of tire tracks, the sight of the locked gate, or Sam himself suspended inches off the ground that caught their attention first, he couldn't have said.  The first cars raced past, skidding around as their brake lights suddenly flared red.  The following cars managed a more graceful deceleration, and Sam watched, amazed at the organized speed with which roadblocks were set up to both the east and the west, and two of the state troopers' cars pulled level with him, one behind the other.  The next thing he knew, a row of rifle barrels and revolvers pointed his way over the top of the two cars.

"Get down from there and show us your hands!" came the shouted order, carrying clearly in the crisp air.

Feeling as if he was moving in slow motion, Sam complied.  Half a dozen uniformed men sloshed his way through the snow, guns drawn.  "Man, am I glad - "

"Hands on your head.  Down on your knees."  He did as they ordered, recoiling as they swarmed around him.  His arms were yanked behind him and he heard the metallic click of handcuffs even as he felt the cold metal encircle his wrists.

"What - " he began, but before he could form a coherent sentence he was lifted and frog-marched back to the highway.  "Wait.  My brother -- ."  A gloved hand pushed down on his head, guiding him into the backseat of one of the patrol cars.  The door slammed shut with a decisive thud and he was alone.  He could hear the muffled sounds of orders being given, as men were deployed to various locations around the gate and the road.  He stared anxiously out the windows at uniformed and plainclothes figures who moved rapidly this way and that in apparent confusion which he suspected was in reality well-choreographed.  The radio inside the car crackled, spewing terse orders, most of which were incomprehensible to him.

After perhaps ten minutes, the frenetic chaos outside the car seemed to reach some sort of resolution as the law enforcement personnel took up their positions and held them.  Once everyone was situated, nothing seemed to happen for a while aside from what appeared to be an intense conference among six or so men.  Sam shivered in the warmth of the car, suddenly feeling the chill of his wet clothes, the ache in his calves from his long slog in the snow, the bite of the cuffs on his wrists and the pull on his arms and shoulders.  Despite these discomforts, his anxiety over his unexpected captivity, and his worry about what was happening to Johnny, weariness began to overtake him and his eyes drooped closed.  He must have dozed off for a moment.  The doors on either side of him flew open and two men in identical black parkas climbed in to sit next to him.  Feeling claustrophobic, he glanced nervously back and forth between the two of them, seeing their grim, no-nonsense expressions which he could tell would accept nothing less than full cooperation.  He was more than willing to give them exactly that.

"Identification, please," said the one on his right side, who appeared to be in his late forties or early fifties, with silver hair cut almost military short, and a trim build. 

"In my back pocket," said Sam, shifting helpfully to the side and thrusting his right butt cheek in the man's direction.  He felt his wallet plucked from his pocket.

"Samuel Joseph Gage Junior."  The man drew the name out in an almost insinuating manner.  "Seattle, eh?"  He looked across Sam at the other man.  "Guess they were recruiting even farther away than we realized."

Sam looked over at the second man.  He was younger, probably just a few years older than Johnny, built like a linebacker, with lank blonde hair and light blue eyes which studied Sam intently.

"Recruiting?" asked Sam.  "What are you talking about?  Who are you guys?"

"We'll ask the questions," said the younger man.

"It's all right, Jay."  The older man fished in the pocket of his black parka and flipped open a slim wallet to reveal his FBI identification.  "I'm Special Agent Browder, and this is my partner, Special Agent Senn."

"FBI," Sam said, impressed.  "That's great.  Are you here to find Johnny?  Do you think you could get these cuffs off me? "

"Son," said Agent Browder, "I'm sure you realize that you're in a lot of trouble here.  Now, you can help yourself a great deal by just cooperating and answering our questions.  For starters, you need to tell us everything you know about the compound.  How far in is it?  How many men, how many guns, sentries, structures, sightlines, the whole deal."

Sam gaped at him.  "Compound?  I...what?  How would I know?"

Agent Senn leaned in, his face inches from Sam's, and spoke in a low, aggressive voice.  "You better be straight with us, and I mean right now.  You and your nutcase friends have a lot to answer for.  At the very least, you're looking at murder and conspiracy charges.  And we can most likely add drug trafficking, illegal weapons, felony theft - "

"Okay, Jay.  That's enough.  I think he gets the idea."

Sam felt frozen with shock.  They thought he was one of them!  "No no no.  You don't understand - "

"We understand fine," said Agent Senn.  "You were, what?  Bored flipping burgers?  Decided to get a little excitement in your pathetic little life, so you threw in your lot with a bunch of backwoods crazies?  And now you and all your buddies are convinced that this Tobias character is some sort of Old Testament prophet who holds the fate of the universe in his hands.  You have got to be the most gullible, weak-minded, limp-dicked bunch of mouth breathers we have come across in a long time."


"Well, it's true."  His blue eyes flashed at Browder, then turned back to Sam.  "But you know what, kid?  Your precious Tobias, aka Dale Varnar, is nothing but a grifter, a con artist and an ex-con.  He's been convicted of assault, rape, fraud, armed robbery, just to name a few of the highlights.  Did you know that, Sam?"

"I know he's a kidnapper," Sam quickly interjected.  "Like I've been trying to tell you."

"Guess he's ready to talk," Agent Senn smirked.  "These toy soldiers are all the same.  Take away their guns and get them alone and they fold like - like - "  He paused, brow creased as he attempted to complete the comparison.

An almost inaudible sigh escaped Agent Browder.  "Okay, Jay.  Let me take it from here."  His head tilted as he studied Sam.  "Son, are you trying to tell us that you were coerced into joining this group?"


"So you joined voluntarily.  I take it then, that you are not the one who was kidnapped.  Did you assist in this kidnapping?"

Senn grunted.  "Guess we can add that to the charges."

Sam was growing frustrated.  "I didn't join anything.  If you would just listen to me..."

"Sure thing, pretty boy.  And I'll bet you're not Tobias' latest little pet, either, are you?  You're just his type."

Browder glared over at Senn.  "Jay, I'm not telling you again.  I'm the senior agent here, and you need to zip it.  Now."  They glared at one another for a few seconds, and then Senn threw up his hands and turned to stare out the window.  Browder spoke again.  "All right, Sam, we're listening, but make it quick.  You see all those men out there?  They're waiting for my go ahead to proceed."


"Blood was shed today, and three good men won't be going home to their families.  Maybe you know something about that, and maybe you don't."

"I vote for he does," said Senn.

"Either way, we don't have much time if we want to maintain the element of surprise.  If we're going in, we have to go in hard and go in now."  He waited.  "So speak."

Sam took a deep breath, trying to control the panic which was threatening to overcome him.  He made an effort to speak slowly and clearly, to make them understand, but found himself tripping over his words in his haste to get his story out.  "My brother and I, Johnny, uh, John Gage, we ran off the road.  We were having this huge argument and, well, that's not important.  The main thing is, we ran off the road.  Hey, I bet you saw his truck, that white Land Rover, jammed up against a tree back the way you came from?  Anyway, suddenly all these pickup trucks came flying down the road, full of men carrying guns.  I was, uh, relieving myself at the time and they didn't see me, but they grabbed Johnny and took off.  I wanted to do something, honestly, but Johnny made me promise not to.  Now they have him, and it's all my fault, and you've got to do something."  He was breathing fast by the time he finished his explanation.

The two FBI agents were quiet, and he started to worry that they didn't believe him, or that he hadn't explained it right.  Then Browder and Senn locked gazes before Browder rapped on his window.  Police officers on either side opened the doors, and the two agents climbed out of the car.  "Stay here," Browder said. 

Where does he think I'm going, Sam wondered as he watched Browder motion perhaps half a dozen men over to them.  From Sam's vantage point, there appeared to be some disagreement among the group.  One of the state troopers, a large, red-faced man, stood nearly nose to nose with Browder, gesticulating wildly, and occasionally pointing towards the locked gate.  Several others glanced back at Sam, shaking their heads as if he was to blame for the whole mess.  This went on for a while, and then he watched anxiously as Browder returned to open his door.  He grabbed Sam's arm and assisted him out of the car.  As he led him over to the cluster of men, he spoke quietly in his ear.

"Sam, I'm inclined to believe you, but my colleagues have some legitimate questions which we need to have answered before we officially change gears to a hostage situation.  I'm going to give them a few minutes, then we'll see about getting you out of here and warmed up a little.  Sound good?"

Sam nodded, and was relieved when he felt the cuffs come off. He shook his arms to bring the feeling back.

"Keep in mind, Sam, I'm running this operation, but we have a lot of experienced lawmen here.  Just be completely upfront with them, and we should be able to wrap this up pretty quick."  They had reached the loose circle of men.  "Okay, guys, one at a time, and let's not keep him too long.  Weston, you're up first."

Weston was the angry state trooper Sam had noticed arguing with Browder.  His bloodshot eyes narrowed as he regarded Sam.  He smelled strongly of breath mints.  "Mr...Gage, is it?  What brought you to Idaho?  And what is the nature of the relationship between your brother and the man known as Tobias?"

Sam swallowed nervously and began to speak.




Johnny's head pulsed with pain.  He groaned and tried to work up some saliva in his dry mouth.  Keeping his eyes shut, he took stock of his condition.  His head hurt.  His brain felt fuzzy and scrambled.  His right wrist was bruised and chafed from the handcuffs which remained attached.  He was warmer at least, and the truck seemed to have both stopped moving and grown noticeably more comfortable.  Carefully, finding it to be more difficult than he expected, he pried one eye open, and then the other, to confirm that he no longer lay in the back of the pickup truck, but rather inside of a building, in a bed which, while not the softest he had ever felt, was a vast improvement over the hard, jolting truck bed.  Blinking slowly, wincing at his headache, he dragged himself to a sitting position and looked around.

He saw now that the structure was, in fact, a log cabin.  Sunlight filtered through gaps in the rough, mossy walls.  The angle and quality of light appeared to indicate either late afternoon or early morning.  Thinking hard, he searched for the last thing he could remember.  He had been forced into the back of a truck, struck with a rifle butt...he vaguely recalled waking once to discover a musty canvas tarp had been thrown over him, and later to the sensation of slowing and turning, after which the road had grown immediately rougher.  At that point, nausea had threatened, but he had evidently nodded out again. 

At least they didn't shoot me.  Yet.  Curious, he glanced around the cabin.  Except for the bed, a small wooden table and chair, a leather trunk, a wood-burning stove against the opposite wall, and a kerosene lantern hanging from a hook in the ceiling, the cabin didn't hold much.  A sleeping bag covered the lumpy mattress he lay on, and a frayed but clean quilt covered him.  Lifting the edge of the quilt to peek underneath, he was relieved to discover that, except for his boots and coat, he remained fully clothed.  He gave the handcuffs a small tug, noting that the other end was now latched to the iron bed frame, near his right ear.  As he began to eye the frame, hatching plots to disassemble it, slide the cuffs free, and make his escape, he heard the jingle of keys at the door.  Moments later it swung inward, and the red bearded man he remembered from the pickup truck entered carrying a tray of food.

Johnny gave him a hostile glare.  This was the man responsible for the throbbing pain in his skull, the one who had given the order to crack him on the head.  The man set the tray on the bed and stood studying him. Johnny spared a brief glance down at the tray to see eggs and toast and sausage links, and decided that if this was breakfast, it must be morning.  He frowned, confused.  The twitchy man hadn't hit him all that hard, and he had woken briefly at least twice yesterday.  How had he managed to sleep all through the afternoon and night?

He deduced the answer to that question when his "waiter" handed him a glass of cloudy looking orange juice.  "Here.  Drink this.  Every drop."  This awoke another dim recollection of somebody using nearly identical words last night.  He didn't think it had been the same man who had handed it to him, but he was pretty sure the drink had been the same.

"What's in it?" he asked in a voice that, to his ears, sounded as if it had been out of commission for longer than the eighteen hours he figured he had been out. 

"Just drink it, Gage.  We don't have much time."

He accepted the glass, holding it awkwardly in his left hand, but did not raise it to his lips.  "Time to what?  Why exactly am I here again?" 

"John, do you know where we are?"

He shrugged.  "Idaho?"

"Specifically, John.  It's important."

"Specifically, I think we're in Idaho. long were we driving?  Ah, shit.  We're not back in Montana, are we?  Or - or - oh man, we're not in Canada are we?"

Red beard gave him a look he probably reserved for children and the feeble-minded.  "No, John.  We're in Idaho."

Johnny gave him back a look of his own.  This conversation wasn't making any sense, and he wondered if he had been hit harder than he'd thought.  "Isn't that what I said in the first place?"

The man sighed.  "Never mind.  Look, we could be interrupted any minute, so I'm just going to get this out as quickly as I can.  John, my name is Dave Ford.  I'm an FBI agent, and I've been undercover with the Family of Tobit for nearly a year."

"Family of what?"

"Not what.  Who.  Tobit, another name for their leader, who calls himself Tobias.  Over the last few years, he's gathered several hundred followers, and pretty much convinced them he has a direct line to God, and that their only hope lies in listening to what he says and blindly obeying every word."  He held up a hand, halting Johnny's questions.  "Let me just get this out.  Yesterday morning, a large number of them attempted to occupy the town of Glennis."

"Hey, that name sounds familiar.  I think we passed the turnoff for that place, before we crashed, but we didn't see - "



"Anyway, they attempted to occupy - wait a minute, did you just say ‘we'?"

Johnny nodded, reluctant to interrupt again.

"John, this is important.  Who was traveling with you and where are they now?"

Johnny hesitated, not sure if he should answer this man's questions.  "You sure you're FBI?"

"Yes, John.  I'd show you my ID, but for obvious reasons I don't have it with me."

"Makes sense.  Okay.  I guess it can't hurt to tell you now.  My brother Sam was with me.  He was off behind some bushes when you all showed up.  Hopefully by now he's somewhere safe and warm and filing a report on my disappearance."

Agent Ford nodded thoughtfully, then moved to a small window next to the bed and stood to one side to look through the smoke-yellowed curtains.  Glancing back and noticing the still full glass of juice in Johnny's hand, he gestured at it impatiently.  "Drink it, John.  Don't worry.  It won't kill you.  It's only a sedative.  I managed to cut the dose nearly in half.  Any more than that and Tobias would be suspicious.  As you'll soon discover, he is an almost frighteningly discerning man."

Johnny looked between the drink in his hand and the FBI agent.  "I'd just as soon not, if it's all the same to you."

Agent Ford scowled, clearly frustrated.  "Look, Gage, this isn't a game.  I hope to God I have reinforcements showing up, but I have no way of knowing how soon that will be.  If your brother managed to get word to the authorities about your presence here, and they realize Tobias has got himself a hostage, they will be forced to exercise greater caution, which could delay things for I don't know how long.  The very fact that they haven't moved on Tobias yet has me worried."

"What's any of that got to do with me being drugged?  In case you hadn't noticed, I'm pretty well incapacitated already."

Johnny could have sworn that Ford actually growled.

"It's about keeping Tobias happy until help arrives.  If he suspects that anyone is interfering with his orders...well, let's just say you don't want that.  Nobody wants that.  So drink the damn juice or I'll call a couple of the fellows in here to help me force it down your throat."  He waited.  "Drink!"

"All right.  I'm drinking, already."  Not fully trusting this supposed FBI man, still Johnny drank the juice down in one long gulp, figuring he had little choice.  At this point, maybe a sedative was a good idea.  It left a bitter aftertaste, but at least it soothed his parched throat.

"Good boy," said Agent Ford.  He moved back to the window and peered out once more.

"Jerk," muttered Johnny under his breath.

Another soft growl.  "As I was saying - Oh, shit."  He visibly tensed.

 "What is it?" Johnny asked.

"Tobias.  He's headed over here.  John, listen to me carefully.  If Tobias had wanted you dead, you would be by now.  For now, he wants you alive for some reason.  Your best bet for survival is to play along.  Don't make him angry.  He's going to try to get inside your head.  Let him believe he's succeeded.  Just never forget that he is highly intelligent, an expert manipulator, and he can smell a lie a mile away."  He hesitated.  "Just go along with whatever Tobias wants.  And I'm sorry."

"Wants?"  Johnny didn't like the sound of that.  "What does he want?  Sorry for what?  Agent Ford?"

"All you need to do is stay alive for a few more hours, John.  A few days at most."  This last was whispered.  Seconds later, the door swung open, and Agent Ford gave Johnny a ringing backhanded slap across his face.  "I'm not telling you again, Gage.  Eat your food."

"Ouch," said Johnny.  He rubbed his cheek and glared at Ford.  "Not cool." 

"Dave, did you misunderstand my instructions?"

At the sound of the deep, mellow voice, Johnny looked towards the door to get his first look at this mysterious Tobias person.  His mouth dropped open and he immediately clamped it shut as he realized it wasn't the first time he had seen him after all.  The tall stature, dark, swept back hair, pale green eyes and dark clothing were all jarringly familiar.  This was the same man he had encountered a few days ago back in Idaho Falls, the man who had followed him to the dark parking lot and said such bizarre things to him.  As Johnny recalled, he had implied that they would meet again, and now here they were.  But he couldn't have known.  Not really...could he?  A shiver ran up Johnny's spine.

Tobias was still speaking, gently chastising Agent Ford.  "I said he wasn't to be harmed.  I don't think I could have made myself any clearer."

"Yes, Tobias.  I'm sorry."  Ford stood with his eyes downcast.

"All right.  We'll talk about this later.  Go outside and make yourself useful.  We need to make sure we're as ready as we can be when they come."

Ford's head jerked up.  "When who comes?"

Tobias held Ford in his stern, pale gaze.  "The ones who seek to destroy what we have.  The ones who wish to fracture us from within."

Johnny watched as unease crossed Ford's features.  The FBI agent nodded contritely and left the cabin, sparing one last troubled glance at Johnny.  For his part, Johnny watched his departure with deep misgivings, feeling as if his only bit of safety had been removed.  He looked back up at Tobias to discover that the other man was studying him intently.  With some relief, Johnny noted that Tobias appeared to be calmer and more rational than the last time they had met.  His odd, pale green eyes looked back at Johnny, reassuringly lucid, filled with humor, intelligence and warmth.  He looked sane enough, but Johnny remembered his rambling monologue, his insistence that Johnny was somebody named Raphael, something about a feast and a sign and an appointed place.  Probably high on something, he decided.

Looking at him now, Johnny could almost understand how this man had gathered so many willing followers.  Even standing unmoving and silent, the force of his personality fairly vibrated off of him and filled up the room.

The silence began to make him nervous.  "Hey.  How ya doin'?" asked Johnny.

"John Gage," said Tobias.  His head tilted to one side as he eyed his captive up and down.  "Firefighter.  Paramedic.  Impressive.  Very, very impressive."

Growing edgy under the man's scrutiny, Johnny shifted on the bed.  The breakfast tray tilted and started to slide.  Tobias was there in an instant to steady the tray.  He picked it up and sat down on the bed, wearing a look of concern. 

"Did Dave hit you very hard?  I can tell from your eyes that you're in pain."

Johnny laughed nervously.  "What, that?  Guy hits like a girl."

Tobias' mouth twitched.  "I'm sure you must be hungry.  You've been asleep a long time.  Will you try to eat something?"  His genial expression held only kindness. 

Johnny glanced down at the food, faintly repulsed by the thought of eating anything.  He shook his head.  A look of disappointment darkened Tobias' features, and Johnny belatedly remembered Ford's admonishment to do what Tobias asked.  He cleared his throat.  "I mean, yeah, I'll try.  Looks, uh, good."  He glanced at his restrained hand and jingled the cuffs.  "This is going to be a little awkward, though.  Do you think...?"  Hoping his face appeared innocent and expectant, he gazed at Tobias.

The other man's eyes seemed to bore straight into him.  Johnny forced himself to meet his gaze, and in spite of the situation he was in, he found himself being drawn into what he imagined saw there, the warmth and compassion and acceptance.  He looked away and shivered once more. 

Tobias reached into the pocket of his black Levis to retrieve a key.  "I'd very much like to trust you, John."  His soothing voice felt like balm on Johnny's stretched nerves.  "If I release you, will you promise not to do anything foolish?" 

Unsure how to respond, Johnny just stared at him.

"It's all right, John.  We'll earn one another's trust in time.  The last thing I would ever want to do is hurt you.  You're much too important to me.  You believe me, don't you?"

He didn't, but Johnny found himself nodding anyway.  Part of him realized that the drug he had ingested had begun to take effect, giving him this false sense of calm and well-being.  Even knowing that he shouldn't trust his emotions right now, he still felt himself growing unwillingly entranced with the handsome face that smiled at him with such gentleness and approval.  Tobias seemed to accept his acquiescence, and he leaned over and unlocked the metal bracelet from Johnny's wrist, startling Johnny with the disturbing warmth that shot through him at the brief contact.

"It's a little sore, isn't it?"  He held Johnny's forearm, rubbing his wrist with just the right amount of pressure to relieve the ache there, before moving up his arm and to his shoulder.  "Is that better?"

"Yeah," said Johnny.  "Thanks."  That's...why does that feel so good?  What the hell is wrong with me?  Warily, he retrieved his arm.

"Eat up, then.  I'll hold the tray for you."  He shifted a little so that he was seated closer to the head of the bed, and nodded encouragingly at Johnny.  "Go on.  Don't worry.  I ate some earlier and it was pretty good."  When Johnny took a few first tentative bites, Tobias smiled his approval.  "That's it, John.  Just eat what you can."

Settling himself more comfortably, Johnny ate.  He kept his gaze on the plate of food, but he remained acutely aware of the man seated so near that he could feel his body's heat.  Only managing to polish off half the plate of food, he lay down his fork and finally looked up, confused and a little curious about the man's behavior.  Tobias set the tray on the floor.  Johnny flinched when he reached for his face, but forced himself to relax when the large, warm hand did nothing more threatening than rest lightly against the side of his head.

"That's fine, John.  You should start to feel better now."  Tobias smiled, and Johnny noticed the fine lines that appeared next to his eyes.  He was older than he'd realized.  "Don't be upset with me, but I'm going to put the cuffs back on you now."

"Sure, no problem."  He heard his words slurring oddly.

Tobias laughed gently and secured his arm to the bed frame once more.  "I knew we would get along just fine.  I have to leave you for a little while.  I need to go have a talk with Agent Ford, take care of a few things.  But don't worry, I'll be back soon.  We have so much more to talk about.  Okay?"

Johnny nodded, feeling drowsy.  The door closed behind Tobias.  Even with his reassuring presence removed, Johnny felt strangely calm.  He forced his eyes to remain open.  Something that Tobias had said should have bothered him, but he couldn't order his jumbled thoughts enough to figure out what it was.  His eyes began to droop again and he fought his lethargy.  I've slept long enough.  I should start working on these cuffs, get myself the hell out of here.  The effort hardly seemed worth it.  What remained of rational thought told him he was in danger.  He didn't feel rational, however.  He felt adrift.  Nothing made sense anymore.

Johnny had felt overstressed for weeks now.  Ever since that night with Kel, his life had turned to complete and unrelenting shit, as if he had been bouncing from one catastrophe to the next, each one worse than the last.  The things Agent Ford had told him should have scared him.  He should be freaking out right about now.  With a sort of numb amazement, it occurred to him that for the first time in weeks - hell, months, years - he simply didn't care what happened next. 

Tobias had said he wouldn't hurt Johnny, and he wanted to believe him.  On some level, he realized he was being conned, but he wasn't sure it mattered.  Asking himself why that was, he drifted, feeling the sedative taking effect.  Must be the drugs making me feel this way.  But he knew that wasn't the whole story.  His eyes widened as the answer came to him.  I'm attracted to him.

He pulled himself to a more upright, seated position.  Fuck.   I'm losing my mind.  I'm totally turned on by the guy who's holding me captive.  He tried to deny it, to talk himself out of it, but it was no use.  Recalling the man's casual light touch, and the way his hand had soothed his wrists made Johnny shiver and start to grow hard.  Damn.  Stop it.  This is crazy.  You're a hostage!  A fucking prisoner of war, whatever that's supposed to mean.  Lethargy gone, calm imploding, he began worrying about exactly what he had been drugged with.  That's what had to be doing this to him.  No way would he be having these feelings otherwise.  Shit, shit, shit.  I've got to get away from here before I do something completely stupid. 

Resting his palm on his forehead, he took slow, deep breaths, trying to clear his head.  Instead of making the disorientation fade, it only seemed to be getting worse.  In an effort to distract himself from his disturbing reactions and keep himself alert, he turned his attention back to the bed frame and the cuffs that were attached to it.  He had to turn his head at an awkward angle to get a good view, but it appeared to him that if he could just loosen a couple of screws in the frame, he might be able to jiggle the support bar away from the frame just enough to slide the cuffs free.  After that, he wasn't sure what he could do.  There was still the locked door to get past, and what he could only assume was a large encampment of some sort filled with armed supporters of the man from whom he needed to escape.

One thing at a time, he reasoned, and searched around for something to use on the screws.  His breakfast tray still lay next to the bed.  Maybe the fork would work.  Throwing his legs over the side of the bed, he snagged the tray with his big toe and started nudging it towards himself.  He nearly had it close enough to reach over with his left hand and grab it, but he heard keys in the outside lock again, so he hurriedly rearranged himself on the bed.  A thin, sandy haired young man in jeans and an Army surplus jacket entered, giving Johnny a thorough appraisal before closing the door behind himself.  He had a rifle looped over one shoulder and carried Johnny's boots in his hand.

"Tobias says I gotta take you to the outhouse."  He tossed the boots towards Johnny, barely missing his face.

Johnny gave him an annoyed glare.  "Unless we're taking the bed with us, you're going to have to unlock these," said Johnny, giving the cuffs a shake.

The young man scowled, but lobbed the key at Johnny, managing to land it near his left, unrestrained hand.  While Johnny fumbled to pick it up and get the cuffs unlocked, the man shifted the rifle around to train it on Johnny, watching his every movement carefully.  As Johnny struggled to pull his boots on, a single gunshot sounded somewhere outside and he nearly jumped out of his skin.

"What the hell was that?" he asked, suddenly wide awake.  The other man looked nervously toward the door, but didn't answer him, except to gesture with the rifle, indicating that he should move faster.  When Johnny had his boots on, he stood up.  "So, you got a name?" he asked, moving out the door and trying to keep a safe distance between himself and the rifle barrel.

The young man shrugged.  "Brad."

"You been here long?"

Brad remained silent, just gestured impatiently for Johnny to keep walking.  When they reached their destination, Johnny gratefully took care of his by now rather pressing needs.

As they retraced their steps to the cabin, he took the opportunity to study as much of his surroundings as he could.  The camp was located in the middle of the dense forest, in an area that had been cleared of most of the trees and other vegetation.  The cabin he had been put in appeared to be near the center of the clearing, and was easily the "nicest" building there, if one could use that word.  Other sleeping quarters, or homes, or whatever they were supposed to be, consisted of tents, tarps, trailers, campers, cars and pickup trucks.  Off to one side of the clearing he could see that construction was underway on several larger, more elaborate structures.  Evidently the Family of Tobit intended to make their base a more permanent one.

A sort of controlled chaos seemed to reign in the camp this morning.  Men moved this way and that, singly and in groups, carrying weapons, supplies, boxes and crates filled with items Johnny could only guess at. 

"So, Brad, what's the deal with this Tobias guy?"

Brad gave a soft snort.  "The deal?  I'll tell you what the deal is.  The man knows things.  He's, like, completely tuned in.  He talks to God directly, and God talks back.  I've seen it.  And he just knows things, ya know?"

"Like what?" asked Johnny, curious in spite of himself.  The cold air had cleared more of the cobwebs from his head and he was feeling a little more in control of his emotions.  He slowed to a leisurely stroll, trying to delay their return and take the opportunity to study the camp some more.  Looking to his left, he caught a glimpse of Tobias' dark, shoulder-length hair.  The man towered above most of the other men.  A crowd surrounded him, seeming to examine something on the ground in front of them, but their backs were to Johnny and whatever held their interest remained effectively screened behind their bodies. 

"Like about me," Brad was saying, his voice almost reverent.  "You see, I barely graduated from high school, and then I had to go to work right away, pumping gas.  To everyone else, I was just this loser grease monkey, but the very first time he set eyes on me, he knew I was so much more than that.  He looked right straight into my soul and told me about my special destiny, and I up and quit right then and there and went with him because I could tell he was right."

"Your special destiny, huh?  That sounds...uh, pretty neat.  Does everyone here have a special destiny, or just you?"

They had arrived back at the cabin.  With a sullen look indicating he wouldn't say anything more on the subject, Brad opened the door and motioned him inside.  Moments later, Johnny was back on the bed with the handcuffs reattached.  When Brad lifted the tray and headed towards the door, Johnny decided to try another tactic.

"So, Brad, this all sounds pretty intriguing.  Maybe I ought to join the group, too.  Find out about my own special destiny." 

Brad eyed him skeptically.  "That's for Tobias to decide.  But I wouldn't get my hopes up if I were you."

"Why not?  What do you mean?"

"You're the one chained to the bed.  You tell me." 

Brad shot him a decidedly smug and unfriendly grin and exited, taking the tray, the fork, and Johnny's hopes for escape with him.

After that, Johnny was left with little to do except brood and pose question after question which he couldn't answer.  He resisted the creeping drowsiness for as long as he was able, but eventually it seemed pointless to fight it off.  At least sleep offered a temporary peace of sorts.  He'd had enough of thinking and feeling and worrying about the future, so he closed his eyes and let the darkness take him.

Chapter Text

Sam woke with a start, fully clothed and stretched out on top of the covers of an uncomfortable motel bed.  He took a quick look at his watch.  Five-thirty in the morning.  Hearing voices from the adjoining room, he raised himself onto his elbows and craned his neck for a look.  Agents Senn and Garvin had been on the phone when he dozed off last night.  From the sound of it, they were still deeply involved in their "exhaustive investigation" of Johnny.  Did they sleep at all last night? 

Sitting up with a groan, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, feeling every aching muscle in his calves and thighs and back.  He started to stand, then sat abruptly as the events of yesterday afternoon came rushing back.  Trooper Weston and several other men had been questioning him about Johnny, and the trip to Montana, and their family, until Sam's nerves had finally gotten the better of him.  He had only wanted to cooperate, to be honest and tell them whatever they needed to know in order to get on with rescuing his brother.  His parents had always drilled it into him that you cooperate with authorities, do what they asked of you. 

Before he knew it, his mouth got away from him and he began blurting out every little fact he had learned about Johnny, and every detail about their trip and what had happened with Charles at Dead Hawk Creek.  Some of the men had exchanged knowing looks, then they had shown him a photo of Tobias, and his surprise must have been obvious when he realized it was the same man he had seen in Idaho Falls, and who Sam had seen talking to Johnny after he had run back into the restaurant for his cigarettes.

After that, the whole atmosphere in the woods had changed.  To Sam, it seemed as if only Agent Browder still wanted to believe that Johnny was a victim in all this.  Even he finally had agreed to allow Senn and Garvin to take Sam back to the Creekside Motor Inn a few miles along the highway to the west, and put him up in one room while they set up in the adjoining room and began making phone calls.  When Sam asked what they were doing Senn had informed him, with a touch too much satisfaction, that they had been authorized to use every available resource of both the Bureau and local law enforcement to discover everything there was to know about John Gage's life, both past and present.

"What for?" he had asked, knowing how much Johnny would hate that.  "The only thing there is to know is that those guys grabbed Johnny for no reason."

"Right," Senn said, his voice heavy with skepticism.  "After your brother, as you yourself stated, forced the car off the road."

"I told you.  It was an accident.  I was at least as much to blame for that.  Just like it was my fault we took this trip in the first place."

Garvin, a thin bespectacled man a few inches shorter than Sam, who reminded him of his nerdy looking Algebra teacher from junior high school, gave Sam what he probably thought was a reassuring smile.  "And if that's true, our investigation will bear that out.  All we're doing here is confirming your story, and getting a little more background information on your brother.  That's reasonable, isn't it?  By your own admission, you only met him for the first time a little over a week ago.  We wouldn't be very good agents if we took whatever anyone told us at face value, now would we?"

"Well, no.  But why do you need to go prying into every little dark corner of his life?"

"Huh.  Dark, you say?  Hear that, Garvin?  What did I tell you?"  Senn picked up the phone and started dialing the next number on his list.

"That's not what I meant.  Why can't you make all these calls after you rescue him?"

"Just let us do our job and don't worry about that."  Agent Garvin steered Sam back into his own room and pointed at the phone.  "The woman in the office said to give her a call when you're ready to order dinner.  There should be some menus in that drawer there.  Go on, Sam, whatever you want.  It's on us."

Frustrated, bored, and realizing with some surprise that he was hungry, Sam ordered a cheeseburger and onion rings.  While he waited for it to arrive, and while he ate his dinner, he eavesdropped on their phone calls.  He heard them request access to police records, school records, hospital records, contacting what sounded like fire department headquarters, Johnny's fire station, his friends, his landlady, and his Aunt Elaine.  When he heard Senn ask Montana information for the phone number of Charles Gage, he pushed his remaining food away, feeling ill, then grabbed his cigarettes and hollered through the doorway that he was going for a walk. 

There wasn't much of anywhere to go, since the motel sat several miles outside of town.  Despite the name of the place, there didn't appear to be a creek anywhere in sight.  Sam paced up and down through the parking lot, chain-smoking, watching the stars and the drifting clouds, listening to the stuttering buzz of neon lights and the crunch underneath his shoes of slush which had refrozen with the dropping temperature.  He stayed out there until he began to shiver and his lungs felt filthy and raw from too much smoke, and then he ground out his last, half-smoked cigarette and went back inside. 

"Guys?"  He leaned against the doorjamb, watching the two agents.  "Would it be all right if I called my mom?"

"Maybe tomorrow," said Senn, not looking up from his notes.

"She's going to be worried," said Sam.  "I won't tell her anything.  Just that I'm okay.  Please?"

Garvin stood, stretching his back.  "I don't see how that can hurt.  Jay?  Let him make the call.  I'll listen in.  I need a break anyway."

"Yeah, fine," Senn muttered, waving a hand at them.

"Okay," said Garvin.  "Make it quick."  He herded Sam back into the other room and moved to the window to gaze disinterestedly outside while Sam sat on the bed, got an outside line and dialed.

Sam kept an eye on the agent's back as he spoke, hoping he could communicate enough to his mother without making Garvin suspicious.  "Mom?  Yeah, I know.  Sorry.  The, uh, Johnny's truck broke down so it looks like we're not going to make it for dinner tomorrow.  I know.  I know.  I'm fine.  I'm fine.  No.  I don't know.  What?  You did?"  His mom had just told him about her conversation with Johnny's partner, Roy DeSoto.  He glanced over at Garvin, hoping he wasn't listening too closely.  "Yeah, Mom.  He should know too.  That would be a real good idea.  Uh huh.  Idaho.  Glennis - "  He saw Garvin spin around angrily.  "Near there, I think.  It's the, uh, Creekside Motor Inn off highway 2."  He read the phone number off of the phone.  "I've got to go.  I'll try to call you tom-"  He listened to the dial tone.  Garvin loomed over him, his fingers resting against the base of the phone.

After that, they had unplugged the phone and removed it from his room.  Garvin moved his chair closer to the doorway between the rooms, where he could keep an eye on Sam as he and Senn continued their phone calls late into the night. 


At some point the day before, someone had dropped off Sam and Johnny's luggage which had been retrieved from the Land Rover.  After the two agents had searched everything thoroughly, Sam had been allowed his possessions back.  Now, he grabbed some fresh clothes and headed down the hall.  Garvin shot him a questioning look.

"Just taking a shower," he said.  Garvin gave him a dismissive wave, and he retreated to the privacy of the bathroom.  As meager hot water dribbled down his body, he replayed last night's conversation with his mom.  She had caught on pretty quickly when he stressed the fact he was okay, implying that Johnny wasn't.  She had already been in contact with Roy DeSoto, and would call him back to pass on what little she had learned from Sam.  He hoped that his mention of Glennis would be enough of a clue.  He wasn't sure if the attacks in Glennis had made the news, much less the national news, but at least if Roy or any of Johnny's other friends wanted to find him, they had a place to start.  Sam wanted to trust that the FBI and other law enforcement agencies would do right by Johnny and get him safely away from Tobias and his goons, but he felt better knowing that he wouldn't be the only one that knew Johnny was in trouble, even if he couldn't share what exactly that trouble was.

The hot water didn't last long.  He dried off and dressed, then went out to find the two agents off the phone and waiting for him, along with Browder, Trooper Weston, and two other officers whose names he didn't remember.  The new arrivals looked chilled and exhausted.

Sam ignored everyone else and spoke directly to Browder, breaking into his conversation with Senn.  "So, how about it?  Do you plan on rescuing Johnny anytime soon?"

Browder spared him a brief glance.  "Come on in Sam.  Have a seat.  We've got some coffee and doughnuts coming in a minute."

"I don't believe this.  Anything could be happening to him.  You've got to do something!"

Browder turned to face him more fully.  "And we will, Sam.  I promise.  Right now we're all going to sit down and talk, share information and finalize our plans.  We want you here because we may have a role for you to play.  So sit tight and give these men a chance to bring us up to speed on what their investigation has turned up.  Okay?"

Sam nodded tightly and sat on one of the beds in Senn and Garvin's room.  A few minutes later two more police officers showed up at the door with the promised breakfast which the men grabbed for with enthusiasm.  Chairs were dragged in from the other room and everyone found a seat.

Browder turned to Senn.  "Jay?  Why don't you get us started?  What have you and Agent Garvin found out?"

Senn jerked a thumb towards Sam.  "You really want him to hear all this?"

Sam bristled.  "He's my brother."

"Yeah, for about a minute," Senn muttered.

"He can stay," said Browder.

"Fine.  Well, Sam, from what we have learned so far, your brother has had an eventful life.  His mother died when he was seven.  Abandoned by his father.  Guess you know about that part, huh?  We verified that he did live on the Fort Peck Reservation in Montana with his aunt and uncle for seven years, but the uncle denies any of the abuse that you alleged.  He did say that John seemed to favor boys from a young age, and received a nasty beating at age fourteen when he made advances toward someone who did not share his...proclivities.  We found a nurse who worked at the clinic back then, and she verified this.  She also claimed that John did a lot of talking at the clinic and made accusations against his uncle."

Sam moved restlessly.  He had guessed some of this from what Charles had said, but hearing it all laid out like this in front of strangers didn't sit well.  "What does all this have to do with getting Johnny away from those guys?  You're just wasting time."

Browder held up his hand.  "Sam, if you would rather step outside while we go over this, we understand.  If not, I'm going to have to ask you not to interrupt again." 

Sam felt all their eyes on him, none of them friendly or sympathetic.  He did want to leave, to crawl in bed and hide his head under the covers, to forget all about a world where children were abused and betrayed by the people who were meant to love and protect them.  He stayed where he was, however, determined to hear it all.  His hand shook as he lit a cigarette, ignoring the frown he got from Garvin.

Seeing that Sam wasn't leaving, Browder nodded at Senn to continue.

Senn took a sip of coffee and consulted his notes.  "While Gage was in the clinic, a group of neighbors stepped in and arranged to have him sent to another uncle's ranch in central Montana.  This was a Roderick McManus.  Two years later there was another incident at the ranch, this time involving a young woman.  Evidently he spent some time in a hospital in Miles City after that."  He looked around, shaking his head.  "Sounds like neither team wanted to claim him."

This comment was met by snickers.  Sam sent an angry glare around the room, silencing most of them.  As throats were cleared and coffee gulped, Senn went on.

"All right.  So now he's sixteen and heads to California and another relative...let's it is.  Elaine McManus.  He did pretty well in high school, academically at least.  His behavior was another story.  Apparently he was something of a discipline problem.  Had a juvenile record which has since been expunged, but I tracked down an old buddy who was on the force back then and he remembered Gage well enough.  Most of the complaints against him involved fights, petty theft, and some minor vandalism."

"Drugs?" asked Trooper Weston.

"No," said Senn.  "Frankie seemed sure of that.  No gang involvement either.  In fact most of the fights appeared to occur for that very reason."

Agent Browder glanced at his watch.  "Jay," he said, "let's move this along.  Just the highlights, please."

"Or lowlights," someone muttered to general laughter.

"Okay," Senn continued.  "After high school he moved out of his aunt's house and dropped out of sight for a while.  He had a file at Memorial Hospital where he made a visit to the emergency room.  I managed to locate the doctor who treated him, name of..."  He thumbed through his notes.  "Here it is.  Halstad.  He wasn't terribly forthcoming, but managed to imply, without actually saying it, that Gage had received some rough treatment at the hands of one of his, er, johns."

Silence fell in the crowded room.  Sam wasn't sure he had heard correctly.

"What do you mean?" he asked, not certain he wanted to hear the answer.

"Just what I said.  We only have this one incident to go by, but it looks like your brother spent at least a few months on the streets.  Turning tricks, Sam."

"Johnny?  No way.  That guy must have misunderstood."  He ground out his cigarette and lit another.  No one answered him.  They all seemed to want to believe the worst of his brother.  Sam couldn't see how any of this mattered anyway, but Senn was speaking again, so Sam set aside his shock and doubt for the moment and tuned back in to what the FBI agent was saying.

"Gage was accepted to the fire academy, graduated at the top of his class.  He's been with the LA County Fire Department for eight years, five years as a paramedic.  According to everyone we spoke to he has had an exemplary record, including several commendations.  His station mates all speak highly of him, for the most part."

Weston pounced on this.  "The most part?  What's that mean?"

"There was one, uh, Chester Kelly who made some bizarre remarks.  Marv thinks he was drunk, so his comments can probably be disregarded.  We sent a couple of agents from the LA field office over to Rampart General to conduct some interviews.  In light of the fact that Sam mentioned Gage's involvement with one of the doctors there, we thought speaking with him might prove useful.  Unfortunately, they weren't able to determine which was the doctor in question, although our agents said if they had to guess, they thought it could be some high strung  guy named Morton.  That fits with what Sam recalled about a disagreement between the two of them.  Just the sound of the Gage's name seemed to irritate the man."

Browder tapped his watch again.  "Jay?  Relevance?"

"Just trying to establish Gage's leanings.  It gets confusing, because after interviewing several dozen nurses, it would appear that Gage had a thing for the ladies."

"Exclusively?" asked one of the police officers.

"No.  A couple of our confidential informants in LA have placed him at several gay establishments, although only in recent months."

"So he swings both ways," said Weston, distaste clear on his face. 

"There's no law against that, is there?" Sam asked.

"No, but maybe there should be."

"And maybe you're nothing but a disgusting, closed-minded redneck."

"You better watch your mouth, kid."  Weston started to rise.

"Take your seat, Trooper," snapped Browder.

Weston did so reluctantly, favoring Sam with a cold stare.

"Sam," said Browder, "if we seem to be focusing so closely on the issue of your brother's sexual preference, it's only because we are attempting to establish whether or not he had a prior relationship with Varnar."

Garvin now spoke up, taking over for Senn.  "I believe the answer to that has to be no.  After talking to Gage's acquaintances in LA, we know that he has not taken any trips, frequent or otherwise, away from the LA area in the past three years, except for occasional camping trip relatively close to home.  As most of you already know, Varnar was doing time in Arizona up until his release three years ago."

Everyone in the room had been listening intently, and more than one of them jumped a little at the loud knock on the outside door.  One of the local police officers got up to answer it, admitting a man in civilian clothing who Sam assumed was another FBI agent.  Browder nodded at the man and motioned him to take a seat. 

Garvin resumed.  "Anyway, after a long afternoon and night of phone calls, Jay and I have both concluded that since no prior link can be established between Gage and Varnar, this had to have been a random kidnapping."

"Told you so," Sam whispered, filled with relief.  His relief was short-lived, however.

The newest arrival, a nondescript man with light brown hair and wearing what Sam decided had to be the ugliest looking wrinkled brown suit he had ever seen, sat up a little straighter and cleared his throat loudly.  "You're wrong," he said.  "Dead wrong.  They have met before."

Browder frowned at him.  "It's Detective Jensen, right?  From LA?  You certainly made good time, although I still don't see why you felt the need to fly all the way up here."

Jensen was digging inside a bulging briefcase to pull out a thick file.  "I've been working this case off and on for a very long time, and this is the first break I've gotten in ten years.  You'd better believe I felt the need to be here.  I jumped on the redeye last night because you all need to know what's in this."  He held up the file for them to see."

"And what is that?" asked Senn, his voice filled with scorn.

"It's proof that the man you're calling Dale Varnar has spent time in the Los Angeles area, and that he and John Gage have crossed paths before."




Kel slammed the front door behind him, yanked off his tie, balled it up and hurled it towards the living room.  It landed with an unsatisfying plop two feet in front of him.  Staring at it, he considered kicking it across the room, but picked it up instead and shoved it into his jacket pocket.  A noisy, prolonged sigh did nothing to relieve his tension, so he headed for the kitchen and fixed himself a generous drink.  Too tired to think about eating, much less preparing dinner, he returned to the living room and dropped gracelessly into the recliner.  I probably should have taken up Dixie and Joe on their offer to spend Thanksgiving with them.  He actually started to reach for the phone, but thought better of it.  Why ruin their evening too?

He hadn't been scheduled to work on Thanksgiving, but he'd gone in anyway, wanting to stay busy, and hoping to take his mind off of his worries about Johnny.  His ploy had ended up working better than he had intended, as the ER had filled up early and stayed busy all day with, among other things, sliced fingers, food poisoning, one foot through a television set, two heart attacks and a full-scale brawl that broke out in the midst of a family gathering before continuing in the halls of the ER, and which involved no less than twelve family members, including a 75 year old grandmother with a surprisingly robust left hook.

Forced to keep his attention on the chaos springing up left and right in the ER, he managed to temporarily set aside his endlessly circling thoughts, and to postpone pointless speculation about the visitation at the hospital yesterday evening by the pair of infuriatingly closemouthed FBI agents with all their prying, insinuating questions about Johnny.  At home now, and removed from the distractions, his anxiety held free reign once more.

He was finishing off his first drink and debating whether or not it was worth the effort to go for a refill, when someone banged on his front door.  There is a doorbell, you know.  It's the little round beige button, ya moron.  He absolutely did not want to deal with anyone right now, but the knock came again.  Rolling his eyes, he set down his drink, stalked to the door and whipped it open.  Roy DeSoto stood in the hallway, one hand raised to knock again, and the other balancing a foil covered plate.

"Roy?"  Kel resisted the urge to slam the door in his face and arranged his features into a stiff smile.  "This is certainly a surprise."  How did Roy even know where he lived?  How had he gotten inside the building?  Fucking Dobsons probably let him in.

Roy shifted awkwardly, his gaze darting past Kel and into the condo.  He lifted the plate.  "Joanne sent me over with some leftovers."

Crossing his arms, Kel leaned against the doorway and eyed Roy skeptically.  Much as he liked the man and respected his abilities as a paramedic, Kel's nerves felt too raw right now, and the last thing he needed was to get into another discussion, argument or pissing match with Roy on the subject of Johnny.  Just leave it alone, he wanted to tell him.  Just go away and let me stew in peace.

Roy cleared his throat.  It didn't look as if he planned on going anywhere.

"Would you like to come in?"  Kel heard the insincerity in his own voice, but couldn't bring himself to give a shit.  As Roy passed him on his way inside, he handed off the plate of food.  "Have seat," said Kel, and watched as Roy sank down onto the sofa.  He appeared as weary and on edge as Kel felt.  "Can I get you something to drink?"

"Beer sounds good."

Kel carried the plate and his empty glass into the kitchen, and returned with Roy's beer and a fresh scotch for himself, to find Roy gazing around the room, looking ill at ease.

"You having a good Thanksgiving?" Kel asked, attempting to make up for his earlier rudeness.

Roy shrugged.  "Pretty quiet this year, without...well, you know.  How about you?"

"Fine, Roy."  He sipped his drink, then sighed.  "No, not really.  The ER was a complete disaster today.  What is it about holidays that bring out the idiot in people?"

Roy made a soft noise indicating agreement and stared at the beer bottle cradled in his hands.  "Doc, uh, something's going on with Johnny, and we need to talk."  When Kel didn't say anything, Roy continued.  "Did some guy with the FBI call you last night?"

Kel raised an eyebrow.  "Actually, I got a visit in person at the hospital.  I take it you were grilled as well."

"Yeah.  Some pretty weird questions.  Guy said it was some kind of background check, but wouldn't say what for.  I guess the other guys from 51's got calls too."

"And that's why you're here?"

"No.  After I hung up with Captain Stanley, I got a call from Lilah Gage."

Kel sat up a little straighter.  This was something new.  "Has she heard from him?"

"Not exactly.  Sam - that's her son - called her last night.  He didn't say a whole lot.  She said it sounded like someone was listening in on the phone call.  He didn't mention Johnny specifically, but she got a real strong impression that something had happened that he couldn't talk about.  Then just before he got disconnected, he gave the name of this town in Idaho.  Glennis.  That's all she could tell me, but after the call from that FBI guy, it got me thinking.  So I called information and got the number for the Glennis sheriff's department.  Some hysterical woman named Edith Wells answered the phone and started going on about a shooting before someone grabbed the phone away from her.  It was another FBI agent.  He wouldn't answer any of my questions, and he seemed real suspicious of me, so I got off the phone."

 "Do you have the number?  Let me try it."

"Hang on, Doc.  Let me finish, okay?  I figured if the FBI is involved, maybe their LA office would be able to find out something.  It so happens that Stoker - Mike Stoker...our engineer? - has a cousin that works out of the LA office.  So I had him call him up.  He finally got back to me this afternoon.  Turns out there was an incident yesterday morning in Glennis.  Hold on, don't freak out just yet.  Some locals were killed and a couple more injured, but Johnny wasn't involved there.  Anyway, this agent, name of Henley, said he didn't want to talk about it on the phone, but he needed to show me something."  Roy's gaze slid away, and he finally took a drink of the beer.  "I hope you don't mind, Doc, but I asked him to meet me here."

"No, that's fine."  Kel frowned.  "I'm a little confused though.  Considering some of the things you said yesterday, I have to wonder why you came to me.  Why aren't you having this conversation with the rest of your crew?"

"Yesterday was a misunderstanding.  Mostly.  And as for the rest...well, like I said, some of the questions that FBI agent asked were kinda weird."


"Sort of leading, you know?  How well did I know Johnny?  How close are we?  Who does he date?  What trips has he taken lately?  Stuff like that.  I don't know.  I thought maybe this Henley might have information that Johnny wouldn't want the department or the other guys to know about."

"Hmm.  I'm not so sure about that.  Those agents yesterday sure seemed fixated on all the nurses Johnny has dated." 

"Yeah, well, you and I both know his dating habits have changed.  I just didn't want the guys to hear something that might embarrass him."

Stung by Roy's comment, Kel took a sip of his drink to disguise his irritation.  He'd heard himself referred to in a lot of ways, but an embarrassment? 

As he was deciding how to respond, the intercom buzzed.  Kel got up and confirmed that it was Agent Henley before pushing the button to let him in the building.  He unlocked his front door, opened it a crack and returned to sit in the recliner.  He met Roy's eye and they both held the gaze a little longer than necessary. 

Finally, Kel looked away, pushing his annoyance aside.  His hurt feelings seemed irrelevant right now, all things considered.  "So, Roy, any idea what this agent wanted to share with you?"

Roy shrugged.  "Not really, but he sounded pretty agitated on the phone.  Agitated, but, I don't know...sort of excited.  Guess we'll find out in a minute."

A quick knock at the door preceded the entrance of Agent Henley, a man in his mid-thirties, tall, stoop-shouldered and gaunt, with thinning auburn hair, wearing a dark grey suit and black and grey striped tie.  He clutched a manila file folder in one large hand.  Kel and Roy both stood, introductions were made, and they all shook hands.  Henley declined the offered drink, and they sat, Henley taking the other end of the sofa.

 "You don't look much like Mike," Roy said with a nervous smile. 

Henley just grunted and reached up to loosen his tie.  "I need to have this file back in an hour, so let's get started."  He looked between Kel and Roy as if trying to get a quick read on both of them.  "Look, I realize you're both Gage's friends.  I'm going to tell you some things about his past that might make you uncomfortable.  This needs to remain between us.  I'm sharing this information with you as a favor to Mike, and also...well, for reasons that should become obvious.  So, do I have your word that none of this leaves this room?"

Kel looked over to see Roy nodding.  "I'll go along with that," said Kel, "unless - " he held up his hand as Henley started to interrupt.  "Unless I feel it's against Johnny's interests to keep quiet."  He knew he risked having Henley get up and leave, but he wasn't about to make any blanket promises.  He and the FBI agent locked gazes for several heartbeats, and then Henley shrugged.

"Fair enough.  First of all, you need to know that your friend was taken hostage yesterday afternoon."

"What?!" said Kel, in unison with Roy.  "By who?"

"A group of people calling themselves the Family of Tobit.  Our Boise office has been monitoring them for over a year now.  They're part religious cult, part militia, and one hundred percent bat-shit crazy.  The leader of the group calls himself Tobias.  He is charismatic, manipulative and unpredictable.  Up until yesterday, however, the Boise field office didn't consider the group a threat.  They were primarily concerned about illegal activities such as drugs being smuggled from Canada.  A few alarms had been set off by concerned family members of some of his followers who have not been heard from for a while.  One of our agents has been undercover with the group, and it all seemed to be the standard cult bullshit.

"Yesterday, that changed.  For unknown reasons, members of the group entered the town of Glennis and attempted to occupy the sheriff's office and the mayor's office.  Shots were exchanged, three men were killed, and several others wounded.  At that point they turned tail and ran, and a fairly large contingent of FBI and other law enforcement officers were mobilized and pursued them with the intent of raiding their camp and shutting them down.  Unfortunately, Gage and his brother had some car trouble on that same stretch of highway, and they grabbed Gage."

"Oh my god."  Kel looked over at Roy, knowing his own face reflected the same shock as the other man's.  "Why?  Has he been harmed?  What are you doing to get him back?"  He found himself on his feet, hands clenched.  Henley watched him, his expression giving nothing away.  Kel felt his anger getting away from him.  "If this is going on, why in the hell is the FBI wasting its time digging into Johnny's life?  I cannot believe this...." 

"Dr. Brackett, please calm down.  Sit down and let me finish." 

"He's asked you some pretty good questions," said Roy.  "I'd like some answers too."

Kel sat, surprised by how calm Roy sounded, until he looked closer and saw the tense jaw muscles and jittering knee. 

Henley spoke rapidly, sounding impatient.  "To my knowledge, your friend was not badly harmed, and yes, a large number of very experienced men are working to get him back.  I'm sure you can appreciate the need for a certain amount of caution, as in any hostage situation.  They can't just go charging in there.  Now, look.  I'm here as a favor to my cousin.  This - "  He lifted the file folder.  "This is a file from a case my partner and I worked on ten years ago when I was still with the LAPD.  I'd just made detective, and Hart Jensen was in some hot water over some alleged bribes he was supposed to have taken.  Which turned out to be a complete load of bull.  Anyway, because we were at the bottom of the food chain, we caught all the low priority or undesirable cases, and this was one of them."

Kel exchanged a glance with Roy, who looked as confused as he did.  "I think we're both kind of lost, here, Agent Henley.  What does any of this have to do with Johnny?"

"I'm getting there, Doctor.  The case nobody wanted was a series of murders of teenage boys.  Runaways.  Street kids.  Three that we knew of.  These young men disappeared off the street and were found days later, two in vacant lots, one in an alley.  The autopsies revealed they had been drugged, raped, and died of blunt force trauma to the head.  Each had the same symbol burned into his shoulder blade." 

Henley picked up the file and searched through it, pulled out an eight-be-ten photograph and handed it to Roy, whose eyes widened before he handed the photo to Kel.  If he hadn't been told he was looking at a dead body, Kel wouldn't have known.  The photo had been cropped and enlarged to show a faint pinkish symbol with one central line, two separate lines snaking up it on either side, and what appeared to be wings at the top.

"Do you recognize it?" asked Henley.

Kel did, of course.  "Looks like a caduceus."

"A symbol of your profession, isn't it?"

Kel frowned.  "Well, yes and no.  That's a common misconception, though."  He looked at the two other men and decided this wasn't the time for a lecture on the difference between the staff of Mercury and the rod of Asclepius.  "Doesn't matter.  Roy, I'm sure you recognize it from the paramedic patches on your uniforms."  He shrugged.  "Do you think the killer was somebody in one of the medical professions?"    

Henley retrieved the photo from him, carefully replacing it in the file folder.  "That was one theory we had early on and discarded.  In addition to this mark, each of the victims had several sheets of paper, uh, affixed to their bodies, covered with what I can only describe as rambling, quasi-religious rants referencing demons and angels and a search for the ‘missing one', or the ‘hidden one', whatever any of that meant.  Frankly, we couldn't make much sense of it.  It seemed obvious to Hart and myself, however, that we were dealing with a serial killer.  Unfortunately, no one else seemed inclined to give a shit.  A few dead queers...who cares, right?"

"Right," Kel said tightly.

"We kept at it, just the same.  I'll spare you the most of the details of our investigation, but after three weeks we finally had a suspect, a street preacher named Toby Zale.  Some of his sermons shared a lot in common with those crazy writings.  And he showed a special interest in ‘saving' street kids, specifically teenage boys.  Not many of the kids wanted to talk to us, but a few confirmed that Zale had been a paying customer on occasion."

"Paying customer?" asked Roy, a confused look on his face.  "Were they selling drugs or something?" 

Kel shook his head.  "I think he means their services, Roy."  The other man stared back at him blankly.  "Their services.  Sex, Roy.  He means those young kids were selling themselves on the street."  He had said it more angrily than he'd intended, and experienced a perverse satisfaction at the deep blush that stained Roy's cheeks.  For such an intelligent man, the paramedic could sometimes be remarkably clueless.

After a moment of strained silence, Henley continued.  "Uh, as I was saying, Zale had been a paying customer, but none of the kids we interviewed had a bad word to say about him.  In fact, a few actually seemed struck by him, for lack of a better term.  He seemed a little off to us, however, so we had him in for questioning a couple of times, and even did a handwriting comparison.  Everything pointed to this as the guy, but before we could prove it, our captain ordered us to just lay off and drop the case.  Frankly, this Zale was a smooth character.  He had an answer for everything.  One of the best liars I've ever come across.  Very pious.  Very convincing.  A thoroughly appealing and attractive man on the surface.

"Then, a few days later we thought we had the break we needed.  Another kid was grabbed, but Zale got careless.  He had him drugged and in his car, and I still don't know why he didn't just drive off and take him somewhere more secluded like he did with the other kids.  Simple arrogance, maybe.  Hart always thought Zale considered this kid ‘the missing one' and it set him off, changed the usual pattern.  At any rate, someone heard the attack and called it in.  The report of the responding officers indicated that a tall, dark-haired man was seen hurrying from the area, and later hovering around the crime scene, but when they approached him he managed to elude them. 

"The victim had been raped and severely beaten, but survived.  No brand on this one, either.  We had to wait three days to question him.  He was understandably traumatized, and he claimed that he couldn't remember a thing about the attack.  As soon as he was released from Memorial he made himself scarce.  We tried to keep tabs on him the best that we could, in case Zale went after him again.  A couple of weeks later, Zale was caught trying to hold up a pharmacy and was sent to prison.  That's when we found out he had gone by a few aliases in the past, including Dale Varnar.  I guess he's been in and out of jail a couple of times since then, and as far as I can tell he never returned to LA.  Meanwhile, Hart Jensen and I both moved on.  I joined the Bureau, and he was transferred.  The murders stopped, and no arrest was ever made."

Kel sensed there was more to the story, but what he had heard was horrifying enough.

"Shit," said Roy.  "That's the guy who has Johnny?  He sounds like a monster."

"I believe he is," said Henley, "although he has grown more subtle over the last ten years.  He's gathered a large, loyal group of followers, a good number of whom he recruited while he was in prison."

"Why hasn't law enforcement intervened before this?" Kel asked.

"This isn't the only fringe group of this nature in the country.  All we can do is keep an eye on them.  We can't step in until something like this occurs.  Now that it has, I assure you that every effort will be made to get your friend back safely."

Kel shared another look with Roy.  "We appreciate you coming over here on the holiday to fill us in," said Kel. 

He hardly knew what he was saying as his mind had already raced ahead, calculating exactly how pissed off Joe was going to be when he told him he had to take some more time off, trying to recall if he owned any clothes appropriate for winter in Idaho, and wondering how much coaxing it would take to persuade the various local, state and federal jurisdictions in Idaho to allow him to...what, precisely, he wasn't sure.  He'd figure it out when he got there.  If guns and possible bloodshed were involved, chances were good that they would welcome the presence of a doctor.  Moving on autopilot, he began to rise, prepared to show Agent Henley out, but found himself brought back to the present by the sound of urgency in the FBI man's voice.

"Doctor Brackett.  Wait.  I'm afraid there's more you need to know."  That said, Henley appeared reluctant to continue.

"Go on," said Kel, settling back in his chair again.

"Yeah," muttered Roy.  "It can't be any worse than what you've told us already."

Henley hesitated a moment longer, his expression mournful.  "The name of the victim, the kid that was John Gage."

"Ah, hell," said Kel.  He shut his eyes as all of the implications of that statement sank in.

"No way," Roy whispered.  "No fucking way."




When Johnny woke up, darkness blanketed the room.  He blinked groggily, wondering how many hours he had lost this time.  His headache had receded to a manageable level, but his throat felt raw and dry.  He gave an experimental tug on the cuffs, finding them still securely attached to the bed, and setting off a wave of tingles in his numb hand and arm that had him grimacing in pain.  As he shook his arm trying to shake sensation back into the area, occasional sounds drifted in from outside:  muffled shouts, a chainsaw that seemed unwilling to start, quieter voices that came close to the cabin and moved on, the rising wind, a slamming car door.  Inside the cabin, coals glowed within the wood stove, every so often snapping and sending sparks spiraling up the chimney.

Johnny dragged himself to a seated position, rolled his shoulders and took a few deep breaths, trying to relieve some of the stiffness in his back and shoulder.  He had just begun to relax when the sound of keys in the lock had his nerves on high alert again.  Brad entered.  He did not seem inclined to speak, but went through the same routine as before, removing the cuffs, and accompanying Johnny to answer the call of nature once more. 

As they made their way back to the cabin, Johnny noticed that the atmosphere in the camp had subtly changed since that morning.  A sort of nervous, feral excitement hung in the air, and the strengthening wind and steadily dropping temperature only added to the tension.  A glance at the night sky showed thickening clouds blowing in from the north, inexorably covering the stars and the rising moon.  Although Johnny had not lived in colder climates for many years, he still recognized the feel and scent of the approaching storm.  He guessed that by morning they were in for something more serious than the large wet flakes from the day before which had nearly melted already. 

"Do you think I could get something to drink?" he asked Brad as he reattached the handcuffs to Johnny's wrist. 

"You'll get something soon enough," he said.  He lit the kerosene lamp, and headed for the door.

"Hey, wait a second, would you?"

"What?"  Brad glared at him.

"Well, I - I was just curious about some things.  I thought maybe we could talk for a minute."

"I got nothing to say to you."  Brad's hands clutched the rifle more tightly.  "This is all your fault."

"My fault?  What is?"

"You ruined everything!"  Suddenly he raised the butt of the rifle to his shoulder, aiming the barrel at Johnny's forehead. 

Johnny noted the tremor in the bony, white knuckles gripping the forestock.  Shit.  I sure hope he's still got the safety on.  His cuffed arm was already effectively raised, so he slowly lifted his casted arm.  "Ruined it how?" he asked softly.

"He's abandoning us, and all because of you!"  His index finger slid inside the trigger guard.

"Now just hold on.  There's no need for this.  I mean, come on, Brad.  I've been napping for the last day and a half, in case you hadn't noticed, so I don't really see how - "

"You turned him against us, the offspring of vipers who flee the coming wrath!"

Johnny stared at him.  "Okay, you lost me, Brad."

Tobias' low laugh came from the open doorway.  Johnny's heart sped up, and he saw Brad give a guilty little jump.  He hesitated fractionally before lowering the rifle barrel.

"You're not alone, John.  Bradley has a tendency to misquote my prophecies."

With an effort, Johnny kept his expression from betraying his surprise.  He was no expert, but he had recognized Brad's words as something he had heard years ago at one of the dozens of different churches his Aunt Elaine had dragged him to during the two years he had spent with her.  She had been working her way through the yellow pages alphabetically, and thought Johnny might benefit from the exposure.  Your prophecies, my ass.  I bet you lifted that straight out of the Bible.  He watched Brad blush a deep red and lower his gaze to the floor.

Carrying a tray filled with food, Tobias entered the cabin and placed it on the table before moving to put an arm around Brad's shoulders.  "It's all right, son," he whispered, giving him a kiss on his temple.  "Don't blame John for my actions.  Remember, we all have a role to play.  Now go on and get yourself some dinner."

Brad glanced at the tray on the table, then at Johnny.  He gave Tobias a lingering look filled with deep longing and hurt.  It was a look which Johnny had seen on the faces of too many women he had broken up with to misinterpret.  The younger man stomped angrily out of the cabin, giving the door a savage slam. 

Tobias turned his attention to Johnny, his troubled expression doing nothing to mar his handsome features.  He sighed.  "Forgive him Johnny.  It is very difficult, what I ask of them."

"What do you ask of them?"

Tobias took off his black wool coat and draped it over the back of the wooden chair.  "Letting go is never easy."  He said this almost absently.  Underneath the coat he wore a heavy black cable knit sweater which he pulled over his head to reveal a white thermal long sleeve t-shirt.  Must not have been able to find that in black.   A gleam of silver shone at his throat.   "That's better."  Tobias smiled warmly at Johnny.  "It's cozy in here, isn't it?"  He frowned, still somehow managing to appear charming and warm.  "Are you comfortable, John?"

"Don't I look comfortable?"  

"No, and I am sorry for what you've had to endure.  Maybe we can do something about that."  He picked up a glass of juice from the tray and Johnny couldn't stop himself from groaning.  "First, you need to drink this."

Johnny shook his head decisively.  "I don't think so."


"Look, I'm not stupid.  I know you put something in that.  I'm plenty rested now, so what's say we skip the drugs tonight?"

Tobias gave him a look of mild disappointment.  He produced the small key Johnny had come to recognize, and held it up.  "Don't you want to get those cuffs off?"  He waited, but when Johnny remained stubbornly silent he sat next to him on the bed and rested a hand on his leg.  "It's for your own good, John.  I don't trust some of those men out there.  You know how it is."  His rueful grin communicated his regret.  "The group gets bigger.  People get jealous.  I've been thinking it's time to start over somewhere else.  What happened yesterday was not part of my plan.  Not at all.  Things are spinning out of control.  None of it's your fault, and I don't believe you should have to pay for it.  That's why I'm going to get you out of here tonight."

"You are?"  Johnny narrowed his eyes, trying to gauge the truth in what Tobias was saying

"Yes, John I am.  Your safety is my main concern.  You have to believe that, but if you won't do as I ask, there are alternatives which are less pleasant."  He offered the glass to Johnny once more.   

In truth, Johnny's throat felt so parched he was tempted to just take the glass and get it over with.  He was sick of being pushed around though, so he shook his head stubbornly and waited for the less pleasant alternatives to develop.

"All right," said Tobias, his eyes filled with sorrow.  "I was hoping to avoid this."  He rose and went to the door.  Opening it, he spoke quietly to someone just outside then turned back to Johnny.  "I'm going to step out for a minute."

He did just that, and three men entered, moving towards Johnny purposefully.  The one who now held the glass of juice smiled at him.  "We're not supposed to hurt you...if we can help it."

A second man moved to Johnny's left side, sitting on the bed and grasping his casted arm.  The third sat on his right and pressed down roughly on Johnny's shoulders before leaning down to murmur, "Will we be able to help it?"  He gave a nod to the man with the drugged juice.

Johnny closed his eyes, defeated.  "No," he whispered.  "I mean yes.  I mean...oh just give me the damn juice."  He drank, forced to gulp deeply as the liquid was poured too rapidly down his throat.  Finally, he jerked his head away and coughed, trying to catch his breath.  "You guys are really a drag you know," he called after their retreating backs as they filed out of the room.

Tobias returned, smiling genially once more.  "I'm glad that's over with, aren't you?  Now we can eat our dinner and get to know one another a little better before it's time to go."

Johnny scowled.  "Go where?"

"Don't worry about that.  It's all arranged.  Soon, Raphael, you'll remember everything.  I finally found you, and you don't have to be afraid anymore."  He moved to sit beside Johnny and gently caressed the side of his neck.  "I'll never leave you.  You'll never be alone again."

Chapter Text

"Damn it, Roy, would you stop that?"  Kel gave the other man an exasperated glare before returning his attention to the road, striving to keep the car on the highway in the near whiteout conditions. 

The drive had grown progressively more hazardous since they left Coeur D'Alene a few hours ago.  It had been snowing when the plane set down, and it didn't look like it would let up any time soon.  The thin, slick layer of snow which had coated the parking lot of the car rental place had steadily deepened to nearly five inches as they traveled north and then east.  A half hour earlier, Kel had reluctantly taken the precious time to pull to the side of the road and put chains on the car.  It was either that or continue to listen to Roy gasp like a hysterical little girl every time they rounded another curve.  As it was, the normally unflappable paramedic appeared ready to jump out of his skin.

Roy exhaled huffily.  "It's're going a little fast."  He peered out the window worriedly.  "Maybe you should let me drive."

"Roy, I grew up in New England for fuck's sake.  Trust me.  I know how to drive in the snow."  He glanced over to see Roy sulking.  Sulking?  "Tell me again where you grew up?"  Roy mumbled inaudibly.  "I didn't quite hear you.  What was that?"

"Norwalk.  Okay?  Happy?"

Kel sighed.  "No, Roy.  I'm not happy.  And I'm sorry I snapped at you.  I guess we're both a little on edge."

Roy gave him a sideways glance and subsided into brooding silence. 

Kel knew why they were so testy.  Agent Henley's revelations yesterday about Johnny's past had upset them both.  At first Kel feared it all might prove too much for Roy to take, and that he would wash his hands of the friendship.  He had rallied quickly, however, reacting with a sort of closemouthed compassion and understanding which surprised Kel, but which he appreciated nonetheless.  When Kel announced that he intended to fly to Idaho as soon as possible, Roy had surprised him again by insisting on coming with him.  They'd made arrangements for time off and for the trip itself with a speed that Kel wouldn't have thought possible.  By eleven o'clock that night they were on a plane heading to Coeur D'Alene.

During the flight, Kel mulled over the passing mention Henley had made to Johnny being treated at Memorial Hospital after his attack.  Kel knew, from numerous conversations with his neighbor and one time friend, that Steve Halstad had been working in the ER at Memorial ten years ago.  With that missing piece of the puzzle, Kel thought he finally understood the reasons for what went on with Johnny and Halstad on his living room floor. 

It pained him to think about what Johnny had to do to survive all those years ago.  Even more distressing was the thought of how desperately he must have wanted keep his past from Kel.  Johnny was a proud man.  To find himself backed into such a corner and to feel compelled to submit to Halstad's humiliating demands must have dealt a severe blow to his self-esteem.  If possible, Kel's contempt for Steve Halstad rose several more notches, and his hands fairly itched with the desire to pummel his smug, arrogant face, or to wrap around his neck and....Shuddering, he shut off the pointless thoughts of revenge.  There would be time enough to deal with Halstad once Johnny was safely home.

He recalled his conversation with Dixie a few days earlier.  Kel had told her it didn't matter what Johnny might have done in the past, but he finally had to admit to himself that it did matter.  It mattered a great deal, and he couldn't shake the feeling that he had been all too willing to view Johnny as too many others had, as someone not to be taken seriously, someone to...not take advantage of, precisely, but as a diversion, a means to a sensual end. 

If he felt differently about him now, that didn't change the fact that to begin with, he had just been incredibly turned on by the prospect of fucking what he had heard more than one nurse refer to as the hottest piece of paramedic ass at Rampart.  He had seen how nervous and uncomfortable Johnny was that night at his condo, and had just pounced on him anyway.  Not that either one of them had been left wanting in the pleasure department.  The pleasure was the easy part. 

Kel wished now that he had made even the slightest effort to let Johnny know that he meant more to him than a few nights of sexual amusement, wished that he had opened his eyes and paid attention to him.  John Gage the paramedic he had always respected.  Johnny the eternal, shameless seducer was a different story.  As much as it hurt to admit it now, he had bought into the image and the tales of sexual exploits that followed Johnny through the halls of Rampart, fueled by gossip and, he suspected, a certain amount of wishful fantasy and projection.

He couldn't help but wonder how differently events might have unfolded if he had taken just a little more care with Johnny's emotions.  If he hadn't gone running off to Boston in a fit of self-preservation and wounded pride, he would have been around when Johnny received the news about his father.  Maybe he could have talked him out of the trip to Montana.  And he certainly would have been there to protect him from Halstad.  

Now, with the snow swirling around them, turning the world a uniform, disorienting white, Kel had to force himself to concentrate on his driving and not dwell on what Johnny might be going through right now, or what the chances were of getting him back safe and in once piece.  That's all he wanted, and right now he didn't care about anything else.  He glanced over at Roy.

 "We should be getting close," he said.  "Could you check the map again?"

Roy grabbed the map from the glove box and unfolded it to its full size, flipped it over, rotated it, scratched his ear, lost his grip, and sent it slithering across the dashboard, obscuring Kel's view of the road.

Irritated, Kel swiped at the map.  "Really, Roy?  Are you just screwing with me on purpose now?"

Roy wadded up the map and tossed it in the back seat.  "Sorry!  Geez.  You know, Doc, as a traveling companion, you suck."

"Right back at you, Roy."

"It's just...Johnny's a lot better with maps than I am."  He went back to staring out the window, and then suddenly pointed up ahead.  "Look, there's a sign for the Creekside Motel.  Two more miles."

Thank God.  Resisting the urge to speed up, Kel reviewed what he intended to say to the FBI agent in charge, who Henley had told them was named Archie Browder.  Kel and Roy had agreed that they would simply present themselves as concerned friends of Johnny's with skills which might prove useful either during or following the upcoming raid on Tobias' encampment.  If Browder turned down their offer of help, at least they would be nearby when Johnny was rescued.  And he would be rescued.  Kel refused to consider the alternative.

They rounded another long curve to be met with a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie.  Two police cruisers blocked the highway with red and blue lights flashing, and milling officers came instantly alert, drawing revolvers and shotguns and pointing them toward the rental car.  Kel slammed on the brakes, sending the car into a sliding turn, and sending a panicked shriek to Roy's lips.  The car came to a stop, having barely missed broad siding the police cars.  Roy abruptly shut up.  Silence filled the car for perhaps five seconds before the unmistakable ratcheting sound of shotgun shells being chambered drifted in, along with shouted commands.

"Driver, keep your hands on the wheel.  You, get your hands on the dash.  You!  The balding guy.  Don't act like - you know who you are, buddy.  Hands on the dash.  Now!"

Kel and Roy sat passively, only moving to roll down the windows and hand out their identification when ordered to do so.  Gloved hands pulled them from the car, patted them down and guided them to the back of one of the cruisers.  From there, they watched while police crawled through their rental car, searched their bags, popped the trunk, and slid mirrors underneath, presumably to check for bombs.  Finally, apparently satisfied that the two men posed no threat, they allowed them out of the car and shepherded them inside a motel room cluttered with Styrofoam cups and crumpled fast food wrappers.  Two men turned towards them from where they sat huddled over papers and photographs scattered across a small table.

"You Brackett and DeSoto?" asked a man in rumpled brown trousers and a wrinkled white dress shirt with sleeves rolled to the elbows.  "You're late.  We expected you at least an hour ago."

Kel's eyebrows rose in surprise.  Beside him, Roy looked similarly perplexed.  "You were expecting us?"

The man rose, as did his companion, a slender, bookish man with glasses.  The first man spoke again.  "George, that is, Agent Henley called me last night, said you were on your way."  He held out his hand.  "I'm Hart Jensen.  This is Marv Garvin."

Kel stared incredulously.  Marvin Garvin?  Hysterical laughter began to bubble its way to the surface and he tamped it down firmly, scowling to cover the momentary lapse.  He shook Detective Jensen's hand, growing worried at the unexpected compassion in the other man's eyes.  Ignoring Agent Garvin's proffered hand, he stared back and forth between the two of them.   "What's happened?"  His voice sounded faint and breathless to his own ears.

"Is Johnny okay?" asked Roy.  "Have you had any contact with him?  How soon are you raiding the camp?"

He might have gone on indefinitely with one panicked question after the next if Garvin hadn't held up a hand to put a stop to it.  "Can I offer either of you some coffee?" he asked.  Roy and Kel both shook their heads no.  "We should hear something soon.  Until we do, we're going to have to ask you to wait next door." 

As Garvin unlocked the door to an adjoining room, indicating that Roy and Kel should enter, Jensen rapidly gathered the papers and photos from the table and placed them in a thick file which he set on one of the beds.  He wasn't quite fast enough.  Kel had seen the same photo of the caduceus brand that Henley had shown them, as well as a bruised and bloody face which he immediately recognized as a much younger Johnny.  He took a steadying breath and glanced at Roy, who was looking a little pale.  He had about a hundred questions he wanted to ask, but they had been dismissed, so he followed Roy into the next room, watched the door close behind them, and listened as the key was turned, locking them inside.




Roy entered the adjoining room and heard the door lock behind them.  For a moment he fervently wished that Brackett had been locked on the other side.  Although he had worked with the man for years, and had always respected his work and his judgment as a doctor, he had never spent much time in his company away from work.  After hours jammed up next to him on the flight, and then enduring his wild driving and snappish attitude through the developing blizzard, he had had about all that he could stand of the man.  Frankly, he didn't see what Johnny saw in Brackett, and was starting to think that, doctor or not, his friend could do a lot better.  Immediately, he scolded himself for his uncharitable thoughts.  He took a deep breath to calm himself, and then started coughing as he inhaled stale smoke.  It smells like a poorly ventilated tavern in here, he thought, just as he realized that they were not alone in the room. 

A young blonde man lay stretched out on one of the twin beds, stubbing out his cigarette, one in a series of many, judging by the overflowing ashtray and the suffocating stench in the air.  The young man didn't bother to get up, but lay where he was, staring at them sullenly.  "You're on lockdown too?" he finally asked.  "What did you guys do?"

Roy looked over at Brackett and back at the young man.  "Who the hell are you?" he asked.

"Me?  Oh nobody, really."  He sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed.  "Just the goddamn fucking worthless counts-for-nothing brother of the fucking hostage."  He scrubbed a hand vigorously through his hair until it stood up in untidy tufts.

Roy shared another look with Brackett, wondering if he was thinking the same thing.  This was Johnny's brother, and if he looked very little like Johnny at first glance, his posture and mussed hair evoked Johnny quite clearly.

Roy sat down on the other bed, facing the agitated young man.  "You're Sam Gage?" he asked.

Trying to appear disinterested and failing miserably, Sam said, "Yeah.  So?  Who are you guys?  More cops?  If so, I'm done talking to you guys.  Each one of you is more worthless than the next."

Roy smiled and extended his hand.  "No, we're not cops.  I'm Roy DeSoto, Johnny's partner."  They shook hands, and Roy saw the surprised recognition in Sam's eyes.  Johnny must have mentioned him.  He gestured behind himself with his thumb, to where Brackett still stood near the door.  "That's Dr. Brackett.  Johnny's...uh...Johnny's -"

Bracket stepped forward but did not offer Sam his hand.  "I'm Johnny's friend."

"Dr.?"  Sam gave him an assessing look.  "Are you...I mean are you the guy..."

"Am I what guy?" 

Roy saw with some amusement that Brackett wore the earnest, concerned look he had perfected.

"I mean that Johnny mentioned you, if you're the guy."

Brackett just waited.  Roy could see he wasn't going to give the kid any help.

Sam shrugged.  "His boyfriend.  Yeah, I guess you are.  Look, I hope...I mean...cut him a little slack, okay?"

"Slack?"  Now Brackett looked earnest, concerned and confused.

"He was worried that he'd done something to make you mad.  And he's been kind of stressed out.  I guess you know our dad died.  And I was all over him about taking this stupid trip.  So whatever it was he did, I'm sure he never meant to upset you.  And now..."   He stared down at his hands.

Brackett sank down next to Roy on the bed, his expression stricken, never taking his eyes off of Sam.  "And now what?"

Sam looked back and forth between the two of them, his eyes troubled, and then reached for his cigarettes on the nightstand.  He fumbled aimlessly with the pack before tossing it down on the bed.  "Now I screwed up, and he's in big trouble.  Man, that guy Tobias.  Do you know what he is?  What he's done?"

"Yeah," said Roy.  "We know."

"None of this would have happened if not for me."  He picked up his cigarettes again and fiddled with the pack, as if unable to look at the other two men.

"Sam," said Brackett, "can you tell us what this trip was about?  You keep implying that it was your fault."

Roy gave Brackett a sharp glance, then remembered that he hadn't read the letters from Johnny's father, and didn't know about his request to scatter his ashes on the reservation.  He briefly wondered if Brackett knew about Johnny's uncle, then remembered what Johnny had said, that he had never told another soul that story. 

Sam finally extracted a cigarette.  He kept his gaze fixed on it as he began to speak, rolling it back and forth between his thumb and forefinger, but didn't light it.  "Johnny didn't want to go.  He tried so hard to talk me out of it, but I wouldn't listen, and I didn't understand."

He went on to recount the trip for them, including a chance meeting in Idaho Falls where they had encountered Tobias, and their run-in with Charles Gage.  Brackett looked as ill as Roy felt at hearing what Johnny had been put through, and the things Sam had deduced regarding Johnny's childhood.  Even though Roy knew the part about his childhood from Johnny, hearing it a second time didn't make it any less upsetting.  Then Sam told them how he had been treated when the FBI and police had questioned him, and how they had wanted to assume that Johnny had gone with Tobias voluntarily.

"But they know better now, right?" asked Roy. 

"I guess.  They haven't told me much since they shoved me back in here.  I only wanted to help."

"It doesn't sound like you've been much help to Johnny so far," said Brackett. 

Brackett's harsh tone surprised Roy.  What crawled up his butt and died?  He ignored Brackett and addressed Sam.  "Why did they lock you in here?"

Sam's mouth tightened.  He finally raised the cigarette to lips and picked up a book of matches.  He repeatedly tried and failed to light a match before throwing cigarette and matchbox on the floor in frustration.  "They said I was pestering them," he finally muttered.

"Pestering?" said Roy incredulously.  "You're Johnny's family and they say you're pestering them?  You have every right to know what they're doing."

"That's just it.  It seems as if they're not doing anything.  They just sit around and talk and discuss and act like Johnny is nothing to them."  He looked up at the ceiling, trying to get his emotions under control.  "I think that's my fault too.  I should never have told them about his uncle, or about you."  He glanced apologetically at Brackett.

"Me?  What do you mean?"  Brackett's scowl seemed to have taken up permanent residence on his face.

 "I mean," said Sam, "that's what set them off, and put their dirty little minds in motion about Johnny and Tobias."  He plucked viciously at the bedspread.  "Most of them are a bunch of jerks."

Roy could see Brackett growing more and more angry as Sam spoke, and he wasn't far behind. 

Shaking his head, Brackett rose to his feet and stared at the locked door, then advanced on it, looking as if he might just rip it off its hinges.  Roy stood and followed him, ready to back him up.  He glanced back at Sam, who, after a brief hesitation, joined them at the door, where Brackett now pounded steadily and jiggled the knob.  Suddenly the door flew inwards, nearly taking Brackett with it.

"What the devil is your problem?"  Agent Garvin stood in the doorway, hands on his hips.

Brackett took a step toward him.  "I want to know what's going on here."

"Going on?"

"Look, maybe you can intimidate this kid - "  He gave a negligent wave in Sam's direction.  " - but don't make the mistake of believing you can get away with that with me."

"Or me," Roy cut in.

"Or him," said Brackett.  "We are taxpaying citizens, and in case you've forgotten, you basically work for us."

"Now wait just one minute."

"No.  I've waited long enough, and I'm not waiting any longer."

Something told Roy that Brackett was talking about something more than the few minutes they had been in the other room.

Garvin stepped right up to Brackett, his furious expression nearly a match for Brackett's.  "Your hurt feelings are not my concern right now.  We have a killer to apprehend.  Not to mention hundreds of his followers."

Roy placed a restraining hand on Brackett's shoulder which he shrugged off almost savagely.  Undeterred, Roy stood next to him, facing the FBI man.  "Agent, believe me when I tell you we want that just as much as you do.  Johnny is my friend.  My partner.  I'm sure you understand how close a partner can be."  Garvin gave a reluctant nod.  "I promise we're not going to interfere with you."  He looked to Brackett for confirmation, and now the doctor gave a reluctant nod of his own.  "All we want is to be kept in the loop.  And who knows Johnny better than we do?  We might even be able to help out if you'll let us."

Jensen spoke up from inside the room.  "He's right, Marv.  Weren't you just explaining to me that understanding the selection of the victims is often the key to predicting what a killer will do?"

Garvin stared at the stained carpet and ran a hand through his close-cropped hair.  He sighed.  "All right.  Fine.  Come on in."  He watched as they filed through the door, reaching out to stop Sam with a hand on his arm.  "But you had better keep your smart mouth zipped shut unless you have something constructive to add.  And you better damn well make sure it is constructive.  Understand?"

"Sure thing, Marvin."  He entered the room, pinning Garvin with a narrow-eyed gaze.

Roy almost smiled.  For a moment, he could practically hear and see Johnny in one of his Chet-induced snits.  The smile evaporated when he looked beyond Sam to the table where Jensen sat and saw the photographs and other documents from Tobias' file spread out once again.  He grabbed Sam's arm and pulled him away from Garvin, guiding him to a chair at the table.  He sat Sam down, took a chair next to him, and waited for Garvin to resume his seat.  Brackett remained standing at Roy's shoulder, his arms crossed and his posture tense. 

When nobody else seemed inclined to say anything, Roy spoke up.  "Can you fill us in on what's happening?" 

Garvin sighed.  "We've been waiting for an update on the raid for a couple of hours.  In the meantime, Detective Jensen has been bringing me up to speed on some of the finer points of Zale's delusions."

"Delusions?"  This, from Brackett.  "Are you saying he is clinically insane?"

Garvin shrugged.  "You can judge for yourself.  Hart, can you tell them what you were just telling me?  Maybe start at the beginning.  Just the short version."

Jensen rearranged several pages of hand-written notes.  "Okay.  Tobias Andrew Zale.  Born 1941 in Mobile, Alabama.  Mother died in 1950.  His father, Dr. Arthur Zale, seemed to have a bit of wanderlust.  He and his son moved every couple of years, moving gradually north and west.  Dr. Zale disappeared in 1961 somewhere in Montana, about the same time that Tobias left and headed further west.  Dr. Zale's body was never found."  He looked up and froze, apparently just noticing that all four other occupants of the room were staring at him with startled expressions.  "What?"

Garvin glared at him.  "You didn't mention that part before."

"What part?"

"The part about Zale living in Montana in 1961."


"So, I'll give you one guess where Gage lived in 1961."

Jensen gave an exaggerated shrug.  "It's a pretty big state, Marv."

"Well, why don't you tell us where, precisely, in Montana they were living?" 

Jensen consulted his notes, sparing a couple of worried glances at the irate Agent Garvin.  "Looks like he was working at a small clinic in Poplar."  He looked around the table.  "Is that significant?"

"Is that signi - yeah, I guess that's one way to put it, especially considering that Gage lived just outside of Poplar."

"Oh."  Jensen jotted something in the margins of his notes.  "Good to know.  But look, you know this case has been cold for the last ten years, and no one has touched it but me.  I've been doing this in my spare time, and I've focused most of my attention on Tobias and trying to figure out those letters he left on his victims."

"It's fine, Hart.  Just get on with it."

Jensen's mouthed worked silently for a few seconds, and Roy could have sworn he was counting to ten.

Jensen sifted through the file folder and pulled out a few pages before continuing.  "The main references in Tobias' letters, or treatises or whatever you would like to call them, are to Raphael and Tobias.  There is an actual text, The Book of Tobit, which is not included in the standard Bible, but is pretty common in Catholic texts.  Basically, the archangel Raphael appears on Earth as a human, and, among other things, assists Tobias, who is the son of Tobit.  I'll spare you the details, and just tell you that it looks as if Tobias, that is, Toby Zale, latched onto the basic premise of the story and either chose to disregard the rest in favor of his own embellishments, or was simply ignorant of it."  He turned one of the pages around and showed it to Roy and Sam and Brackett.

"See this part here?  He talks about some sort of corruption, being in danger, a demon that needs to be destroyed, and being saved or healed by Raphael.  It rambles quite a bit, but those are the basic themes.  Raphael, by the way, is considered the angel of healing, and this - "  He held up the familiar photograph of the caduceus brand.  " - this symbol is often associated with Raphael.  Now I don't know if George - Agent Henley - told you, but the victims, at least the ones we know about, were all strikingly similar in appearance:  dark hair, thin build, and were either in their teens or looked like they were.  So he was searching for something very specific when he selected his victims.  I believe he killed them when he realized they couldn't give him what he needed."

Sam had a look on his face like he was trying to puzzle something out.  "So...Tobias knew Johnny from Montana.  Then he sees him again in LA?  And again here in Idaho?  Was that all coincidental, or did Tobias know where he was all along?"

Roy nodded slowly.  He had been wondering the same thing.

Garvin took over at Jensen.  "It could be coincidental.  I've studied a fair number of serial killers at Quantico, and you'd be surprised how much dumb luck some of them have."

"Luck?"  The word erupted from Dr. Brackett like a curse.  "Who gives a shit about his luck?  I'm more concerned about Johnny's luck, and right now I'd say it's positively abysmal.  We've got you jokers - " he pointed first at Jensen and then at Garvin " - acting like this is all just some academic exercise.  And don't get me started on the long lost ‘brother' here who absolutely does not have Johnny's interests at heart - "

Sam sat upright as if he had been goosed.  "What?  What the hell is that supposed to mean?"

Brackett's hands rested on his hips, and his eyebrows were bending and contorting into shapes Roy had never seen before.  "It means," said Brackett, "that if you had paid your brother the attention he had deserved, he never would have been on that stretch of highway on Wednesday.  And if you had kept your goddamn mouth shut about the private details of Johnny's life, maybe these gentlemen - " he swept an arm towards Jensen and Garvin " - would be treating him less like an amusing sideshow, and more like a valuable human being deserving of their respect."  Everyone began objecting angrily at once, but Brackett just shouted over them, and one by one they shut up.  "If my math is correct, it's been two whole days since Johnny was taken.  Detective Jensen, you tell me right now, all bullshit aside, ten years ago when you were working this case, how many days did those boys have?"

Jensen looked blankly at the doctor.

"How many days, Detective?  When Tobias took those kids, how long did he wait to bash their heads in?" 

Roy sat closest to Brackett, and he could feel him trembling with rage.

Jensen blushed, glanced at Garvin and cleared his throat.  "We seemed...uhh.  Three days, Dr. Brackett.  He kept them alive for three days.  But let me remind you the situation here is different."

Brackett's eyes closed briefly and then he sat heavily in the remaining empty chair, his anger apparently having evaporated, at least for the moment.  He seemed about to say something else, but just then a handheld radio which lay on the bed crackled to life.

Garvin picked it up and answered, his back to the rest of the room's occupants, but the exchange was clearly audible.

"Marv, have that doctor and paramedic shown up yet?"

"They're right here.  Any progress on your end?"

"We need them out here.  Bring the brother, too."

"Uh, 10-4, but what - "

"Make it quick."

"10-4," Garvin repeated.

Roy and Brackett were already on their feet, shrugging back into their coats.  Sam trotted into the other room and came back with his jacket.  They followed Garvin and Jensen outside.

"Sam, you come with us," said Garvin, urgency filling his voice.  "Brackett, you and DeSoto follow us in your car.  Stay close."

"How far?" asked Roy.

"Twenty minutes."

Roy was at the passenger side of the rental car and reaching for the door handle when he glanced across the top of the car at Brackett, who stood as if frozen, his gaze on the snowy ground.

"Doc?  Let's get going." Garvin's black sedan was already pulling out of the parking lot.  When Brackett made no move to open his door, Roy smacked the roof of the car impatiently.  "Doc!  Get in the car."

Brackett lifted his head and gave him a beseeching look.  "I - I can't - Roy, would you mind driving?"

Roy hid his surprise at this unexpected glimpse of vulnerability.   "Sure, Doc.  Sure thing."  He moved around to the driver's side, giving Brackett a reassuring pat on the shoulder as they passed one another.  Moments later they were in their seats and flying down the snowy highway in the wake of the other car.  In the rearview mirror, Roy saw several police cars fall in behind them, lights flashing.  While he kept his attention focused on the road, his mind churned out one possible explanation after another for the sudden need for haste, each one more alarming than the last.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Brackett give a little jump as the car fishtailed around a curve.  When the road straightened, he accelerated, and stole a glance at the other man but quickly looked away.

As they raced through the storm on their way to who knew what, Roy kept his eyes steadfastly on the road and away from Dr. Brackett.  Roy was frightened for Johnny, but the stark fear he had seen in Brackett's eyes went far beyond anything he was feeling.  That looked had shocked him, but at the same time it left him strangely reassured.  Roy no longer doubted Brackett's sincerity and it finally sank in that the man seated next him was deeply in love with his best friend.




The world sped by in a blur of white.  Kel slumped in the seat, trying to pull himself together.  He had heard the alarm in the voice coming over the radio, and scenarios raced through his head, one worst than the next.  Get a grip, he scolded himself.  They didn't know anything yet, except that someone was presumably in trouble and needing medical assistance.  Whether it turned out to be Johnny or someone else, he needed to be ready and in control of his emotions.  By the time the car slowed, turning north onto a much narrower road and passing through a metal gate, he had managed to stop his trembling, and his detached professional mask was back in place.

Embarrassed that Roy had witnessed his momentary weakness, he straightened up and reached into the back seat for his medical bag, determined to be ready to move once they got to wherever they were going.  Another ten minutes passed in tense silence.  Ahead of them, Garvin's car slowed, and Kel nearly did a double-take at the number of law enforcement vehicles pulled to one side of the road, and the number of men rushing by in every direction.  The new arrivals were waved forward and directed to park just on the edges of a huge clearing.  Kel handed Roy his jump bag, grabbed his own bag, and they both exited the car, staring around them in growing horror.

Cars and trucks had been set ablaze and oily smoke mingled with the falling snow as men worked to extinguish the flames.  Two yellow school buses sat close to the road, surrounded by armed men.  Inside each bus, Kel could see dozens of handcuffed men slumped in postures of defeat and boredom.  The snowy ground, churned up by innumerable feet passing over it, already showed a growing layer of new snow.  He felt his heart constrict at the sight of three bodies laid out uncovered in the snow.  Grimacing police officers were in the process of moving two more bodies to arrange next to the others.  He had barely registered the fact that he did not recognize any of the dead men when he noticed a sixth corpse set apart from the rest, covered with a cloth and watched over by two grim-faced FBI men.

Ignoring the shouts of Garvin and a silver-haired man who had met his car, Kel and Roy took off at a run for the covered body. 

"Leave him!" shouted Garvin, hard on their heels.  "We have injured to..." 

Garvin trailed off as Kel knelt beside the body and peeled the cloth from the face.  Kel slumped in relief to see an unfamiliar man with a red beard, his flesh pale and rigid, as if he had been dead for a while.  Just as he heard Roy give a relieved sigh, Garvin dropped to his knees beside Kel, brushing him aside, and stared at the frozen face, filmed-over eyes, and the small hole in the middle of the forehead which told the tale of how he had died. 

"Dave..."  Garvin's voice came out the barest of whispers.  He touched the dead man's face and then pulled his hand away, curling it into a fist.

Kel watched grief wash over Garvin's face, and felt a pang of guilt at his own relief that it wasn't Johnny lying there.  "You knew him?"

"Dave Ford.  My partner."  He carefully placed the cloth back over the dead man's face and struggled to his feet.

Kel stood up and looked over at Roy.  He saw the sympathy in his eyes and could only guess what he was thinking.  Sam stood behind Roy, his eyes huge and his face pale, his head swiveling in every direction, his gaze coming to rest again and again on the uncovered bodies laid out on the ground, their closed eyes filling with snow.

The silver-haired man had joined them, and was watching Garvin with a pained expression.  "Marv, I'm sorry.  I wanted to tell you before you....I'm sorry.  He...we think he was killed yesterday morning sometime."

Garvin nodded, his expression bleak.  "While we were all sitting around eating doughnuts and dissecting Gage's life.  How did they find out who he was?"

"We don't know.  Marv, why don't you wait in the car?  Take a few minutes."

Garvin adjusted his glasses on his nose, his mouth tightening.  "I'm fine."  He jerked his head toward Kel and Roy.  "This is Dr. Brackett.  Roy DeSoto.  And this is Special Agent Archie Browder.  He's in charge here.  Archie?  Want to let us know what's going on?"

Browder paused, looking as if he wanted to say something more, and then nodded at Kel and Roy.  "Come on," he said.  "I'll tell you while we're walking."  Setting a rapid pace, he led Kel, Roy, Sam, Garvin and Jensen toward the center of the camp, passing more FBI agents and police officers, some collecting evidence, others ushering handcuffed men toward the school buses.  "A lot of them seem to have disappeared overnight.  We've got teams out trying to round more of them up, but the weather isn't cooperating, and it's a virtual maze of criss-crossing forest service roads north of here."

"Tobias?" asked Garvin.

"Haven't found him yet.  He's probably miles from here by now.  He may even have crossed into Canada."

They all digested that bit of bad news for a moment.

"What about Johnny?" asked Kel.

Browder paused, and then continued walking.  "The whole place seems to have erupted in chaos last night.  Like I said, a lot of them just took off.  We've rounded up pretty much everyone who stayed behind.  We're not sure yet what the story was with those five bodies you saw.  As you can tell - " he gestured at one of the smoldering cars as they passed "- things went sour in fairly dramatic fashion.  So much for their little utopia.  Nobody has said much so far, but a couple of the prisoners admitted that Tobias abandoned them in the middle of the night.  Which didn't stop a small group of particularly devoted followers from holing up in here." 

They had arrived at what appeared to be the center of the encampment.  Browder gestured at a small cabin.  "We had a standoff going for a couple of hours.  Then a half hour ago we heard a series of gun shots inside the cabin.   That's when we went in."  He opened the door.  "This is what we found.  Sam, I strongly suggest you stay out here."  He put his hand on Kel's arm and pinned first him and then Roy with a steely gaze.  "It's not pretty in there.  We've only found one survivor, but he hasn't come around yet.  All we want you to do is check him out and treat him."  He dropped his hand and shifted uncomfortably.  "And, uh, we don't have any current photos of Gage.  We're relatively certain he's not in there, but we need you to verify that."

We're relatively certain.  Kel took a fortifying breath and entered the cabin, followed by Roy.  He stopped, pulled up short by the gruesome scene inside.  Roy bumped up softly against his back, and gave a shocked gasp.  Perhaps a dozen men lay in various contorted postures, some with anguished expressions of fear trapped on their stiff faces, most blank and neutral in death.  Sticky, drying blood pooled everywhere, and dripped from the walls, mingled in places with what looked suspiciously like brain matter.  The metallic smell of blood filled the chill air, along with a lingering scent of gunpowder. 

Kel swept his gaze around the room, forcing himself to pause at each face until he had satisfied himself that Johnny was not part of this obscene carnage.  He forced down his nausea, ignoring Browder's assurances that they were all beyond help, and moved from one body to the next, mechanically bending down to check for any signs of life before advancing to the next one.  After a brief pause, he saw Roy join him in the grim task. 

Browder and Garvin watched their progress.  "Anything?" asked Browder impatiently.

Kel shook his head.

"Do you see your friend?"

"No."  Kel was used to the sight of blood, but not like this.

"This one!" called Roy.  "Over here.  He's got a pulse."

Kel scrambled over to join him next to a young man whose jeans and fatigue jacket were covered with splattered blood.  Drying blood decorated the side of his face, and a dark scorch mark creased the side of his head. 

They had just begun to take his vitals when his eyes flew open and he struggled to sit up.  He clapped one hand to his head while he thrashed wildly, his free hand and feet striking out at anyone and anything he could reach.  "Get your fucking hands off of me!"

Kel slapped his flailing hand away, just managing to avoid being struck in the face.  "Settle down," he snapped.     

The two FBI men rushed over to assist in subduing the young man, allowing Kel to finish his examination.  "He's fine," he quickly determined.  "Bullet grazed him.  He'll probably have a hell of a headache, and you should probably have some x-rays taken to be on the safe side."  He rose and surveyed the room.   "What the hell happened in here?"

"Looks like they turned on each other," said Browder.  He moved to the door and called out orders.  A moment later, two police officers appeared in the doorway, pausing as they caught sight of the scene inside the cabin.  "Cuff him and get him on the bus."

"Wait."  Kel put a restraining hand on Browder's arm.  "Aren't you going to question him first?"

Browder motioned for the two officers to wait.  "In case you haven't noticed, Dr. Brackett, we have something of a logistical nightmare here right now.  Believe me, once we've cleared the camp and processed everyone, they will all be thoroughly interrogated."

"Maybe he knows something about Johnny."  He turned towards the young man, who had subsided into stillness, and was listening to them with a sullen expression.  "The man that was taken.  John Gage.  He's our friend.  Have you seen him?  Do you know where he is?"

"I should have shot him."

"What?" said Roy.  "You saw him?  What happened to him?"

The prisoner's face crumpled and he looked as if he might cry.  "It's not fair!"  The police officers lifted him up and placed the handcuffs on him.  "It should have been me."

"Wait," said Kel. 

The man was led out of the cabin.  Kel hurried after him, glad to be out of that room filled with death.  "What should have been you?  What do you know?"

As he was led away, the young man looked over his shoulder at Kel, his face contorted in grief and rage.  "You'll never find him.  Tobias is too smart for you.  You'll never find him, and you'll never find your friend.  You may as well give him up for lost.  Tobias will send him into the darkness, just like all the others.  And there's nothing you can do about it." 

Chapter Text

Warmth.  Softness.  Quiet.

Johnny woke to these sensations.  Something yielding and pleasantly scented lay beneath him.  He burrowed more deeply into whatever it was, trying to fall back into that dark, blank, safe place he had just left. 

Somewhere behind him, he heard a quiet drip, and had only a moment to wonder what it was before a warm wetness touched his shoulder and smoothed its way lower in slow circles.  The damp pressure left him and he heard another series of drips.  The warmth and wetness caressed his lower back, down one hip and back up, across his back, down the other hip and up.  He cracked one eye open to a blurred expanse of white.  Disoriented, he blinked slowly, trying to focus.  When the dampness landed softly on his bottom, his eyes widened as he realized two things at once:  he was nude, and he was being washed.  He must have tensed, because lips touched his shoulder, kissing gently. 

He relaxed and smiled sleepily.  "Feels good, Kel," he mumbled.

The circling motion of the washcloth paused mid-circle, then continued down the back of one thigh, slipping down to his inner thigh and up again, and across the back of his knee.  The cloth lifted and seconds later he heard the tiny cascade of drips as the cloth was wrung out.  It made its way down the back of his other leg. 

He let his eyes flutter shut and gave himself over to the sensual movement of the wet cloth sliding down each calf, over his ankles and the soles of his feet.  He wasn't sure what Kel had planned next, but he knew he was in good hands.  Content to let the other man set whatever pace he wanted, he drifted just at the edge of sleep until he felt a hand on his shoulder.  Something about the hand felt wrong.

"Turn over for me, John," said a soft, deep voice that wasn't Kel's.

Jolted into full consciousness, he pushed himself up and turned his head, gasped as pain shot through his injured arm, fell to one side and tried to roll away from the unknown person, but the thick comforter underneath him enveloped him, giving no purchase, and a powerful arm pressed into his back, holding him in place.

"What the hell are you doing?" he gasped, jerking himself first one way and then the other, before bending his knees and pushing with his feet in a futile attempt to break free.  "," he ground out. 

The pressure on his back increased and he felt hot breath against his neck and ear.  Someone was lying on top of him.

"Hold still, John." said the deep, soothing voice.  "You're okay.  You're fine."

Johnny shivered at the sound of the voice and the feel of soft breath tickling the shell of his ear.  He lay still, half-smothered by the comforter, struggling to draw a breath, and gave his head a confused shake, trying to remember where he was and who he was with.  The last thing he recalled was...oh yeah...oh shit.  Holy fucking shit. 

He wasn't getting enough oxygen, and he started to panic.  "Could you...I can't...trouble... breathing."  Tobias shifted his weight to the side, and Johnny grabbed one deep lungful of air and then another, trying to calm himself.  Tobias' right hand pinned his arm down, his left had a firm grip on Johnny's naked hip, one leg was wedged between Johnny's thighs, and his groin pressed tightly to his buttocks.  As clarity returned, the realization that the other man was fully clothed brought only a small measure of reassurance.  He chose to ignore the disturbing hardness nudging his ass crack.  "Do you think... could you maybe get off of me?"  He sent a shaky laugh into the folds of the comforter, hoping he sounded casual and unconcerned, as if he woke up all the time with strange men bathing him.

"Do you promise to behave?"  Tobias feathered his fingertips across Johnny's hip and shifted again, settling himself as if he intended on staying there indefinitely.

Behave?  "Sure.  Absolutely."  He waited while Tobias seemed to weigh his truthfulness.  Finally, the larger man rolled off and moved to sit next to him, keeping one restraining hand on Johnny's lower back. 

"Then roll over for me now.  We need to clean your other side."  His free hand patted Johnny's hip.

"We do?  Why?" asked Johnny, genuinely perplexed.  He craned his neck to look back at Tobias and caught him perusing his naked body with the avid look of a starving man sizing up his next meal.  Great.  What next?  "I hope you aren't hiding some parsley and an apple around here anywhere."  His half-hearted quip was met with raised eyebrows.

"Really, John.  You have to learn to trust me a little.  You've been in the same clothes for days now.  No offense, but you were getting a little ripe."  He smiled apologetically.  "While you were asleep, I thought I'd take the opportunity to make you more comfortable.  That's all.  Nothing scary.  Now let's get this finished, and then we can have some supper."  He reached over to retrieve the washcloth from a bowl of water sitting on a nearby chair, wrung it out, and waited with an expectant expression.  When Johnny didn't move, Tobias glanced at the front door and back at Johnny, the implied threat clear.

Johnny sighed, wondering how many men were waiting outside the door this time.  For just a moment, he considered forcing the issue on the slim chance that the FBI agent, Dave Ford, was one of the men guarding the door.  He would dearly like to have another chat with him.

"John?"  A steely thread of warning wound through the mild question.

Biting back a groan, Johnny rolled over with great reluctance.  Nothing scary.  Sure.  Whatever you say.  Well, better one slightly off-center clean freak than a roomful of gun nuts.  He folded his good arm behind his head, forced himself to relax, and studied Tobias as he set to work washing him.  There was no denying he was an extravagantly good-looking man.  Johnny's gaze traveled from the high forehead accentuated by dark, swept back hair, to the elegantly arched eyebrows, pale, deep-set eyes, well-defined cheekbones, slender nose, firm, wide mouth, and gently rounded chin.  Johnny flinched when Tobias ran the washcloth over his groin.  He wondered how old he was.  Mid-thirties, maybe?  When Tobias tenderly lifted his cock and began to lavish a little too much attention in that region, and Johnny's traitorous cock began to respond, he looked away and focused his attention on anything and everything else.

He lay, not on a bed as he'd first thought, but a large couch set in what looked like another cabin, this one larger and better constructed than the last.  Besides the front door, he could see two other closed doors, presumably a bedroom and bathroom.  A fire crackled in the large, stone fireplace.  Several colorful throw rugs brightened the scarred oak floor.  He raised his head to look over the back of the couch, and glimpsed a large table with four wooden chairs and beyond that a compact kitchen.  Besides the fire, the only light was provided by two kerosene lanterns set on end tables.  He spotted an electrical light fixture directly overhead, and switches on the walls.  This was somewhat encouraging.  Electricity meant they couldn't be too far from civilization.

As if reading his mind, Tobias paused in his ministrations and smiled, shaking his head.  "There's a generator," he said.  "Currently inaccessible.  We're quite alone.  It's just you and me."  He rubbed the cloth almost absently up and down the underside of Johnny's by now completely clean and rapidly hardening cock. 

Johnny looked at the front door and back at Tobias.  "Alone?  You're telling me there aren't a bunch of guys with guns outside the door?"  Tobias shook his head.  With a hiss of anger at being so easily duped, Johnny brushed away the hand that was touching him too intimately, and covered himself with a corner of the comforter.

Tobias shook his head and chuckled.  "Your modesty surprises me, John.  There's nothing to be ashamed of.  On the contrary.  You're very pleasing to behold."

Behold?  Who talks like that? 

"Well, thank you, I guess, but do you mind if I get dressed now?" 

 "Regrettably, your clothes are still drying."

He washed my clothes, too?  "That's just great," he muttered.

Tobias indicated the table near the kitchen.  "Get up, John.  It's time to eat."

Johnny glared at him with narrowed eyes.  "Sorry, but my naked ass stays right here." 

Tobias laughed again.  "All right, John.  You can put the daggers away.  I'll grant you this one victory."  He stood up.  "I've got something for you in the bedroom." 

I'll just bet you do.  Johnny watched Tobias enter the bedroom.  After a few seconds, curiosity got the better of him.  Wrapping the heavy comforter awkwardly around himself, he padded over to the window near the front door and dragged the curtain to one side.  His eyes widened and he gave a frustrated groan as all hope of escaping anytime soon vanished.  The world had turned to white.  Snow fell steadily, and looked as if it would continue for a while.  He could see nothing outside except trees and snow.  No vehicle was visible, and he wondered how they had gotten here.  Any tire tracks or footprints would have been covered by the snow hours earlier.  Johnny had been confused by the sudden absence of restraints, but now he understood.  Their complete isolation made the handcuffs unnecessary.  Neither one of them would be going anywhere for the foreseeable future.  Shit.  Shoulders slumping with defeat, he watched the snow come down and considered his options. 

Johnny doubted he could take Tobias in a fight, even if he weren't hampered by the cast.  Although he had managed to use the cast as a weapon of sorts against Charles, his uncle had been pretty drunk, and was not in the same physical condition as Tobias appeared to be.  The man topped him by at least three inches and easily outweighed him by fifty pounds, perhaps more.  Even if he did manage to overpower him, what then?  He had no idea where they were, or which direction to take to the nearest town.  The snow made the thought of escape laughable.

Besides all of that, was Johnny really in any immediate danger from Tobias?  Except for the drugs and the washing and the frankly appreciative stares, he hadn't really harmed him.  In fact, he had expressed a concern for Johnny's safety several times, and had even gotten him away from what had felt like escalating danger back at the encampment.  He definitely had a few screws loose upstairs, which made him unpredictable, but Johnny decided it was probably best to just see which direction things were headed before he tried anything.  Maybe if he waited long enough and kept Tobias happy, Agent Ford would bring help and get him out of here.      

He heard Tobias come up behind him, and he turned around to see him carrying a pair of grey sweatpants and a plain white t-shirt.  Dropping the comforter, he accepted the clothes and slipped them on, trying his best to ignore Tobias' interested gaze on his body.  The clothes proved to be several sizes too big, but they were clean.  Clothed now, he began to feel slightly less vulnerable.

Tobias gave his shoulder a friendly pat and pointed at the table.  "Have a seat.  I've got supper all ready." 

Johnny sat, and watched as Tobias pulled a plate of sandwiches from the small refrigerator, followed by a pitcher of milk which Johnny eyed suspiciously. 

"Don't worry, John.  It's just milk."  He poured them each a glass and gestured towards the sandwiches.  "Go on.  Eat up.  I'll bet you're hungry."  He sat down across from Johnny, made a show of drinking his own milk, then carefully selected a sandwich and began to eat.

Johnny hesitated, but he was hungry, and there didn't seem to be any point in antagonizing Tobias on this matter.  He took a drink of milk and made a face.  "Mmm...powdered milk," he said with distaste.  Memories of meals in his uncle's house nearly made him spit the ersatz milk back in the glass.

Tobias shrugged, and swallowed a bite of sandwich.  "Sorry for that.  It keeps much better than the fresh stuff."

Johnny stared across at him, wondering just how long they were going to be here.  He bit into a sandwich which turned out to be deviled ham, another detested food from his childhood, and forced it down with difficulty.  Hope the food gets better, he thought sourly. 

As they ate in silence, Johnny struggled to remember back to the previous night.  After the juice was forced on him, it seemed that he and Tobias had held a long, often confusing conversation until he nodded off.  Unless he had dreamed that part.  Something Tobias said had bothered him.  He reached for a second sandwich and pulled the bread apart to peek inside.  Tuna fish.  At least that wasn't entirely objectionable.  He bit off one point of the triangle and pointed the other end at Tobias.  "So, Tobias, what was all that Raphael stuff last night?  You called me that name in Idaho Falls, too.  But today it's all John this and John that.  Who the heck is Raphael?"

Tobias looked down at the tabletop and then back up at John.  A smiled appeared and disappeared on his wide mouth.  "You must have misheard me."

"I don't think so."  He polished off his sandwich and swallowed the last of the vile milk.

"You were a little out of it."  He stared at Johnny's mouth for a few seconds, and then met his eyes again.  "All right.  Fair enough.  That was my mistake.  I didn't intend to push you so fast.  Not until you're ready."

 Johnny gave him a quizzical look.  "Ready for what?" 

Tobias didn't answer his question.  His gaze had taken on a distant, unfocused look.   "I recognized you right away, from the first time I saw you."

"We've met before?"  Johnny frowned.  "Nah.  I'd remember you.  Maybe I just look like this Raphael guy."


"So who is he?"

Tobias raised a napkin to his lips and wiped carefully.  "We can talk about this later.  First, why don't you use the bathroom?  There's a toothbrush and toothpaste for you on the vanity.  Be sure to wash your hands."

Johnny paused, uncertain.  Nothing scary about that request.  The man made him uneasy, though, no doubt about it.  Shrugging it off, he rose and made his way into the small bathroom, grateful for a few minutes to himself.  He spent as much time in there as he dared, but eventually reemerged, having decided he couldn't hide out all day.

Back in the main room, he froze and looked around for Tobias, confused when he didn't see him. 

"In here, John," came the deep voice from the bedroom.

Of course you are.  "Okay," he shot back.  "I'll just be out here."

Tobias appeared in the doorway, one arm extended.  "Come on in.  You've seen the rest of the place.  I want to show you where you'll be sleeping from now on."

Johnny hesitated.  Tobias had said "you," not "we."  He didn't hold out much hope that Tobias intended the sleeping arrangements to remain separate.  Until the moment came when he had to take a stand, however, Johnny supposed it couldn't hurt to humor his odd whims.  As he went to move past him into the bedroom, he glanced down at Tobias' left hand which he still held out in invitation, and stopped in his tracks.  Without thinking, he lifted the hand in his own and took a closer look. 

"Wow," said Johnny, "that's some major scarring you have there.  How did you get those burns?  Some of these look pretty old."  Tobias had what appeared to be multiple burns to the center of his palm, all the same general oblong shape, and overlapping one another.  Johnny ran his fingers lightly over the scars and winced in sympathy.  "That must have hurt."  He glanced up at the other man's face to catch him momentarily frozen in surprise.  For the first time since Johnny had encountered him in Idaho Falls, he seemed to have lost his self-assurance.  Desolate green eyes gazed back at him, but less than a second later, Johnny thought he must have imagined that brief glimpse of vulnerability.

Tobias laughed, if somewhat weakly, and gently extricated his hand from Johnny's grasp before closing it into a loose fist.  "It's an old injury."  He placed his other hand on Johnny's shoulder, guiding him through the door.

Most of the room was taken up by a king size bed covered with another comforter, this one dark green.  In addition to the bed, the room held an old pine dresser, and an oak nightstand which held one of the lanterns which Tobias had moved from the main room.  Johnny stood looking around the room nervously, wondering what the other man was expecting.  He had his answer almost immediately when Tobias sat on the edge of the bed and patted it, indicating that he should do the same.

Johnny shook his head and crossed his arms.  "I'm fine right here."

"John.  Sit."  There was nothing vulnerable about his expression or tone of voice now.  He spoke like a man accustomed to obedience.  When Johnny made no move to join him on the bed, his expression softened.  "I won't hurt you, John.  But when I make a request, I expect you to comply."

"A request?  Is that what that was?"

"Just that."

"Look, uh, I don't know what this is here - "   He gestured vaguely around the room.  "But I'm not interested know...."

"In what?"

"In - in - sitting next to you," he finished lamely.

"There's nowhere for you to go, John."  His voice grew softer and took on a mesmerizing quality.  "You don't have to pretend with me.  You told me everything I need to know last night.  I know you.  I know your secrets and I accept you."  His pale eyes captured Johnny's gaze and held it.  Transfixed, he stared back helplessly.  "I know what you've endured, all the pain and betrayal you've suffered through."

Johnny shook his head slowly.  "No you don't.  You don't know anything."

"You did a lot of talking last night."

"I did?"  He searched his memory, again finding only a vague impression of himself speaking to someone, unburdening himself, but he couldn't recall any details of what he had said.

"Yes, John, and the things you told me made my heart ache."

Johnny frowned uncertainly.  "What did I say?"  He wasn't sure he wanted to know.

"You told me about your parents.  How your father left you when you needed him most.  About your uncle and how he used you.  About Jason, Kel, Roy.  They all betrayed you didn't they?"

He shook his head in denial.  "No.  No, you've got it all wrong.  Not Jason.  Not Kel or Roy.  They wouldn't do that.  They just...things got confusing.  Complicated."

"There's nothing complicated about betrayal, John.  You know I'm right, don't you?  Ask yourself this:  where are they now?  Where were any of them when you needed them?"  He touched Johnny's arm, and then grasped his wrist lightly.  Johnny stared at the hand on him, his mind a jumble of thoughts that didn't make any sense.  When Tobias pulled him closer, he forgot to resist. 

He wasn't sure how it happened, but the next thing he knew, he was sitting next to Tobias, and the other man's arm was around his shoulders.  Tobias kept up a steady murmur in his ear, the words spiraling through his brain, muddling his thoughts.  "I don't see any of them here, do you?  They couldn't see your value, not the way I do.  Do you see anybody here but me?  I care about you like they never could.  You weren't what they wanted.  You disappointed them, but you'll never disappoint me."  His hand stroked up and down Johnny's arm.  Although he kept the touch gentle, Johnny felt the power in his hand.  "Fate brought you here, and now it's you and me.  Just the two of us.  It feels right, doesn't it?"  Tobias' voice soothed Johnny, driving out his earlier resistance.  "You look tired, John.  So incredibly weary.  I can feel the tension leaving you.  Just let it go.  You've had a rough time of it, haven't you?  Too many people have hurt you." 

Tobias leaned in to kiss the back of Johnny's neck.  The rough slide of his tongue brought a strangled moan to Johnny's lips and sent a shiver through him.  "Wait," he said.  "Don't." 

"Shh.  Don't pull away.  It's all right.  You can rest here with me.  I'm not going to hurt you.  You believe me, don't you?" 

One arm came around his upper chest and held him close while the other slid underneath his shirt and began a slow, circling caress.  Johnny felt the raised burn scars abrading his belly softly, before the hand trailed sensuously upwards, circling towards first one nipple and then the other, pinching and plucking as  uneven breaths hissed in his ear and heated his neck.  His eyes drifted closed and an unexpected tremor of excitement rippled through him. 

Move away from him, thought Johnny dazedly.  Move away.  Don't let him do this.  Don't let this happen.  But he remained frozen in place.  He opened his eyes and stared in fascination at the scarred hand as it traveled downwards and grabbed the hem of his t-shirt. 

"Lift your arms," Tobias whispered raggedly.  When he didn't move, Tobias lifted the shirt and Johnny felt it ruffle through his hair as it was dragged over his head and off of him.  Tobias directed him to lie down on his side, and he hesitated only a moment before allowing himself to be guided, lowered, manipulated.  He felt the soft slide of fabric against his buttocks and legs as the sweatpants were removed.  A chilly waft of air across his bare skin had him shivering again with both cold and anticipation.  Lying naked and waiting, suspended between fear and need, he listened to Tobias undress behind him, and he wondered numbly where his resolve had gone.  The bed dipped and Tobias settled against him, his softly furred chest warm against Johnny's back, and his cock resting heavily alongside his hip. 

Johnny tensed as Tobias' mouth touched his neck again, but submitted to the feel of lips and tongue and teeth nibbling and sucking his sensitive flesh.  He had started to relax when Tobias pulled slightly away, making furtive movements behind him.  Without warning, fingers, slick and urgent, shoved into him and he gave a surprised grunt of pain and tried to pull away.  Tobias' strong grip on his hips held him in position, and his fingers worked inside him, expertly rubbing and stroking and stretching him until he felt himself begin to respond.

Helplessly, he moved against Tobias' fingers, giving mute encouragement to their rough invasion.  Johnny couldn't believe how good Tobias' touch felt.  All the while, the soft, insidious voice whispered in his ear, telling him over and over how special he was, that he wasn't John, he was Raphael, he was his Raphael, until he wasn't sure anymore who he was, wasn't sure it mattered, he just wanted to be whoever the voice wanted him to be so long as those fingers kept doing what they were doing.  Guilt, lust, shame and mindless wanting all warred within him.  "Stop it," he heard his own voice whisper, but not even he believed himself.

Suddenly the fingers pulled out and he gave a confused moan.  No longer speaking, just breathing harshly, Tobias pressed against him, his thick cock seeking entrance, then with a soft grunt slid inside him, unwelcome but oh god oh christ oh jesus, so needed, so fucking needed.  Tobias pulled back then rammed in and Johnny moaned in despair at the intrusion, squeezed his eyes shut and gasped at the shiver of bliss that ran through him.  God...this is not happening. 

He felt himself turned fractionally, not quite facedown, not quite sideways.  His arm was moved from underneath him, extended over his head and held down.  A long, powerful leg pinned him to the bed, twined itself around his leg, and Tobias' hips began to move, steady and insistent, searching for and finding the right angle, his cock hitting Johnny's prostate unerringly over and over and over, sending him slowly, maddeningly, inexorably toward heaven.  Tobias' scarred, stroking hand worshipped his cock, smoothing up and down the hard shaft, his thumb performing an independent, sensuous dance of its own.  Unthinkingly, Johnny grasped Tobias' wrist and let his own hand go along for the ride. 

Immobilized, panting and aching with growing urgency, Johnny thrust his head backwards and hissed when Tobias leaned in and grazed his teeth down his taut neck.  He moved his head to give the other man fuller access, and felt the mouth latch onto his sweat-damp skin and suckle him with a hunger bordering on violence.  Something small and metallic caught between them, pressing into his shoulder, but a moment later it shifted and he forgot about it. 

Groaning, he gave himself over completely to the other man's control.  The pounding to his ass and the friction on his cock sped up and his head thrashed against Tobias' shoulder, moving as Tobias moved.  Tobias' power pulsed inside him, controlling him, owning him.  He was lost.  Lost to reason.  Lost in sensation.  He heard his own gasping breaths and tortured groans as if they belonged to someone else, felt flesh meeting hot perspiring flesh.  He gripped the comforter above his head, barely aware that Tobias had released him and moved his free hand to his forehead, holding him steady while he kissed and bit his neck, and then crushed him against his shoulder.

Johnny felt a sweet tension as his release grew closer.  He moaned his frustration when Tobias slowed his pace, and then cried out at the quick, savage squeeze to the base of his cock meant to remind him who held the power.  The stroking resumed, Tobias' touch now feather light.  Please, Johnny wanted to beg, please finish it.  Finish me.   Blessedly, unexpectedly, Tobias changed the pace again, now thrusting deep and fast, frenzied and raw. 

Desperate, Johnny struggled against the leg that pinned him and the restraining hand on his forehead.  He needed to move, but Tobias gave him no choice, and he could only make mindless sounds and pray that he would be allowed his release, and then he felt it, reached for it, waited for it, until a harsh shout ripped from his throat and the shout became a guttural scream which built and built and seemed to go on forever as he shook and came with such violence it felt like being turned inside out.  His semen landed hotly on his chest and belly and that hand kept pumping him furiously, milking him, strangling him. 

Finally Tobias shoved him face down, crushing him to the mattress.  He yanked Johnny's hips upwards and thrust violently in and out, pounding relentlessly for what seemed like an eternity before adding his own triumphant cries to Johnny's rasping whimpers which were now muffled in the thick folds of the comforter, and Tobias was coming and coming inside of him, pulsing and filling him, overflowing and binding them slickly together as Johnny ground his fists into the yielding fabric and sobbed out his capitulation and utter despair.  And as Tobias collapsed on top of him, spent and relaxed, laughing breathlessly as he kissed Johnny's neck and stroked his damp hair, his last though before he took the now familiar slide into darkness, was that he had plummeted from heaven and landed in hell.




Tobias sat on the edge of the bed and gazed down at the sleeping man.  His Raphael.  He touched his cheek, and then slid his hand down the strong, slender back, feeling the sweat still cooling from their lovemaking.  Unable to resist, he leaned down and kissed that back, licked at the salty sweat, remembering and growing hard again.  He screamed.  My Raphael.  He came in my hand and screamed like an angel.  His hand moved lower, fingers navigating down the vulnerable ridges of the spine to the sweetly rounded ass, dipping into the perfect crevice, and coming to rest between thighs sticky with their mingled seed.  Smiling affectionately, he raised his hand to his mouth and savored the taste of them together.  Together, as they had always been meant to be.

He grew thoughtful.  Raphael would sleep until morning, at least.  He had seen to that with the powder he had slipped into the glass of milk with a well-practiced sleight-of-hand.  A minor error in judgment.  He probably shouldn't have drugged him again so soon, but he had waited so long and his need had overpowered his usual patience, just as it had years ago. 

He caressed the damp, silken flesh once more.  How he loved that pale stillness, the liberties it permitted.  The drug had proved unnecessary this time, however.  Raphael had trembled and cried out with joy at his touch, responding as Tobias had always dreamed that he would, but now he slept unaware once more.  It was so tempting to take him again right now, to drive into his unknowing flesh.  That scream, though....God... That scream still sang inside him, growing and twining through his bones and ligaments and veins like purest light, driving out the darkness and healing all the rotted places.  He savored that exquisite scream in his mind, shivering with the need to hear it again, to feel it vibrate through him once more.  Now that he knew his Raphael welcomed his touch, he could be patient.  They had nothing but time.  Tonight he would cleanse him again, watch over him and keep him safe. 

He frowned, filled with equal parts grief and reverence as he pictured the first time he had seen Raphael, coming upon him by chance, as it seemed he was destined to do time and time again.  It had been in Montana, in the last dreary place he ever could have imagined meeting such a blessed being.  At the age of nineteen, he had yet to break free from this father's smothering, corrupting presence.  His father the doctor, the supposed healer of men, who had planted so much filth and putrefaction in Tobias' soul that he had yet to cut it all free.  The only peace he had came when his father was away from home, working at the clinic.  Then Tobias could wander freely, following where the voices led him and plucking his prophecies from the wide blue sky.

One evening he had stumbled on what he thought at first was a hunting or fishing party gathered around a crackling fire.  As he crept closer, hidden by thick bushes, he heard the ugly shouts and howls of laughter that told him the men had probably been drinking for much of the afternoon.  Life with his father had taught him the dangers of intruding on a drunken man.  Turning to leave, he grew curious when the laughter suddenly became breathless and hushed, as if some dark secret was being shared among the men.  Something about the quality of those hushed sounds drew him back as close as he dared to peer through the bushes.  What he saw choked the breath in his throat.

One of the men held the arm of a beautiful dark-haired boy who couldn't have been much older than twelve or thirteen.  Tobias nearly cried out loud in surprised recognition of the narrow face, dark hair and long lashes.  It was the face of the archangel Raphael, who he had studied so often in the dog-eared book his mother had given to him on his fifth birthday, the face of the stone statue guarding her grave.  How many times had he sat on her lap and listened to the story of the angel who came to Earth to help Tobias?  To help him!  When she died and left him alone, and his father felt no more constraints, Tobias prayed every day for that help to arrive.  And now there in front of him, just a few feet away, was the face from the book, younger, to be sure, but he knew it was the archangel Raphael, the healer, come to Earth in human guise to save him. 

When he heard the three men calling him "John" he realized they didn't know who he was, but it was clear they knew he was special.  Tobias could only stare spellbound, watching what the boy's touch did to the men.  Their eyes rolled back, their heads thrashed wildly, and they cried out and convulsed in a fit of rapture, just like in the revival tents he used to sneak off to back in Kansas before his father had caught him and put a stop to it.  And just like the gospel preachers, the boy appeared tired and badly shaken, almost haunted, as he sat shivering and hugging his knees after ministering to their needs.

Tobias had never seen anything quite so beautiful or so pure.  He could see the energy rising from the angel like a whirlwind, swirling around the clearing in sinuous waves of colored light, snaking its way toward where he hid, spiraling its way inside of him until he lay trembling on the ground, and had to shove his ruined palm to his mouth to keep both the healing light and his rapturous moans trapped inside. 

As he shook, almost able to feel Raphael touch him as he had touched those men, he heard Raphael's voice inside his head and his eyes widened in wonder.  It's time, Tobias, the voice said.  Time to slay the unclean demon.  He struggled to his feet and lurched away into the night, struck momentarily blind, but the voice stayed with him, leading him home, instructing him in what he had to do.

His father waited for him, filled with fury and power, but Raphael had given Tobias all the strength he needed.  After he had pummeled and pounded the sin and corruption from his father, and then watched, fascinated, as it leaked out his ears and nose and mouth, and oozed steaming from the fissures in his skull, he had taken back Raphael's sign and branded him with it to bind his soul, and then buried him deep in darkness and covered him with heavy stones.  He could feel Raphael's approval bathing him in his healing light.  Leave this place now and show others the way.  I'll find you when it's time.  I promise.... The voice faded too quickly, and it saddened him that he had to leave young Raphael, but he knew the boy had more good works to accomplish here.  He had promised he'd find him, and Tobias believed him. 

It had been a long five years later until they had met again on a dirty street in Los Angeles.  By then, the blackness had crept back inside of him, filling him with the filth of the world, rotting his insides.  Temptation stalked him, and each time the need became too great and the corruption sickened him, he went in search of the angel, but time and time again he was disappointed and had no choice but to bind and purify all of the false and soiled creatures and send them into the darkness, just like his father. 

The police had grown suspicious of him, just like in all those other places he had traveled to, and he had been preparing to move on.  He had spotted the young man, looking so lost and broken, and decided he needed the release Tobias could give him.  He hadn't connected him with the boy from Montana until he had him in his car and had already injected him.  Then he got a closer look at him and had been filled with rage at what the world had done to him.  Righteous, molten anger flowed through him as he tried to force the healing light from the angel, to gnaw it free with his teeth, to crush and scratch it from him until it flowed as hot and red as his blood, to bury himself deep inside him to seek his salvation. 

He remembered it all as he watched over him now, barely able to believe that Raphael was his once again.  This time there would be no interference.  Raphael the healer would finally fulfill the purpose for which he had been cast down from heaven.  He would make Tobias whole again and undo all the evil his father and the world had done to him.  Tobias looked down at his palm, recalling the astonishing feel of Raphael's hands as he touched the scars.  He frowned, confused.  Raphael touched him, yet the scars remained. 

Doubt crept in, clouding his thoughts.  He shook his head to clear it, but inside him he could feel the light from Raphael's scream fading already.  So soon?  He gazed down at the still form.  He looks too human.  The doubt tried to take hold, and he fought against it.  No, this was the right one, not just a poor imitation like the others.  Tobias only had to remind him who he was, and then the light would heal Tobias, and he would stay healed this time.  Relaxing, he let his fingers trail over Raphael's mouth, remembering again what he had seen that mouth do.  Beautiful.  So beautiful.

Rising now, he went into the bathroom to scour himself clean.  He heated water over the coals in the fireplace and then carefully, reverently, washed Raphael once more, making sure the cloth touched every inch of him, polishing him like marble until he seemed to glow in the light of the lantern.  He arranged him on his back, kissed him tenderly and touched his mouth again before lying down beside him to hold him close.  Exhausted, he slept, but woke often to assure himself that the angel still slumbered at his side.

Tomorrow would begin the hard work of drawing forth the healing light from Raphael.   Tobias smiled in his sleep, fingering the caduceus charm around his neck, and was barely aware that he murmured as he slept, speaking the words he had learned a lifetime ago.  Raphael, heal this sickness in my soul.  Let your wings enfold me and return me safely home.

Chapter Text

Sam dropped his cigarette onto the snowy ground and watched it fizzle and wetly die.  He had come outside in an effort to calm himself down, but three cigarettes later he still felt as if he wanted to put his fist through a wall.  Ever since Browder had sent them away from the campsite, he had been cooped up in the motel room with the two men from Los Angeles, and in the last few hours things had gone from merely tense between them to downright hostile.  Shivering underneath the stairwell, watching the snow still lightly falling, he wondered if two more irritating people had ever been thrown together in the history of...people being thrown together.

The doctor had done nothing but glare at Sam since they had returned to the room.  The guy had some serious anger issues and seemed to blame Sam for everything that had gone wrong.  Roy DeSoto was almost worse.  He acted as if he and Sam had known one another for years, hovering around him, intruding on his personal space, trying to draw him into a conversation, just in general being overly solicitous until Brackett had finally snapped at him, "What are you doing, Roy?  Auditioning Johnny's replacement?"

That had not gone over well.  Sam might have been grateful to have Roy's attention directed elsewhere, but the strain in the room after that had grown unbearable.  The doctor had planted himself in front of the television and set to work fiddling with the dial and tweaking the rabbit ears in what Sam could have told him would be a fruitless search for a clear signal.  Roy had snatched up the phone which had reappeared in the room and started a long and excruciatingly dull conversation with his wife.  Ten minutes into the call Roy had launched into a detailed recounting of the trip, what the flight had been like, every single thing he'd had to eat and drink, and at that point, Sam shrugged into his jacket and slipped out the door.

He paced and smoked and reviewed the events of the day.  His face contorted as he unwillingly pictured the dead men at the camp.  The first ones they had encountered outside in the snow had been bad enough.  Those had looked almost peaceful in death, although Detective Jensen had felt it his duty to inform Sam that their deaths had been quite violent, all of them apparently the recipient of a bullet between the eyes.  Then Browder had warned him to stay out of the cabin in the middle of the camp, but Sam had believed he could handle it and had stood in the doorway to get a look.  Someday I will learn to listen, he reflected glumly.

They only person left alive in the room had been the young guy.  Browder seemed to think he had been responsible for most of the deaths.  He had screamed and ranted as the police led him away to one of the buses, and Sam couldn't get some of the things he had said out of his mind.  He seemed to know something about Johnny and Tobias and where they might have gone.  Brackett had been beside himself, whether from the lack of immediate medical treatment the guy was allowed, or Browder's refusal to question him, Sam wasn't sure.  Later, they had heard that the young man, who's name was Brad McElroy, had collapsed and been rushed to the hospital in Glennis.

They had stayed at the camp until it began to grow dark.  At least Roy and the doctor had something to keep them occupied, as they were set to work treating what proved to be mostly minor injuries.  Sam had been relegated to spectator, with Detective Jensen apparently appointed as his babysitter.  By then the camp had been thoroughly searched, with no sign of either Tobias or Johnny.  A brief flurry of activity and excitement came just before dark, when an underground bunker was discovered.  Locked from the inside, it had taken nearly half an hour to force it open, but all they found inside were three scared and shivering men who had taken refuge there when the gunfire had broken out.  Johnny was not among them.  They had also discovered an enormous stash of firearms, ammunition, and drugs of both the legal and illegal variety.

Agent Browder had assured them that as soon as it grew light, a massive search would begin for Tobias, and Johnny too, assuming they were together. 

"And if they're not together?" Brackett had asked. 

No one answered him, and Browder had ordered them back to the Creekside Motel, accompanied by Detective Jensen.  Garvin stayed behind at the encampment where most of the gathered law enforcement personnel would be working through much of the night.

Sam glanced at his watch.  It was nearly midnight.  He heard a door open and saw Detective Jensen silhouetted in the light, watching him.

"Must be kind of cold out there," he said, not unkindly.

"At least it's peaceful."  Sam pulled the cigarette pack from his coat pocket, realized it was empty, crumpled it up and shoved it back in his pocket.

"Give them a break, Sam.  They're worried about their friend."

He sighed and stared up at the night sky, searching for any sign of clearing.  The clouds appeared perhaps a little thinner, but no stars were visible yet.  "I know."

"They'll find him."

"How?" asked Sam, embarrassed by the plaintive sound of his voice.  "They could be anywhere by now.  Johnny could be hurt.  Or worse."  Searching the other man's face for reassurance, he saw none.  Feeling ill, he asked the question which had been haunting him since yesterday.  "Is Tobias going to kill him?"

Jensen held his gaze for a moment, and then shrugged.  "I hope not."  He opened the door wider and gestured inside.  "Why don't you come in here and try to get some sleep."

Sam hesitated.

"Take one of the beds in my room," said Jensen.

He nodded and followed Jensen inside.  Dozens more questions raced through his mind, but he kept them to himself.  Leaving his clothes on, he pulled off his shoes, lay down on one of the twin beds and pretended to sleep, his eyes not shut all the way, watching Jensen through his eyelashes.  The older man sat at the table and continued flipping through the case file.  Whenever he reached the end, he turned the pile of documents over and started again.  As Sam drowsed somewhere between sleep and waking, he wondered what Jensen was looking for, and if it would do Johnny any good when he found it.




Kel gave the television dial a vicious twist to the left and watched the static-filled screen fade to a bright dot in the middle before going completely dark.  He glanced around the room and was annoyed to discover Roy stretched out on the other bed, staring at him.  "What?" he asked.

"Nothing," said Roy, moving his gaze to the ceiling.

"Nothing," Kel repeated.  He waited, watching as Roy started to speak, seemed to think better of it, turned a narrow-eyed gaze on Kel, and remained silent.  "Look, Roy, if you've got a problem with me, just spit it out."

"No problem at all."  He sat up.  "It's just...Where do you get off acting like you're the only one here who has a right to worry about Johnny?"

"What?  That's ridiculous, Roy."

"Really?  I mean, I get that you have feelings for him.  Which is fine.  It's still weird, but I'm getting used to the idea."

Kel laughed.  "So glad you approve."

"That's not - "  Roy gave a frustrated sigh.  "Johnny and I have been best friends pretty much since we met.  And I clearly remember when the two of you could barely stand each other.  Then you became friends, and now apparently you have the hots for each other - I get all that.  If you're really what he wants, that's great.  I'm happy for you both.  Just don't forget that some of have liked him just fine all along."

Kel resisted the temptation to snap back at Roy.  Instead, he studied his weary, tense features and realized that Roy had not been handling things as well as he had assumed.  He rubbed a hand over his forehead.  "Yeah.  Okay.  I'm sorry.  Maybe I have been a little selfish, a little wrapped up in my own worries."

Roy smiled ruefully.  "It's been a shitty couple of days, huh?"

"That's an understatement."

"So, I was thinking."

Kel waited, wishing the conversation was over.  When Roy didn't continue the thought, he gritted his teeth and said as pleasantly as he could, "What where you thinking?"

"Well, I don't know about you, but all these FBI agents and cops aren't inspiring a lot of confidence in me.  If you know what I mean."

"I know exactly what you mean.  We don't have much choice, though, except to trust them."

"With Johnny's life?"

A sharp pang of fear ran through Kel, and he found it hard to breathe for a second.  "What are you suggesting?"

"I don't know.  Maybe we need to stick together.  Present a united front here, and get them to listen to our concerns a little better."

Kel nodded.  "Which means we need to quit sniping at each other.  Got it."

"And, uh, no offense, Doc, but you might want to apologize to Sam while you're at it.  We could use him on our side too."

Kel looked around the room and realized that Sam had never come back inside.  "Speaking of which, were did he go?"

"Probably still outside hiding from you."

"Me?  I've been perfectly civil to him."

Roy gave a snort of laughter.  "I doubt if he'd agree."

Kel didn't bother responding.  Obviously Roy had not seen the looks Sam had been giving him.

After a moment Roy said, "Do you think we should look for him?"

Kel gave a grudging nod.  "I don't think Johnny would appreciate it if we lost his brother."  He heaved himself off of the bed and watched Roy do the same, then led the way to the door.  He felt Roy at his shoulder as they peered together out into the dark parking lot.  "I don't see him," said Kel.  He stepped outside, watching his breath form white clouds in the freezing air.  The snow had stopped, at least for the moment, and a few stars were visible through shifting clouds.  "Sam?" he called softly, but got no answer.  Looking back at Roy, he shrugged.  "Any ideas?"

Roy led the way inside and tried the door to the adjoining room.  It was unlocked.  They looked inside and saw that Sam had joined Jensen.  The detective was still awake and working.  Kel thought Sam was asleep until he saw the glitter of his eyes when he glanced over at Kel and Roy.  Jensen acknowledged them with a brief nod.

"Any news?" asked Kel.  He watched as Johnny's brother pulled himself up to sit against the headboard.

"No," said Jensen.  "I'm not here in an official capacity, so I can only guess, but I don't think anything much is going to happen until it gets light out."

"You mean," said Sam, "that they might not even let us know what's going on?"

"I didn't say that."

Kel and Roy shared a meaningful look.  Kel addressed Sam, trying to sound friendlier than Roy had implied he had been previously.  "Why don't we all try to get some sleep.  Maybe they'll let us help with the search tomorrow."

"I wouldn't count on it," said Jensen.

"I wish we could talk to him," said Sam.

Roy gave him an indulgent look.  "We have to find him first, Sam."

"No, that's not what I meant.  That guy...that kid with the head wound.  He just really looked like he knew something.  Like he was gloating because he had this secret or something."

Roy frowned.  "I know what you mean."  He turned to Jensen.  "Has anyone talked to him yet?"

Jensen shrugged.  "I wouldn't worry about it.  I'm sure the feds have it under control."

Sam snorted.  "Not from what I've seen."

No one bothered to reply to that.  Soon after that, Kel and Roy wordlessly returned to the other room to try to get a few hours of sleep. 




Bright light flared behind his eyelids and he came awake, groaning at the ache in his head.  Cracking one eye open to find the source of the light, he saw Tobias silhouetted in front of the lantern, and although his face was in shadow, Johnny could feel his gaze on him.  Groaning, he rolled to his stomach and burrowed under the comforter, his face smashed into the pillow, searching for a path back into the dark but not finding it.  The bed dipped and bounced once as Tobias sat down next to Johnny.   Cold air chilled his back as the comforter was peeled away.  He heard it whisper to the floor.

Johnny tensed when Tobias touched his shoulder and leaned in to let his hands roam almost absently over his flesh.  Biting back another groan, Johnny lifted his head and turned to look blearily back at him.  "G'morning," he muttered without enthusiasm.  The other man lay down next to him on his back, his large, warm body pushed intimately against him.  Johnny rested his head on one arm and studied Tobias, trying to unscramble his confused feelings, to separate the fear and anger from the hunger that coiled hotly through him even now. 

Tobias smiled at him and Johnny remembered it all, every detail, every sound he had uttered, every shiver and tremble, every permission and encouragement his body had given to Tobias to continue, the feel of his hard heat inside of him. 

How could he have let it happen?  The flat, cottony taste in his mouth and the dull throb in his head told him he had been drugged yet again.  Much as he would have like to use that as an excuse, honesty compelled him to admit that he had both allowed and participated in Tobias' sensual assault.  He let his eyes drift shut, unable to meet that pale, knowing gaze. 

Tobias' hand came to rest on his bottom, stroking and squeezing with the lazy familiarity of ownership and he had to force himself to lay still, to not thrust upward into the soothing strokes.  God.  His head was so fuzzy, and that hand felt so...He had to think, but he couldn't with rough slide of Tobias' calloused palm tracing maddening circles on his flesh.  Warily, he rolled over and looked up at Tobias.  With the light behind him, he loomed over Johnny, his face in darkness.  When he saw the head descending, he turned his face to the side and the wide mouth missed his lips and brushed his cheek.

Tobias laughed softly.  "Aren't we past all that?" 

Tobias bent his head again and pursued Johnny's mouth from one side to the next before finally capturing it in a demanding kiss which seemed to go on forever.  Just as Johnny began to worry about ever taking another breath, Tobias shifted his mouth to his neck, sucking on the already tender flesh and reminding Johnny of the fondness he had shown for that area yesterday.  Johnny heard himself give a hitching gasp even as he felt himself start to go hard.  A shiver shook him and Tobias growled and bit down harder. 

"Ohgod," Johnny breathed.  "Oh...fuck."  Wincing, he rested his hands on Tobias' bicep and shoved ineffectually, trying to drag his head away, but Tobias' mouth moved on him relentlessly.  His hardening cock lay heavily on Johnny's stomach, nearly touching Johnny's own erection. 

Johnny groaned as the pain to his sensitive neck built, growing nearly unbearable.   "Hey, come on.  That hurts."  His voice emerged as a dry croak. 

Tobias lifted his head, his face still in shadow.  Johnny couldn't read his expression.  "I didn't hear you complaining yesterday."

He swallowed.  "You drugged me."  The whispered accusation held no conviction.

"And it turned out to be so unnecessary." 

Johnny glared up at him, but what could he say?  It was true.

Tobias lowered himself until he lay completely on top of Johnny and continued to nip at his neck as he spoke.  "I must say, you surprised me.  You were so responsive...just magnificent.  Are you ready to continue?  We have so much to accomplish."

Johnny gave another brief struggle, testing his limits, but he was pinned too securely.  "If I said no, would it make any difference?"

Tobias' movements stilled and his head lifted slightly.  "Are you saying no?"  His voice remained soft, but Johnny could hear the threat behind the words.

Deciding that the best course at the moment was to keep quiet, Johnny could do little besides lie still and put up with the feel of Tobias' teeth grazing his collarbone.  Apparently taking Johnny's silence as his answer, Tobias rose up and straddled him, sitting back on his heels.  He grasped Johnny's hand and placed it on his cock before releasing it.  "Touch me, Raphael," he whispered. 

Johnny stared blankly at his hand lying on Tobias' cock, then upwards at the man above him, backlit by the lantern.  Strengthening light from the window highlighted his cheekbones, touched the pale, watchful eyes, and caught on the gleam of silver resting in the hollow of his throat.  Tobias swallowed and the silver wavered and shimmered with the slight movement of his throat.  Johnny removed his hand, but it was instantly recaptured and held in place.  Tobias curled his fingers around Johnny's and slid them together.  His eyes narrowed to pale slivers and his neck arched backwards, creating another rippling shimmer of silver.  Johnny let his own eyes drift shut.  When Tobias' hand left his, he continued stroking Tobias.

"That's it," Tobias murmured.  "That's it."  He groaned through gritted teeth.  "Yes.  Your touch is so good.  So perfect.  You were created for this, Raphael."  His hand moved back to clench convulsively over Johnny's and then thrust it away.  Panting, he gave a little laugh and came up on his knees, moving up the bed while remaining atop Johnny.  Suddenly realizing what he had in mind, Johnny tried to twist away, but Tobias seemed to anticipate this.  With lightning speed, he grasped Johnny's wrists and pinned them by his head.  His cock rested against his cheek.  "Take me inside your mouth," he whispered.

Pain lanced through his left arm.  He licked his lips nervously, and instantly regretted it when he saw Tobias' pupils dilate.  He cut his gaze down to the sizeable cock nudging his face and experienced a twinge of panic at the thought of it being fed to him while he lay flat on his back with Tobias' weight on his chest.  He could already feel his air being cut off.  "Not like this," he said.  The hands on his wrists tightened and he forced himself to remain still and keep the fear and - if he was completely honest with himself - the excitement from his expression.

Finally Tobias nodded, a smile playing around his wide mouth.  "All right," he conceded and moved off of Johnny to sit propped against the headboard, legs splayed apart, waiting.  When Johnny made no move toward him, he clicked his tongue impatiently and grabbed Johnny's arm.  "Hurry up," he said, his voice a little breathless.

Johnny hesitated.  Deciding that submitting to one more man couldn't possibly make a difference, he lay between Tobias' legs and lowered his head.  As he sucked and licked and stroked, he listened to the sounds Tobias made, the way his breath hitched, held, and expelled on a drawn out moan.  His heart beat crazily in his chest and all he could think was how unbelievably hot this was, and he knew that should bother him, but he just gave himself up to sensation.  He tensed as two hands descended on his head, but one rested lightly while the other stroked his hair in a way which was oddly soothing. 

He relaxed, let his eyes drift shut, and experienced a moment of acute disorientation, as if his life in LA had ceased to be, and all that existed was this moment and the feel and taste of Tobias.  When he felt the tightening at the base of Tobias' cock and his hands gripped his hair a little harder, he took him all the way in.  Tobias gave a strangled cry, thrust upward and came down his throat, and Johnny obligingly continued to suck him through his orgasm, swallowing every drop.  When Tobias finally pulled his soft cock from his mouth, he let his head drop exhaustedly onto Tobias' thigh and struggled to catch his breath while the large hands loosened their painful hold and resumed stroking his hair.

They lay like that, quiet and relaxed, for long enough that Johnny began to doze off.  He started awake when Tobias gave him a little shake.  "Come up here, Raphael," he said, grabbing his arm and guiding him up to lie beside him. 

"Was it all right?" Johnny mumbled into his shoulder.

"It was perfect, Raphael."

"I'm not Raphael," he said drowsily.

"You're still hard," said Tobias almost accusingly.  He kissed Johnny, letting his tongue linger inside his mouth, then took his cock in his hand and leisurely jerked him off.  Johnny closed his eyes, shutting out the mocking smirk on Tobias' face, enjoying the feeling of being touched.  When he came, he tried to hold in the groan of pleasure, but it forced its way out just the same.

He kept his eyes closed, and when he heard Tobias' soft laugh he felt himself flush.  "Well done, Raphael," said Tobias, stroking Johnny's cheek and running a hand through his hair.

Johnny opened his eyes and met the other man's heavy-lidded gaze.  "I'm not Raphael," he repeated.

Tobias regarded him solemnly.  "But you are.  You have to be."  He stroked Johnny's cheek again.  "We'll get you remembering yet.  Then you'll see."

"I don't think so."  He moved restlessly, no longer relaxed and suddenly needing to get away from the other man's touch.  "I've got to take a piss."

Tobias' expression darkened, then he shrugged and lifted his arm, allowing Johnny to rise.  He scooted over to the side of the bed and swung his legs over the side, grimacing at the feel of the cold wood floor under his bare feet.  Tobias' instruction for him to return quickly followed him as he padded next door through the dimness. 

Inside the bathroom, he grabbed a hand towel and wiped himself clean, then splashed frigid water over his face in an attempt to clear the last of the cobwebs from his mind.  He bent his head further and rinsed his mouth out a few times before drinking greedily to ease his thirst.  He straightened to study himself in the small mirror over the sink.  The high, narrow window let in little of the early morning light, making his features appear fuzzy and indistinct.  I look like a ghost.  In truth, he felt as insubstantial as one after all the hours he had spent in the last few days drugged on whatever it was Tobias had been giving him.  He could barely remember the last time he had seen or spoken to anyone besides Tobias or one of his followers.

Frowning, he remembered the argument with Sam just before they had crashed.  Did he ever find help?  Would anyone bother even looking for me?  Agent Ford's FBI friends had certainly had enough time to find him if they had wanted to.  Unless Sam had contacted anybody in Los Angeles, he doubted if anyone there knew he was missing.  If they did know, he could only wonder how hard they would look for him, and he was forced to conclude that he was on his own, and that if he wanted to get away from Tobias, it was up to him to figure out how.  There didn't seem to be much urgency at the moment, however.

He peered out the window and observed that although the snow had stopped falling, the accumulated drifts appeared to be well over a foot deep.  As he had the day before, he wondered how Tobias had gotten them there.

Johnny could hear Tobias moving around in the main room.  He emptied his bladder and eyed the shower, trying to decide if it was worth it to brave what was sure to be extremely cold water.  He decided to skip it for now.  He reached for his clothes and found they were nearly dry.  A knock came at the door and he hastily pulled on the jeans, shivering at the feel of their slight dampness in the chilly air.  He had just enough time to get his arms in the sleeves of his shirt when the door flew open.

"What are you doing in here?" asked Tobias, leaning against the doorjamb dressed only in his black jeans, his gaze darting around the room suspiciously.

"What does it look like?"

Tobias frowned impatiently.  "It looks like you're wasting my time."  He reached for Johnny's arm.  

Backpedaling to avoid him, he bumped up against the sink.  "Your time?" he said incredulously.  "I didn't ask to be here."  

 Tobias seemed not to have heard him.  He gazed fixedly at Johnny, his expression bleak.  "Don't be difficult, Raphael.  We're running out of time.  I've spent too long searching for you.  Now that we're together, I can' don't know what it's been like.  I can't bear it any longer."

Johnny crossed his arms defensively, not budging.  "Am I supposed to feel sorry for you?  I told you I'm not this Raphael guy."  He could feel his heart pounding as Tobias took a step into the bathroom, standing inches away.  "Look, man, I...I really don't want this.  Seriously."  Liar, his mind whispered.

Another step had Tobias pressed against Johnny.  He grasped his arms and leaned in to murmur in his ear.  "Your body says otherwise, Raphael.  You were sent to me for a purpose.  It was foretold long ago."

"My name is not - "

The hands on him tightened painfully.  "Stop.  Don't say that again."

"Fine.  Just take your hands off of me, all right?" 

"Don't speak!"  He breathed raggedly for a few moments as if trying to bring himself under control, then eased up slightly on his grip and smiled woodenly.  "Come with me, Raphael."

Although he knew it was probably pointless, Johnny dug in his heels and made a grab for the sink, but Tobias dragged him with apparent ease from the bathroom and shoved him roughly down on the couch.  He righted himself slowly and watched with growing nervousness as Tobias paced back and forth in front of him, running his hand through his hair and mumbling to himself what sounded like, "This isn't right...this is all wrong."  He suddenly halted and glared down at Johnny.  "You are not in charge here," he growled.

"Obviously," he muttered.

"Why do you want to defy me?"

Johnny shook his head, baffled.  The man appeared to be growing more unhinged by the minute.  "I'm not...I'm...why are you doing this?  What more do you want from me?"

Johnny recoiled as Tobias dropped to one knee in front of him and grasped his wrists, his intense gaze boring into him.  "I only want you to fulfill your purpose."

"Purpose?  What do you mean?"  He was caught off guard by the answer he received.

"Your purpose," Tobias whispered, "is to heal me and make me whole again."

"I...what?"  He searched the other man's face for some sign that he was joking, but saw none.  "That's nuts.  I don't even - what the hell are you talking about?"

"Don't deny me!"  He thrust Johnny's hands away, jolted to his feet and began pacing once more, casting an occasional scowl in his direction.  His hand clutched at something around his neck.  "It just hurts so much.  I can't get any peace."  He held his scarred hand out, palm upward.  "Can't you see that?"

"See what?" he asked carefully.

"The blackness.  It's inside of me and I can't get it out."

Johnny was struck momentarily speechless as Tobias stood in front of him with his hand held out, looking for all the world like a young boy with a splinter that needed removing.  Hesitantly, he reached for the hand, noting the pattern of scars again.  He looked up in confusion and it was then that he finally saw what Tobias wore around his neck.  Slowly, still holding the scarred hand, he stood and with his other hand lifted the caduceus charm which hung on the bright silver chain around Tobias' neck.  The charm itself had probably been silver at one time, but was now a dull black, as if scorched by flames.  Johnny compared the shape to the overlapping burn scars.  They were identical.

"Who did this?" he asked.  "Did you -- ?"  He looked up at Tobias' face which was just inches from his own.  The other man stared back at him as if in intense concentration.  Johnny let go of the charm, then tried to let go of the hand, but Tobias held him securely.

"Go on, Raphael.  Do it.  Heal me." 

The grip on Johnny's hand grew painful, and he pulled back, trying unsuccessfully to free himself.  He shook his head, unsure what the other man expected of him.  "You can't be serious.  The scarring is too old."  He winced and gasped at the pressure being exerted on his hand.  "Damn it.  There's nothing I can do."  Tobias' hand shifted and Johnny found his wrist bent backwards.  He cried out and tried again to pull his hand away.

"Who are you?" Tobias whispered.

Realizing belatedly the danger of contradicting the man, Johnny paused before answering.  The pressure on his wrist increased until he was afraid it would snap.  "I'm...I'm Raphael."

The change in Tobias' expression was instantaneous.  His eyes lit with joy and he released Johnny's hand to run his fingers down the side of his face.  "Yes."  He touched a finger to Johnny's bottom lip and leaned in to kiss him, softly at first and then with growing hunger and urgency. 

Johnny felt himself being engulfed once more.  He tried to remain indifferent to the other man's touch, but his body seemed to respond of its own accord and he began kissing him back and let himself be pushed down onto his back.  His last thought before Tobias began undressing them both was that maybe he was this Raphael person, because he didn't feel much like Johnny Gage any longer.

Chapter Text

Johnny crouched in front of the fireplace and fed kindling to the embers, blowing steadily to revive the banked coals.  He concentrated on the familiar task, on the sharp tang of wood smoke, the snap of burning sap, and the feel of cool floor under his bare feet.  He focused on these things and strove to keep his mind a careful blank, blocking the anxious thoughts and the vivid memories of the last two days which had been playing in a continuous loop, threatening to overwhelm him.  As the fire caught and strengthened, he fed it larger pieces of wood, fiddling with the arrangement until he had it just right, then sat back and studied the blaze.

A faint mutter and rustle of fabric drifted in from the bedroom. He shot an apprehensive glance at the open doorway.  No additional noises followed and nobody appeared in the doorway.  He sagged with relief.  When the fire had warmed him enough to drive out the chill inside of him, he heaved himself to his feet and padded to the window.  Light from the rising sun angled through the surrounding trees.  He moved his face close to the glass and peered up to see clear sky showing between disintegrating clouds.

Chewing his lower lip, he thought about the implications of melting snow.  His heart picked up speed as he glanced once more towards the bedroom, wondering what Tobias might do when the roads began to clear.  He scratched absently underneath his cast, considering and discarding half a dozen escape plans, all of which ended with him lost and freezing to death in the woods.

Today marked the third morning here with Tobias.  The...fourth?...fifth?...since he had been taken.  He frowned again.  Too much of the last few days remained a confusing blur.  He had lost track of the number of times Tobias had pressed him down on the couch or the bed and rocked into him, sending him soaring in a way that left him dazed and trembling, or had grasped his shoulders with gentle insistence and pushed him to his knees.  Had he resisted?  Had he ever told him no?  He thought maybe he had meant to, but had been too caught up in the dizzying heat of Tobias' hands and mouth moving over him, and the intimate slide of his cock filling him. 

Afterwards, as Johnny lay lax and drifting, Tobias spoke to him, murmuring in his ear and revealing small, disjointed pieces of his past.  Johnny received an impression of a twisted, frightening childhood which perhaps rivaled his own.  He listened without comment, but found himself being seduced by Tobias' stories just as surely as he had been by his physical presence.

At times Tobias grew quiet, his gaze on Johnny troubled and subtly hostile, signaling the arrival of a darker mood.  At these times his physical attentions bordered on violence.  The latest episode had left Johnny bruised and, for the first time, truly frightened of Tobias.  As soon as he was certain that Tobias had dropped back to sleep, he had slipped out here to regroup and get some space to think.  Now as he watched the sky grow lighter and the darkness in the room turn to grey, he allowed in the worries which he had worked so hard to block out.  A sort of numb dismay washed through him at the thought of his passive acceptance of his circumstances.  I am so fucked up, he mused.  Not to mention fucked raw and just plain fucked.

He needed to get away, to put distance between himself and Tobias to give himself a chance to get his head on straight.  His instincts told him he was running out of time.  Tobias' episodes of brooding anger had grown more frequent, and it was probably only a matter of time before the handcuffs and drugs made an unwelcome reappearance. 

Suddenly his eyes widened and he would have snapped his fingers or perhaps even banged his forehead against the window if he hadn't been afraid the sound would carry into the bedroom and wake Tobias.  As it was, he couldn't stop a soft groan at his own stupidity.  The handcuffs and the sedative must still be somewhere in the cabin.  If he could find them, maybe he could turn the tables on Tobias and gain the time he needed to get away.  Johnny spun away from the window, gave the main room and kitchen a quick scan, and decided the kitchen was the most logical place to start searching.  He hesitated, fighting down another wave of anxiety, then in three long strides he was in the kitchen and yanking open drawers and cupboards, searching underneath mismatched utensils and behind chipped mugs, cracked plates, half-empty boxes of cereal, cans of soup and containers of cleaning supplies.

"Come on.  Come on," he muttered, lifting up on his toes to sweep his fingertips into the far corner of one of the top shelves. 

"What are you doing?"

Ohhh shit.  Talk about being fucked.

He cringed and turned to find Tobias watching him, eyes narrowed in anger and suspicion.

"Uh...looking for the coffee?"  He kept his eyes averted from the can of Folgers in plain view on the countertop. 

Tobias' face had gone blank.  He stalked slowly to the counter and lifted the coffee to show it to Johnny.

Johnny gave a weak smile.  "Hey, what do you know?  Must have looked right through it."  When he reached for the coffee, Tobias held it out of his reach.

"No.  You go relax on the couch," said Tobias.  "I'll make us some coffee."

The words themselves held no threat, but something in Tobias' inflection and the look in his pale eyes had Johnny swallowing nervously.  He moved past Tobias, and flinched when he felt the other man grab him around the middle and pull him close.  His breath drifted hot across the back of Johnny's ear as he whispered, "Don't worry, Raphael.  I'm going to take care of you."

Johnny shivered and forced a laugh, the sound an unconvincing rasp.  His heart hammered in his chest as he waited for Tobias to release him.  When he did, Johnny was quick to put some distance between them.  "I'll just be over here, then," he said, moving to perch on the edge of the couch.

Trying not to be obvious, he watched Tobias measure coffee and water into the percolator and carry it past him to set it in the fireplace.  Moments later, he settled down next to Johnny and grasped his injured arm, gazing at it with furrowed brows and rubbing his thumb almost absently back and forth over the cast.  "I should have seen it before," he muttered.

As Johnny puzzled over this incomprehensible comment, he stole a glance at Tobias' face.  The blank look remained, now overlaid with grief.  "Hey," he said, "are you all right?"  He spoke without thinking, belatedly recognizing the absurdity of his question. 

Tobias' hand tightened on Johnny's arm but he didn't try to draw him closer.  His pupils had grown huge, making his eyes appear nearly black.  "Has it all been a lie?"  He grabbed Johnny's chin with his free hand hard enough to leave bruises, and forced his head around so they faced one another.  "Did you deceive me from the very beginning?  Are you that clever?"

Johnny blinked, startled.  "What?  No.  I mean, just ask anyone.  I'm not clever at all.  I'm an open book."

The shadow of stubble on Tobias' jaw and his fixed stare gave him a raw, dangerous appearance.  The air seemed to thicken with menace and Johnny found it difficult to draw a breath.  Thinking to distract Tobias with the first thing that came to mind, Johnny swallowed his distaste, learned forward and captured his mouth in a clumsy kiss.

Tobias tensed and drew back with a hiss of anger.  "Don't."  He released Johnny and stood, pacing restlessly to the window and back again.

Johnny darted nervous glances in Tobias' direction as he paced.  Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the coffee start to boil over and ignored it.  Finally Tobias sat heavily on the other end of the sofa, staring glassily at his scarred palm.  Hoping to derail the dark mood this signaled, Johnny cleared his throat, casting about for something to say to take Tobias' mind off of whatever he was seeing in his burned palm.

"There's something I've been meaning to ask you," he blurted, more loudly than he had intended.  It had the desired effect, however, as Tobias jerked his gaze away from his palm and toward Johnny.

"Oh?" he said, frowning.  "And what's that?"

"It's just that I've been wondering.  You mentioned that we had met before...before Idaho Falls, that is.  Were you serious about that?"

Tobias remained silent for so long that Johnny had almost decided he wouldn't receive an answer.  Tobias shifted his gaze to the window then back to Johnny.  "You truly don't remember?"


Tobias' eyes lost focus and he smiled absently.  "Twice, actually."

"Twice," Johnny repeated stupidly before he realized what Tobias meant.  "Wait.  You're saying we've met twice before?  That can't be right."  He stared at Tobias, looking for a hint that he was joking, but saw none.

Tobias' smile widened and grew sly.  "To be accurate, I wouldn't say we met the first time.  It was a brief encounter.  I saw you but you didn't see me as you were otherwise occupied."

"Occupied?"  At a fire or rescue, then.  That made sense.  "What about the second time?" 

Tobias' avid gaze travelled slowly from Johnny's face, down his body and up again.  His eyes sparked with lust and humor.  The hiss and sizzle coming from the fireplace caught his attention and he turned to look.  Scorched coffee steamed around the bottom of the blackened percolator.  "We've ruined the coffee," said Tobias.  He rose smoothly to his feet and strode to the kitchen for a dish towel, then returned to pull the pot from the fire.  "I'll fix this."

It was Johnny's turn to stand and pace restlessly to the window as Tobias carried the coffeepot into the kitchen.  He lost himself for a few minutes watching drops of melting snow and ice fall from the roof, and then nearly jumped out of his skin as a hand clasped his shoulder.  Off-balance, he pivoted slowly to face Tobias. 

"The coffee can wait," said Tobias. 

A quick glance at the fireplace showed that the coffeepot had not been replaced.  Tobias pulled and prodded him back to the couch, lay down, and arranged Johnny between his legs with his back to Tobias and his ear near his mouth.  Johnny shivered at the touch of lips against his neck, and Tobias laughed.

"You can't get enough, can you?" he murmured and reached around to unbutton Johnny's jeans.

Johnny tensed but groaned helplessly as Tobias pulled his cock free and began to stroke him almost absently.  Pressing his lips together in a combination of frustration and self-loathing, he thrust upwards, trying to achieve more pressure and friction, but Tobias removed his hand and waited for him to be still before resuming his soft, slow torture.

"You asked me a question," he said.  "And I want to finish answering."

Johnny stifled another groan, and it emerged as an embarrassing whine.  His mind had gone blank.  A question?  What question?  He reached for Tobias' hand to help him along, and found his own hand knocked away.  He tried to grind back into Tobias' groin but the other man's legs twined around his, pinning him in place.

"Keep still.  It was about ten years ago."  One finger slid underneath Johnny's cock, rubbing back and forth along its length, deliberately teasing.  His other hand worked its way under his shirt to caress his stomach.

A wave of heat swept through Johnny.  "Ten years," he repeated faintly.  "Ten...what?  Just...fuck.  Come on, you're killing me here." 

A puff of air hit his ear as Tobias laughed sharply.  "Pay attention, Johnny.  You asked when we had met before."

"Okay.  Yeah.  My qu-question."  Squeezing his eyes shut, he panted and moved his head against Tobias' shoulder.  "Ten - oh jesus - ten years - "  His cock was achingly hard, robbing him of coherent thought.  The words ten years ago repeated several more times in his mind, and he may have spoken them out loud as well.  Suddenly his eyes flew open and he went cold all over.  Ten years ago he had been homeless and desperate and selling himself to strangers.  "Wait.  Just wait."  He tried to wrench away, but Tobias had him trapped.

"Are you starting to remember?"  Tobias began jerking him off with more vigor.  "My god, Johnny, you were such a pretty boy, slouching there in the shadows, as if you were waiting just for me to find you."  His hand left Johnny's stomach, but his muscular legs had him clamped in a merciless vise.  A syringe materialized in front of Johnny's face, the tip of the needle just inches from his eye. "I thought I needed this, but I was wrong, wasn't I?  Back then I had no idea what an eager slut you are.  Too bad.  Things would have gone so much differently if I had known.  Instead, ten years wasted, thinking you were the one.  Stop squirming, Johnny."  He gave Johnny's cock one final vicious squeeze and transferred his grip to his neck.  "We were interrupted, and so I never had the time to find out.  It was a near thing, wasn't it?  A few more minutes and those doctors wouldn't have been able to save you."

Johnny's attention followed the erratic movements of the needle as it hovered in front of his face and then came to rest against the sensitive skin near his jugular.  He tried to follow Tobias' words as well, realizing with dull surprise that he had begun calling him "Johnny" again.  As he attempted to parse the significance of that development, his brain finally caught up to the rest of what he had been told.  Tobias was the man who had drugged him, raped him, and beat him brutally enough to send him to the emergency room.

An adrenaline rush of equal parts fear and anger  flowed through him.  His right hand shot up to grab the hand holding the syringe.  At the same time, he slammed his left elbow backwards into Tobias' ribs.  Probably surprise more than anything else caused Tobias to slacken his hold on Johnny's neck.  Johnny surged upwards and his upper body fell to the floor as he jerked and tried to kick away from the imprisoning legs.  He twisted onto his back, gaining additional leverage.  Squirming free, he kicked Tobias in the knee with his bare heel then rolled onto his hands and knees.  Free for the moment, he scrambled away only to be brought up short when a strong hand captured his ankle.  Something sharp pierced the back of his leg.  Glancing back wildly, he saw the syringe protruding from the back of his thigh.

"Shit!  Fuck!"  He made a grab for the needle and yanked it out of his leg, then kicked out again to dislodge the hand from his ankle.

He heard harsh cursing and then a weight slammed into him, driving the breath from his lungs.  Tobias pinned him to the floor with a knee in the middle of his back.  A swath of color flashed in his peripheral vision.  Craning his neck, he saw Tobias drag a throw rug back and toss it onto the couch, revealing what appeared to be a three foot square doorway in the floor with a bolt latch holding it closed.  Tobias unlatched the door.  Johnny could now see a square of darkness which he realized opened into a cellar.

"No way," he grated as Tobias rose up and begin pulling him toward the opening.  His feet kicked as he sought for purchase.  He stopped his progress briefly when he managed to grab hold of a leg of the coffee table.  Tobias pried at his fingers, forcing them loose one by one.  Johnny held on as long as he could, instincts screaming that if Tobias got him into that hole, he would never come out again.  His vision swam and he realized with dismay that at least some of the drug had made it into his system.  Momentarily distracted, he lost his grip, and then he was being dragged across the floor again by one leg.

Fighting off panic, he braced his feet against the sides of the opening, feeling splintery wood scrape across the soles of his feet.  Instantly, Tobias changed tactics and grabbed him under the armpits, hauling him around in an attempt to stuff him into the hole head first.  Johnny rolled onto his back, grabbed for the edge and gripped it with one hand.  Bending his legs, he jammed his feet against the other side, leaving himself poised awkwardly over the cellar entrance, balanced on his good hand and both feet.  Tobias stomped on his hand and Johnny cried out in pain.  His hand slipped backwards across the floor and he collapsed onto his arm.  He scrabbled outwards, searching for something to hold onto, but finding nothing within reach.  One foot lost purchase to slide into the opening and Tobias kicked viciously at the other.  As his second foot slid off the edge Johnny made a last ditch effort to swing his body to face the edge and felt something wrench in his shoulder. 

He yelled again but just managed to hang on, dangling over empty space, the weight pulling at his injured shoulder a burning agony which grayed out his vision.   His feet thrashed in desperation and one heel touched wood which he immediately recognized as a set of steep, rough steps.  He planted his heel and thrust back with his other foot, searching for a stable foothold, but by now Tobias had retrieved the syringe and jabbed the needle into the back of his hand.  Startled, Johnny lost his precarious grip on the floor.  His heel bounced to the next step and then his balance deserted him completely and he started to fall forward.  Mid-fall, he twisted his body.  His foot skipped down several rungs before forward momentum sent him head first into the darkness.  He had a vague impression of sharp pain in his ankle before his forehead smacked the cool dirt floor and the world faded away.




The day passed with agonizing slowness at the Creekside Motor Inn.  Kel waited with Roy, Sam and Detective Jensen for word from the search parties, but didn't hear anything until night began to fall and they began to straggle in, cold and exhausted, to snatch some sleep and fuel up on sandwiches and coffee.  Agent Browder remained infuriatingly closemouthed when Kel pressed him for details on the search, but his bleak expression spoke clearly enough of their failure to turn up anything promising.  After he left to seek sleep elsewhere, Kel looked grimly around at the other three men.

"So, what do you think?" he said, addressing himself to Jensen.  "Is this a typical search operation, or am I smelling a hopeless cause?"

Jensen scratched behind one ear and took his time making eye contact with Kel.  "They should have turned up something by now.  Still, they seem pretty well organized, even if there is a lot of ground to cover.  If I had to guess I'd say they set up their search grid in the wrong direction, but it's hard to fault them.  Tobias had a decent head start, and the weather hasn't made things any easier.  Their efforts have been divided between the search, dealing with mop up operations at the compound and processing the prisoners.  I certainly don't envy Browder and the rest of them.  He hit the nail on the head when he called this a logistical nightmare."

Kel fought down the panic which Jensen's words churned up inside of him.  Think logically, he lectured himself.  What is the next step?  What were they missing?  He glanced over at Roy and Sam, who looked just as depressed as he felt.  "Guys?  Any ideas?"

Roy stared at the floor, shaking his head, but Sam was biting his lower lip as if deep in thought.


"Hmm?  Oh.  I'm sure they've already thought of it."

Kel hid his impatience with an effort.  "Thought of what?"

"Oh, just something that's been bugging me."

Kel waited, and saw Roy perk up a little.

"Well, it's just that guy.  McElroy?  The skinny guy that was injured."

Kel grimaced.  "You mean the animal who shot all those men?"

"Yeah.  Him.  Anyway, it sure sounded like he knew something.  More than anyone else there."

Kel sighed.  "I'm sure he's been questioned.  If he had any information, someone would know by now."

Jensen cleared his throat.  "Not necessarily."

Kel turned to stare at him.  "What does that mean?"

"As you know, I'm not here in any official capacity, but unlike you, I'm not a civilian.  I've managed to learn a little from some of the men here."

When he didn't say anything more, Roy and Sam glared at him and said, nearly in unison, "And?!"

"And, they've got him stashed away in the hospital in Glennis with a 24-hour guard on his door.  He's been unconscious from his head wound.  I hear that he finally woke up last night, but refused to say a word to anyone.  Seems he still feels a certain loyalty to Tobias.  God knows why, but until someone can spare the time for a proper interrogation, we won't know anything more."

Kel exchanged a disgusted look with Roy.  "Great.  And in the meantime we just sit here while Johnny's chances of survival grow more and more doubtful.  Is that the situation?"

Jensen gave him a mournful look.  "Yep.  That's it in a nutshell."

"Um," said Sam.

They turned to look at him.  Reddened cheeks and dark, intent eyes contrasted with his pale complexion.  "Yes?" prompted Kel.

"I just think," said Sam, and then trailed off uncertainly before starting again.  "Well, I just think maybe there's more we can do.'s probably not legal."  He gave Jensen an uneasy glance.

No one spoke for perhaps a minute as they waited for Sam to continue.  Finally, Roy broke the expectant silence.  "So?" he said.  "Tell us."




As consciousness returned, Johnny felt the cold that had seeped into him and filled him.  His body trembled with it, setting off localized points of pain which strengthened, faded and strengthened again in time with his shivering and his thudding pulse.  His face pressed against something coarse and cool which smelled faintly of decay.  Prying his eyes open proved absurdly difficult, and when he finally succeeded, he was met with darkness so complete his eyes burned as he opened them wider.  His head pounded, and his thoughts moved in slow, sluggish circles.  He concentrated on breathing shallowly, trying to push past the pain to remember where he was and what had happened to him. 

Above him, a heavy thump sounded, and fine grit sifted down to land on the back of his neck, hands and arms.  A softer thump followed, and suddenly harsh, flickering light filled the space above him and grew closer.  He winced and blinked slowly, bringing his surroundings into focus.  Trying and failing to move his head, all he could see was the dirt floor he was lying on, and part of one rough wooden wall.  He remembered falling, and realized he must be in the cellar.   Heavy footsteps on the stairs came closer, growing muffled as they reached the dirt floor.  He tried to rise up onto his hands and knees, but his limbs did not seem to be receiving the instructions his mind sent them.  A booted foot landed on his back, unnecessarily holding him in place.

"Just lay still, Johnny," said Tobias.  "It will all be over soon.  You would have done better to remain unconscious.  If you hadn't fought me, you could have had a full dose and avoided some of this difficulty."

Johnny tried to make his voice work, but all that emerged was a strangled groan.  He squinted as the light came closer, and felt the heat from the lantern when Tobias set it near his shoulder.  At the edges of vision he could just make out Tobias doing something with his hands, and then the lantern flared brighter as Tobias removed the glass cover and pulled the lantern closer to himself.  Johnny followed it with his eyes, but when he tried again to turn his head, his muscles remained stubbornly unresponsive.

"Perhaps you've realized by now that the drug induces a mild paralysis.  Not complete, but close enough.  It should wear off soon, but it won't do you any good to fight the effects until it does."

Despite Tobias' assertion, Johnny couldn't stop himself from continuing to struggle, managing only a pathetic sort of wriggle which had Tobias laughing softly.  After that, he lay still, trying to brace himself against whatever Tobias had planned.  One unpleasant scenario after another crawled through his imagination as he waited and the tension stretched almost unbearably.  He could hear small sounds behind him, feel the subtle movement of Tobias' body as his balance shifted onto and off of the knee which rested on Johnny's lower back.  Stay awake, he lectured himself as his head grew fuzzy and shivers wracked him.  Tobias was speaking, and he focused on the words, trying to make sense of them.

"You were good Johnny," Tobias murmured, his voice oddly strained, then gave a hiss of pain and shifted again before continuing.  "Such a skilled deceiver.  I was so sure that you truly were Raphael.  I finally figured it out, though, didn't I?"

Johnny bit back another groan.  Pain flared in different places each time Tobias shifted his weight.

"Your mistake was glaringly obvious, really.  I think maybe you were laughing at me all along, is that it?  You see, at first I thought you were testing me and that you would do your duty and heal me when I passed your test.  But it didn't make sense.  You were supposed to be sent here for me.  You should have helped me, healed me with no conditions attached.  I just couldn't figure you out.  And then I saw what I had overlooked."

"What was that?" Johnny tried to say, but it came out as, "wuuuhhh."

The weight on Johnny's back disappeared.  He grunted as hands grasped him and rolled him over, and he found himself gazing up into Tobias' pale eyes.  Tobias reached for Johnny's casted arm and held it for a moment.  "Then I knew," he said.  "I knew you weren't Raphael when I realized that if you couldn't even heal yourself you would never heal me."  He shook his head sadly.  "All those years I spent thinking Raphael existed.  It was just another lie in a world full of evil and filth and lies."  A thoughtful look came over his features as he began to unbutton Johnny's shirt.  "Do you know what I think, Johnny?  I think in so many ways you were the worst of the liars.  You were...malicious.  My father is dead because of your deceit.  And so many other deaths can be laid at your door."

Johnny shivered as Tobias pulled the front of his shirt open and cold air hit his bare skin.  He clenched his jaw to keep his teeth from knocking together, and missed part of what Tobias said next.  None of it made sense anyway.  Tobias reached down, grasped him behind his shoulders, and lifted him so their chests were pressed together and Tobias' mouth brushed his ear.

When he spoke again, sorrow filled his voice.  "I want to hate you, Johnny.  I wish I could hate you.  You need to be punished.  It's what you deserve for destroying my hope.  God, I'm so tired, and in spite of everything I think maybe I love you a little."  His arms tightened.  "You have evil inside you," he whispered dully.  "You deceived me, led me astray and ruined all I have worked to achieve for so many years.  So now I need to save you from yourself.  You see that, don't you?"

Johnny tried to shake his head, and was heartened when it moved a little.  Tobias did not appear to have noticed.  He peeled Johnny's shirt off, eased him back down to the dirt floor, and carefully rolled him back onto his stomach.  Willing his mouth and tongue to work properly, Johnny strained against the lingering paralysis.  He finally managed a thick, slurred sentence:  "You don't have to do this."  He barely understood himself, and the words seemed to have no effect on Tobias, who had gone momentarily quiet, although Johnny heard his soft movements behind him.

"Goodbye, Johnny," he whispered.  His knee landed on Johnny's back again and his next words, spoken in a deep, commanding voice, sent the cold shooting even deeper inside of Johnny.  "Earthly demon, today is the day of your judgment.  I bind you now and cast you into everlasting darkness, where you shall abide forever that you may not see the light or defile the world with your presence.  I bind you with fire and the sign of blessed Raphael."

By the end of his speech he was nearly shouting.  When he pronounced the name of Raphael, he dropped the flat of his hand onto Johnny's shoulder blade and searing heat exploded against his skin.  Johnny cried out.  Disbelief held him in place for perhaps a second.  The smell of burning flesh shocked him into action.  He jerked convulsively, once and then again, willing his sluggish reflexes to obey.  On the second try he managed a weak roll which did nothing to dislodge Tobias' knee, but his hand slipped off of his shoulder taking the white-hot pain along with it.  Johnny had only a moment's reprieve, during which he continued to thrash weakly, before Tobias' voice rang out once more.

"I shall place upon you rough and jagged rocks, grind you into dust, cover your face and seal you in darkness that you may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment you shall be cast into the fire."

The pressure on Johnny's back disappeared as Tobias removed his knee.  Not wasting a second, he steeled himself and jerked his body to the side with enough force to roll onto his back.  His shoulder struck the floor and sharp, hot pain streaked through him, causing his vision to gray out for a moment.   He gulped in several deep breaths and focused on Tobias again.  What he saw had him trying without success to scramble back out of the way.  Tobias clutched a crumbling brick in his hands, raising it over his head as Johnny watched.  His eyes gleamed silver in the lantern light, desperate and feral.  Their gazes locked for what seemed an eternity as Johnny waited for the blow to fall.  This is not how I imagined my death, he thought, then cringed back and shut his eyes.

...And waited...and waited.

He cracked one eye open.  Tobias had lowered the brick and was staring at it, his expression desolate.

"I can't," Tobias whispered, his voice broken.  He squeezed his eyes shut and his nostrils flared in and out as he struggled to breathe.  His eyes flew open.  "I won't!"  Then he drew his arm back and hurled the brick against the far wall.

Johnny flinched at the sound, flinched again when Tobias leaned over him, running a hand down the side of his face.

"I won't do it," he muttered.  "You can't make me.  It's too much.  Look at beautiful.  You ask for too much."

Johnny held himself perfectly still, hardly daring to breathe, as Tobias continued to argue and plead with a voice that only he could hear. 

Finally, he nodded to himself and leaned down to place a soft kiss on Johnny's mouth.  "Goodbye, Johnny," he said, and then without another word he turned and left, taking the lantern with him.  Numbly, Johnny watched him climb the steps, his shadow lengthening and wavering and then disappearing as darkness rushed back in to fill the cellar.  Johnny heard a solid thump above him, a decisive metal click as the lock slid into place, and something heavy being dragged across the floor and moved into place over the door.

"Wait," he rasped.  Footsteps echoed above him, moving with seeming purpose from one room to another.  "Wait," he said again, with only slightly more force.  He tried and failed to get his feet under him.  He heaved and strained and rolled himself over, then spent a good five minutes panting and shaking and willing the pain in his head and ankle and shoulder to recede.  Above him, it had gone quiet.

Growing panic gave him a burst of strength, and he pushed up onto his hand and knees and started a slow, painful crawl toward the stairs.  Upstairs, the front door slammed.  He waited, listening, then his heart dropped and his mouth fell open in stunned disbelief at the sound of a car engine turning over.  Close.  So fucking close.  Tobias' car had been there along, if he had only looked for it.  He wanted to laugh or cry or yell his frustration.  Tires crunched on snow, an engine revved and then receded as the car picked up speed and moved away from the cabin.

Johnny slumped in defeat.  The bottom stair was inches from his head, but it may as well have been a million miles away right now.  Even if he could make it up the stairs, the door at the top was locked, and he had heard Tobias weight it down with something, probably the couch.  The body heat which his struggles had generated was fading, sweat cooling his skin.  A shiver convulsed him, reawakening all of his various injuries.  Briefly, he considered just laying still and allowing the cold to take him.  Then he shivered again and realized that he wasn't quite ready to give up.  Not yet.

He pushed up himself up with one arm, relieved to find it easier to move already.  He worked in careful stages until he was sitting more or less upright.  He tried leaning on his right arm, but the pressure on his wrenched shoulder proved too painful so he settled for bending one knee and spreading the other leg wider to maintain his precarious balance.  Then he swept his casted arm in front of him, to the side and behind him, and was gratified to feel his crumpled up shirt just at the edges of his fingertips.  Several awkward, excruciating minutes later he had the shirt on and buttoned up.

Forcing back the panic threatening to swamp him, he took a moment to allow his pains to subside, then began methodically assessing his body's damage.  His broken arm did not seem any worse.  His ankle, he was relieved to discover was not broken, although he had twisted it badly.  His right arm was still numb, and jagged pain shot through his right shoulder each time he tried to move it.  This was accompanied by the searing ache in his shoulder blade.  He suspected the burn wasn't too serious, but it hurt like hell at the moment.  He raised his left hand and gingerly touched his forehead, finding a sizeable lump, but no blood.  None of his injuries appeared life-threatening, he concluded.  So it was a toss-up whether cold, hunger, or dehydration finished him first.  Probably the cold, he decided as another shiver convulsed him, setting off all of his aches and pains once again.

He peered around him at the dark space, trying to discern anything of his surroundings.  When he had woken up, he had assumed it was night time.  Now, however, he remembered that the sun had only just risen when he fell down the stairs, and he didn't think he had been out that long.  He wanted nothing more than to lie down and rest, but he knew that he needed to think.  There had to be a way out of this.  So he closed his eyes and tried to recall everything he had seen in the light of the lantern, anything that might prove useful.  There had been a wooden wall, probably the foundation wall.  He opened his eyes and began a painful, seated crabwalk in the direction he remembered.  Although he was trembling by the time he reached it, at least the exertion had warmed him up a little.

Feeling his way along the wall, he started a slow circuit of the space to get an idea of its dimensions.  He hadn't gone far when he stopped, surprised to feel a slight draft whisper across the top of his head.  He looked up, squinted, and thought he could make out a slightly lighter rectangle of darkness above him.  A window, maybe?  Working in stages, he pulled himself upright, balancing on his good foot, and slid his hand upward along the wall.  The regular, horizontal slats of the wall were interrupted at about eyelevel by a series of overlapping pieces set at odd angles.  Using his fingertips to explore, he found what must be a window, boarded over with pieces of wood nailed into the wall. 

Renewed hope gave him strength and he began pulling at the lowest slat, tugging it from the wall to the accompanying screech of rusty nails ripping free.  Once he dislodged the first piece, he used it as a pry bar to work his way up until the remaining slats lay in a pile at his feet.  With the window clear, sunlight slanted into the cellar.  However, he now realized that the window measured approximately two feet long and perhaps ten inches high.  If he could muster the strength to pull himself up there, not even he could fit himself through an opening that small.

He rested his head against the wall, disappointment bitter in his throat.  With a sigh, he turned around to survey the cellar, now partially visible, if only to get a good look at what would likely become his tomb.  The space held little of interest.  The light caught on something metallic at the foot of the stairs.  He hopped closer to investigate, sat on the bottom step and picked up Tobias' caduceus charm, still on the silver chain, and still warm from the lantern flame.  The burned flesh on Johnny's back twitched at the remembrance of having the small piece of metal pressed into it.

He tossed it away the charm, dismissing it from his thoughts, and turned his head to study the stairs.   Knowing it was likely a waste of energy, still he struggled up them, one painful step at a time, and tested the door, finding it locked and weighted down, just as he had known he would.

Back down in the cellar, he settled himself as comfortably as he could.  His shivers started again.  It was like sitting in a meat locker.  Sunlight streamed invitingly through the window, and he moved over to sit in the wedge of light.  It helped a little, but he knew that once the sun set the temperature would drop and he would be lucky to make it until morning.  Cheer up, Gage, he told himself.  At least you'll leave a well-preserved corpse.

His patch of sun had shifted a little, so he moved over and turned to keep the light out of his eyes.  Either more light was reaching the cellar or his eyes had become accustomed to the gloom.  Whatever the case, he could now see to the far side of the room, and could make out what appeared to be a bundle of cloth.  He stared incuriously until another shiver rippled through him.  Maybe the bundle held clothes or something else to keep him warm.  Still he hesitated, debating the pros and cons of prolonging things.  Finally, with a mental shrug he forced his aching body to move.  As he got closer, he saw a rough blanket draped over something, and could scarcely believe his luck.  He tugged at the blanket, daring to hope whatever it covered would prove useful to him.

One last firm tug freed the blanket and sent him tumbling backwards.  He lay groaning, clutching his prize, then rocked back upwards with a little more force than necessary.  He overbalanced in the other direction, giving a yell as he fell on his right shoulder.  When the roaring in his ears receded along with the pain, he opened his eyes and gave another startled yelp as he found his face inches from the wide sightless eyes of a frozen corpse.

"Shit.  Oh shit.  Fuck.  Fuckfuckfuck."  He scrambled backwards as rapidly as his abused body would allow.  He stared at the dead man, down at the blanket clutched in his hand, back at the body, and tossed the blanked away from himself.  "No way.  Oh, shit.  No fucking way."  In horror, he backed as far away as he could, finding himself near the stairs again.  Bad.  This was bad.  Very very bad.

He shut his eyes, but could still see the pale, frozen face and staring eyes, dark shaggy hair matted darker with frozen blood above the stark white torso.  He wiped his hand on his shirt as if blood had transferred to it from the blanket. 

After a while, he opened his eyes.  There wasn't anything left to do but wait.  Keeping vigil, he thought, staring across the room at the dead man.  The phrase kept repeating in his mind as the day wore on.  Keeping vigil.  He stared at the corpse and the corpse stared back and he couldn't decide who was keeping vigil on whom. 

Chapter Text

Johnny woke with a start, disoriented.  He blinked sluggishly, not sure if he had fallen asleep or passed out.  The growing darkness in the cellar told him he had lost a sizeable chunk of time.  A shiver convulsed him.  It had been cold before, but now he could almost feel the temperature dropping by the second.  He imagined it seeping inside him, replacing bone and marrow and blood with brittle, crystalline ice.  When he sat up, his joints felt stiff and swollen.

A narrow band of sunlight still reached the far wall, bathing the dead man's face in golden light and creating the illusion of sardonic watchfulness.  Johnny found he couldn't look away as fascination and revulsion warred inside him.  The wool blanket lay crumpled on the lifeless chest where he had thrown it.  He eyed the blanket covetously, rubbing his hands up and down his arms in a futile attempt to warm up.  The sun slipped lower, spreading shadows.  Finally, when the light dwindled to nothing, obscuring the blank eyes, Johnny took a gulping breath, crawled painfully across the room, snatched up the blanket, and scuttled away again. 

He folded the blanket around himself, resolutely ignoring the sensation it evoked of being wrapped in a shroud drenched in blood and decay and death.  Violent shivers coursed through him for what felt like an eternity.  At last he managed to create a tiny pocket of warmth which he hoarded carefully, hoping it would be enough to sustain him.  When he had gained some control over his shaking, he directed an apologetic grimace at his companion across the room.

"Sorry," he whispered.  "You didn't need it anymore."  The other man remained silent.  Johnny shifted his gaze away, but found it drawn back once more.  "It's just...I just really hate the cold, you know?  And it's fucking freezing in here."  He gave a short laugh.  "But I guess I don't have to tell you that, huh?"

He kept up a faltering, one-sided conversation for a while, mostly in an effort to stay awake.  After telling the dead man how he had come to share the cellar with him, Johnny began a halting recitation of the stages of hypothermia.  When he got to the part about mental confusion, the remaining symptoms eluded him, which struck him as ironic but not particularly funny.  So he gave up, closed his eyes and huddled miserably in the dark and the cold, trying to conjure up pictures of bonfires and sunny beaches and warm bodies twined together under thick comforters.

It helped for a while, until he remembered a different, less comforting heat searing into his shoulder blade.  The burn throbbed, a low-level aching reminder of Tobias and his madness.  He wondered if the nameless man across the room had suffered the same treatment.  If Johnny rolled him onto his front, would he find a matching burn in the shape of a caduceus, marking him forever as Tobias' victim?  Johnny shivered, and shivered again, arms wrapped tight around himself and teeth clenched together to keep himself from shaking apart.




The snow had melted somewhat the previous day, but the temperatures overnight had dropped well below freezing again, rendering the streets and sidewalks of Glennis as icy as the highway, shining silvery bright in the early morning sun.  In the passenger seat of the rental car, Kel squinted against the beginning of a headache.  Behind the wheel, Roy yawned.  Sam slouched in the back next to Detective Jensen.  They all stared intently at the front entrance of the small hospital.

"So," said Kel, "we're all clear on what we're doing?"

In the rearview mirror, he saw Sam and Detective Jensen both nod.

Roy rolled his eyes.  "We've gone over this a hundred times," he said.  "Do we really need to make it a hundred and one?"

Kel stifled a sigh.  "No, I don't suppose we do.  Just keep in mind that this will likely be the only opportunity we have to talk to McElroy.  If we blow this, we're back to square one, with absolutely no idea where Tobias has taken Johnny."  He didn't add that they were already well past the three day mark, and the chances of finding Johnny alive dropped with each passing hour.

They had spent the previous afternoon and most of the night fleshing out their plan.  Drawing on his familiarity with his father and brother, Kel had coached Roy on how to act like a lawyer, gave him a few legal terms to throw around, and stressed the need to project confidence mingled with a little arrogance and self-importance.  He had his doubts as to whether earnest, unassuming Roy could pull it off, but suspected that in a small town like Glennis, a little attitude would go a long way.  "All right," he said, pushing his misgivings firmly aside, "let's do this."

They climbed out of the car.  Kel slipped on the icy pavement but managed to steady himself with a hand on the roof of the car.  Four thuds sounded in the morning stillness as they shut the doors and headed for the entrance, walking in short careful steps, white puffs of breath preceding them in the frigid air.  Kel longed for a cup of coffee.  They had all been too impatient to get moving to take the time, hadn't packed or brought more than the clothes they wore, had just stole outside while everyone else still slept.

Inside the hospital, Jensen remained near the front door as their lookout, and the other three headed for the nurses' station.  Kel prodded a reluctant Roy into the lead.  Roy hesitated, staring at the nurse as if frozen in place.

"Come on, Roy," Kel hissed in his ear.  "Snap out of it.  Remember, you're a steamroller.  Now steamroll, damn it." 

The nurse eyed them warily, and looked about half a second away from picking up the phone to summon security.  Kel drew back his foot and aimed a sharp kick at Roy's shin.

"Ack!  Ah..Hi there," said Roy, shooting Kel a murderous glare.  "Roy DeSoto, uh, Esquire, Attorney-at-Law, here.  You're here to see my client."

A confused look came over the nurse's face.  "Sir?  Should I get you a doctor?"

"No!  No.  Sorry.  Ha ha.  What I meant to say-obviously-is that I'm here to see my client.  Mr. McElroy.  Brad.  Brad McElroy."

Her expression turned abruptly hostile.  "I'm sorry sir, no visitors.  Doctor's orders."

Kel elbowed Roy out of the way.  "Is that right?  As it happens, I'm Mr. McElroy's family physician.  As of right now, I am taking over his care.  That won't be a problem, will it?"

Her eyes narrowed, but she didn't argue, just pointed to the end of the hallway.  "In that case, talk to him," she said.

The "him" in question was a sheriff's deputy in his mid-twenties sitting outside the closed door of a private room, with the front legs of his chair tipped up, his head resting against the door and his eyes shut.  As they approached, he gave a snuffling snore.  Kel coughed loudly and the front legs of the chair smacked down onto the linoleum floor.  The deputy's eyes popped open and he looked around him in confusion.  Finally focusing on the three men looming over him, he straightened and glowered at them.  Despite the man's obvious displeasure over being disturbed, Kel felt a wave of relief wash through him.  The main flaw of their plan had been the possibility that they would be recognized by whoever had been assigned to guard McElroy.  Detective Jensen had assured them that most likely someone local would be stuck with that duty, and it looked as if he had been correct.

"Keep moving, guys," the deputy snapped.  "This is a restricted area."

Roy stepped forward without being prodded this time.  Whether he took exception to the man's tone, or he was warming to his role, his voice suddenly rang with self-assurance.  "If this is Brad McElroy's room, then I beg to differ.  I'm Mr. McElroy's attorney, and I demand access to my client immediately.  Am I clear?"

Kel watched, bemused, as Roy bullied and intimidated the deputy, talking over him and throwing out references to Miranda Rights and attorney-client privilege, and implying that the younger man was in danger of losing his badge and possibly destroying the American Way of Life if not all of Western Civilization if he didn't move his lazy butt away from the door and allow Roy access to his client.

"I dunno," the nervous deputy finally mumbled.  "I'll have to go in there with you."

Roy leaned down to face him nose-to-nose.  "Did you not hear what I said about privilege?"

"Fine.  Just you, though.  Not them."

"Wrong.  This is his doctor, and this is his brother.  They will be accompanying me."

"What about privilege?"

"Don't worry, deputy, we've got it covered.  I've got attorney-client privilege.  And he," here he pointed at Kel, "has doctor-patient privilege."

The deputy rose slowly and moved the chair away from the door.  "And what about him?"  He nodded his head at Sam.

Roy stared at him blankly and then blinked several times.  "Family privilege.  Obviously.  Good grief, don't they teach you anything at deputy school?"

Kel and Sam followed Roy into McElroy's room.  Kel shut the door firmly behind them.  "Family privilege?  Deputy school?" he asked incredulously, and watched Roy turn pink.

Sam snickered with a trace of hysteria.  "Good thing he didn't ask for your credentials from fake attorney school."

"Oh, you're a funny guy," said Roy, stepping toward Sam.  "What do you have up on your wall?  A diploma from clown college?"

Kel maneuvered between them, scowling.  "Guys.  There's no time for this.  Let's focus on what we came for."

"And what, exactly," snarled a new voice, "is that?" 

They turned towards the bed to find its occupant glaring at them.  Kel crossed his arms and studied the narrow face and sandy hair of the young man he had treated briefly at the encampment.  A thick bandage covered half of his forehead, and an IV disappeared under the floppy sleeve of his hospital gown.  "Do you recognize us?" asked Kel, trying to keep his anger tamped down.

"Sure," sneered McElroy.  "Friends of John Gage, right?  You're wasting your time here.  I'm not talking to the cops, and I'm not talking to you."

As Kel stalked up to the bed, McElroy's eyes widened, darting to Kel, over to the other two men, and back to Kel.  He flinched when Kel reached for his wrist, but lay quietly as Kel took his pulse before grabbing the chart from the end of the bed and reviewing it.  Satisfied that the patient was stable and in no danger, he replaced the chart.

"Where are they?" he asked without preamble.  He met McElroy's defiant gaze without blinking until the younger man looked away.  "You realize that you have nothing to gain by protecting Tobias, right?  If you tell us what you know, you could be saving Johnny's life."

McElroy's gaze veered back to Kel.  He gave a feeble laugh.  "I don't give a shit about Gage.  Besides, Tobias has probably taken care of him already."

"Taken care of?"  Anger and fear boiled up in Kel as he moved closer to McElroy.  He could sense Roy at his shoulder.

"He's seen right through him by now," sneered McElroy.  "Just another fake like all the others.  I'm the only one he cares about, you know.  And I won't betray him, so you might as well get the hell out of here and leave me alone before that moron outside figures out who you really are."

Kel's fists clenched.  He wanted to pummel that smug face.  He heard a low growl and wasn't sure if it had come from himself or from Roy. 

"Let's just drug him," Roy whispered in his ear.  "Drug him and drag him out of here.  I'll bet we could scare the truth out of the little shit if we had him somewhere more private."

Kel stared at Roy, a little shocked by the intensity of his gaze and the violence at which his words hinted.  "Brilliant idea, Roy," he whispered back.  "Except for the cop outside the door and the nurse in the hallway."

"Drug them too.  Problem solved.  Come on, Doc, this is Johnny we're talking about here.  I'd do anything to get him back safely, and I know damn well that you would too."

"Get hold of yourself, Roy," Kel hissed through his teeth.  "Now is not the time - "

A hand landed on Kel's arm, tugging, and he spun around to glare at Sam, who stared back with an odd combination of hesitation and determination.

"Let me try," Sam murmured.

Kel opened his mouth to tell Sam what he thought of that suggestion, but ended up closing it again as he realized it might not be such a bad idea.  Maybe McElroy would prove more inclined to open up to someone closer to his own age.  At least Sam appeared more in control than Roy.  So Kel nodded and stepped back.  "Be my guest."  He ignored Roy's frustrated huff of breath.

Sam pulled the only chair closer to the bed and sat down.  "Hi, Brad.  My name's Sam."

No response.

"I know it's hard to tell by looking at me, but Johnny's my brother.  Half-brother, actually.  We haven't known each other all that long, but he seems like a really good guy.  I'd like the chance to get to know him better."  He laughed softly.  "Although we've made a lot of progress in a short time.  We've sure fought like brothers....Do you have any brothers or sisters, Brad?"

McElroy's mouth tightened.  He nodded, but did not elaborate.

"I'll bet they miss you.  No, seriously.  I have a little sister too, and she drives me nuts, but it would tear me up if she ever took off without an explanation.  Is that what you did?  Just disappeared one day?"

McElroy fiddled with the bedspread, his lips twitching.  "Seemed the best way."

Sam shook his head decisively.  "No.  It's not.  It never is.  You leave people behind like that and they spend the rest of their lives wondering why."

"Fuck ‘em.  Why should I care?"  He sounded a little less certain than his words implied.

Growing impatient, Kel touched Sam's shoulder, but he frowned and gave Kel a look that clearly said, wait.

"Tobias left you behind, didn't he?" asked Sam.

In the silence that followed, Kel heard McElroy's quick little hitch of breath.

Sam pressed his point.  "He picked Johnny over you, Brad, over all of you.  He left you behind to face things on your own.  He's the reason you're lying here right now, and I'll just bet he's having a good laugh at how naïve you turned out to be."

"Tobias wouldn't do that to me."

"Why are you protecting him?  Do you just want Johnny hurt out of spite?" 

"It's called loyalty."

Sam paused, seeming to think that over.  "Okay.  I can see that.  But I think you can be loyal to Tobias and help Johnny.  In fact, you can help Johnny, help yourself and help Tobias, all at the same time."

McElroy looked skeptical.  "Come on, man.  How stupid do you think I am?"

"You're in trouble Brad, no doubt about it.  Maybe the only thing you have going for you is your ability to save a life, here.  We could show you some leniency if you cooperate."

Kel bit the inside of his cheek to keep from speaking.  He knew damn well that the courts weren't going to grant McElroy one inch of slack after the murders he had committed.  Sam had to know that as well.  Never mind the fact that Sam had no authority to even be making an offer.  McElroy seemed to be considering it, though.

"Okay," he said, "I guess that's a possibility.  But I still don't see how it helps Tobias."

"See, that's the beauty of it," said Sam, smiling in a way that had Kel doing a double-take at the kid's outrageous good looks which he hadn't even noticed until that moment.  McElroy appeared to be affected as well, if his dazed expression was any indication.  "If Johnny winds up safe and sound, they're going to have to show Tobias leniency too.  Now, think about it Brad."  Sam leaned in and rested his hand on McElroy's forearm.  "You're both going to serve some time.  Nothing we can do about that.  But I just bet we could work it out where you two could end up in the same prison, maybe even share a cell.  How sweet would that be?"

The look of dawning hope and elation on McElroy's face was almost painful to watch.  It also answered the question of how stupid Sam thought he was.  His next words confirmed that he was exactly as stupid as Sam had estimated.

"You could do that for us, Sam?  Would that be guaranteed?  We could be together?"


McElroy's brows furrowed and he nodded slowly.  "All right.  That would be good.  Great, actually.  So as long as I have your word..."

"You do, Brad."

He stared at each of the three men as if trying to decide if he could trust them.  Kel kept his expression carefully neutral, and hoped that Roy had enough presence of mind to do the same.  Finally McElroy gave another a nod.  A smile spread across his face.

"Okay.  It's a deal.  I'll tell you where they are.  Not that it will help your friend any."   His smile transformed into something darker and filled with malice.  "And when I tell you, you're not hardly going to believe it."




Johnny managed to stay awake for most of the night, but exhaustion finally won out.  As he drifted off, he wondered dully if the cold would claim him while he slept, but at that moment he was too tired to care.  His sleep was dreamless at first.  Then towards dawn, for the first time in years, Johnny dreamt of his mother.  He found himself back in the motel room keeping watch on her lifeless body, waiting for his father to return, a young boy who hadn't yet realized that his life had changed forever.  He woke gasping for air, shaking and gagging on the sour taste of grief and regret.

Pale morning light filled the cellar, pushing back the shadows.   Across from him, the dead man watched him impassively, and Johnny felt oddly grateful that he, at least, would have a witness to his death.  Not that he deserved that small solace.  After all, he had left his own mother to choke out her last straining breaths on her own.  He gave his head a violent shake, willing those thoughts away.  Although he had lived with that guilt for most of his life, he had buried it so deep for so long that facing it again now brought the memories into such sharp focus that he could almost smell the dust and mildew of the motel room and hear the rush of cars along the highway outside. 

He didn't want to remember.  In need of a distraction he focused on the dead man.

"Good morning Dead Guy," he said, and was surprised that he couldn't speak any louder than a raw whisper.  "Must be nice not to feel the cold anymore.  So...what should I call you?  Can't keep calling you Dead Guy.  That's kind of rude.  How about...Frank.  What?  Oh, no reason really.  You just look like a Frank."  A particularly violent shiver rippled through him, reawakening all of his aches and pains.  "Did Tobias toy with you Frank?  Or did it come quick for you?  I bet it did.  Guess that makes you the lucky one in the room."  He sighed, well aware that he was skirting the edge of delirium.  The company, however, dead or not, was oddly comforting.

"Where was home for you, Frank?  Did you live around here?  Before, you know, you died.  Not me.  Home for me is...was...."  He paused uncertainly, picturing his crappy apartment back in Carson, the latest in a string of crappy apartments.  "Huh.  Not really sure where home is.  I mean, I know where I live.  But it's not home home.  Know what I mean?  Not the place I dream about going back to when I feel so...lost..."  He trailed off, embarrassed at revealing so much of himself, even to Frank the Dead Guy.

It ate at him a little, though.  He turned the idea over and over in his mind.  Where was home, then?  Living with his aunt had never felt like home.  Living on his Uncle Rick's ranch had been more like boarding with an employer.  Uncle Charles...his mind shied away from that memory.  Not home though.  Definitely not home.

And his parents?  He remembered their time on the road, traveling from one job to the next, but nowhere they landed had been home, just another temporary stopping place.  Surely there must have been something before that.  He had vague memories of the reservation before they packed up and left, but no sense of nostalgia, nothing he wanted to return to. 

His chest tightened with longing and a numb sort of sorrow that he would die here, adrift in the world, anchorless and forgotten.  His gaze met Frank's cloudy stare and he smiled at the other man.  "Sorry buddy," he rasped.  "I'm not usually such a self-pitying jerk.  It's been a rough last couple of days.  Once I get this whole pesky being alive thing out of the way, we can haunt this place together.  How's that sound?  I promise I'll be better company than I am right now."  He yawned and arranged the blanket more tightly around himself, covering his feet and pulling a corner over his head.  "Maybe I'll try to catch some more shuteye.  Didn't sleep so well last night.  Not much else to do anyway."

This time sleep came quickly.  He didn't try to fight it, and a part of him hoped that this time it would be dreamless and eternal.




Even with the sunlight and the temperature inching just above freezing, the fir and pine trees that crowded the narrow road kept it shadowed and trapped the cold in their shadows.  Deep drifts of snow made for slow going in the rental car.  Kel struggled to keep a tight grip on his impatience as Roy maneuvered with excruciating caution toward the location McElroy had indicated on his crudely drawn map.  It had turned out that the cabin to which Tobias had taken Johnny (according to McElroy) lay a mere twenty minutes south of Glennis, far from the search area.  Thank goodness for Sam, who had suggested they talk to McElroy, and who had so deftly questioned and finessed the information out of him.

The car slid around a corner, and Kel sat forward as he spotted the cabin at the top of a small rise.  "Better gun it a little, Roy," he said, "or we're not going to make it up this hill."

For once Roy didn't argue, simply jammed his foot on the accelerator and held it there as the car sped up, fishtailed a little and then gained momentum and climbed steadily upwards until they had nearly reached the short driveway which led to the cabin.

"Uh, guys," said Sam, "maybe we should park a little up the road.  We can't just barge in there."

Kel turned in his seat in time to see Detective Jensen shaking his head and pointing at the road.  "I don't think it's going to make a difference one way or another.  See those tire tracks?  A vehicle left this driveway sometime after the snow stopped.  And the tracks only go in one direction.  Looks like we're too late."

Kel's stomach gave a queasy jump.  "Too late?  What do you mean?"

"I mean either Tobias has taken Gage somewhere else, or he left him behind."

No one pretended that "left behind" was a good option. 

Roy took the sharp turn into the driveway without slowing.  As they approached the cabin, he finally hit the brakes, managing a messy, skidding stop perhaps three feet from the front door.  Kel was first out of the car, followed closely by Roy, Sam and Jensen.  The door wasn't locked.  Inside, nothing but silence and frigid air greeted them.  Cold ashes filled the fireplace.  Kel shut his eyes for a second and fought down a rush of despair.  Without any real hope of finding anything, he joined the others as they began to search each room, looking for any clue as to where Johnny had gone.





When Johnny woke up, little had changed.  It was still daytime, although the quality of the light was different, letting him know that more time had passed.  Frank still stared blankly across the room at him.  He still hurt all over, and he was still unbearably cold and thirsty.  What, then, had woken him?

Footsteps sounded overhead.  He stilled, listening hard, panic flaring at the thought of Tobias returning to finish him off.  His pulse hammered in his chest and his temples.  He forced himself to quiet his hoarse breathing so he could hear.  When he realized that he was hearing more than one set of footsteps, he swallowed, wincing at the dryness in his throat, and struggled to clear his mind and think logically.  Was that a hopeful development, or had Tobias simply returned with an accomplice?  He glanced at Frank, but he didn't offer up any answers.

Muffled voices drifted down from above.  He couldn't tell if one of them belonged to Tobias.  Then his heart seemed to leap into his mouth as he heard one of the voices calling his name.  Definitely not Tobias, then.

He gritted his teeth and pushed himself up until he was seated, staring intently at the ceiling.  The shout came again.

"I'm down here," he tried to call out, but his dry throat allowed only a weak croak.  He coughed and swallowed, trying to work up some moisture inside his mouth.  "Here," he whispered.  "Below you."

The footsteps continued uninterrupted, moving through every room.  Had Tobias left anything of his upstairs?  That didn't seem likely.  He waited for the searchers to discover the opening into the cellar, but he clearly remembered the sound of Tobias dragging something over it before he left.  Realizing that he had to do something to draw their attention before it was too late, he crawled toward the stairway.  The footsteps paused and then moved in the direction of the front door.  Desperately, Johnny clenched a fist and banged it on the bottom stair several times, then paused, listening.  The only thing he heard was the sound of the front door slamming shut.

Shit.  They were leaving.

Ignoring the pain it caused, he lurched to his feet and hobbled to the window.  It faced the side of the house, rather than the front, so he couldn't see who was out there.  He could imagine them, though, giving up the search, heading to their car, moving on.  He slapped the flat of his hand against the window, then made a fist and struck the glass over and over, trying to shatter it.  A car door thudded, and then another.  Steeling himself, he drew his casted arm back and then slammed it into the window, desperation giving him added strength.  The window cracked but didn't break.  An engine turned over.  Johnny struck the window again, breaking through this time, but was rewarded only with a delicate, silvery tinkle.  He grabbed the lower edge, ignoring the sharp pain of jagged glass against his palms, and raised himself up on his toes.  Putting everything he had into it, he gave a hoarse yell, his voice cracking halfway through.  Then he stood still, listening.

Faint voices drifted around the corner of the cabin.  ...hear that? looking...let's a minute...

Footsteps crunched in the snow.  From his vantage point, he saw feet, legs, lower torso, rounding the corner and walking past the window without pausing.  How could they miss the low window or the thin shards of glass dotting the ground?  He tried to yell again, but his voice had completely deserted him.  There had to be another way of drawing their attention.

Pulling his hands from the window, he gasped at the sudden pain and looked down to see blood streaming from the cuts in his hands.  Sudden dizziness made him stagger.  He shook his head to clear it, and his gaze followed a trickle of blood from his hand to the floor.  Something gleamed in a rectangle of sunlight and he recognized Tobias' caduceus charm.  He stooped to retrieve it, lost his balance and fell onto his side with a grunt.  He could feel Frank's sardonic stare, telling him it wasn't worth the effort, that he should simply lay down in the dirt and rest.  The charm felt warm in his palm.  He closed his fist around it, letting the sharp edges dig into his cuts.  The pain cleared his head, if only for a moment.  The footsteps were returning, voices calling back and forth:  ...find anything?...not here...get going...

The edges of his vision began to go fuzzy.  He found himself on his feet and wasn't sure how he got there.  Jean-clad legs were passing just a few feet from the window.  In a moment they would be gone.  He drew back his arm and aimed for the window, releasing the charm.  He saw the beginning of its low arc, didn't see where it landed as the continuation of his throw brought his wrist down hard on the jagged edge of the window.  Bright pain flooded him.  He dropped to the floor cradling his arm, slick blood flowing warmly in a path between his wrist and elbow.

He had done all he could. 

Risking more pain, he shrugged a shoulder in Frank's direction.  The world faded around him a little, and then he jerked fully awake when he heard what could only be the metallic slide of a lock opening above.  He grinned blearily at Frank, who only stared back in mild disappointment.

"Don't take it so hard buddy," he whispered.  "I promise I won't leave you here alone."  Sudden light flooded the cellar, pushing back the shadows.  "Looks like we can both go home now."

Wherever that is.

As feet clattered down the stairs, Johnny lay back and closed his eyes, letting go.  He felt hands on him, touching him carefully, and one voice saying his name over and over, urging him to stay awake.  The effort proved too much, and he slid into blackness which opened before him like a cold tunnel with no end.

Chapter Text

"Doc, do you mind if I talk to him alone for a minute?"

He saw Brackett hesitate before giving a reluctant nod.

Roy smiled.  "Don't worry.  He's all yours after I'm done."

"If he even wants me," Brackett muttered, sounding dejected.  "I've got to go find Agent Browder anyway.  I think he might have a few more questions for me."

"More?  I thought they said we were off the hook."

Roy and Sam and Brackett had spent a good portion of the last twenty-four hours being questioned by a variety of law enforcement agencies, some more understanding than others.  Agent Browder had finally stepped in and declared that while their methods left something to be desired, their results couldn't be faulted, and they were free to go.  

Brackett shrugged.  "I'm not sure, Roy.  Detective Jensen found me in the waiting area, and gave me the message.  He says goodbye, by the way.  He's on his way to catch a flight back to LA."

 "I've got to take off pretty soon, too.  I promised Cap I'd be back on shift tomorrow.  You sure about finding your own way back?"

Brackett nodded, but didn't elaborate.  Roy couldn't help but feel a little sorry for him.  After the elation of finding Johnny alive yesterday, the doctor had seemed depressed and on edge. 

"Okay, Doc.  Don't go too far.  Johnny might toss me out pretty quickly.  Not that I'd blame him."

Kel smiled tiredly.  "I'm confident that you two will work things out, Roy.  I'm not sure how long I'll be.  If you're gone before I get back, have a safe flight."

"Yeah."  Roy focused on a scuff mark on the floor.  "Look, Doc, I probably haven't been the easiest person to be around these last couple of days."

"That makes us even.  We were both under a lot of stress.  I promise I won't hold it against you if you return the favor.  We're good."

"Okay then.  Good.  And...I hope it works out with you and Johnny.  Both of you could do a lot worse."

Brackett's mouth twitched and twisted and resolved into a weak grin.  "Well, thank you, Roy.  I'll take that in the spirit in which it was intended.  See you back home."

"Bye, Doc."

Roy watched Brackett walk away and then he slipped quietly into Johnny's room to find his friend gazing out the half-raised blinds at the softly falling snow.  He noted the fresh cast on his arm, the bandaged wrist and hands, the collection of bruises, the IV, the extra blankets, the face which looked so much thinner than he remembered, and most of all the utter weariness in both his posture and expression.

Johnny turned and saw him.  Roy held his breath, waiting for Johnny to acknowledge him, but the blank look on his face remained in place for long enough that Roy began to wonder if Johnny had suffered a more serious head injury than they had been told.

Finally, Johnny blinked slowly and spoke in a hoarse, slurred voice.  "Whoever you are, could you go tell the nurse they need to cut back on my pain meds?  I think I'm hallucinating.  Tell her I thought I saw some guy who used to be my friend."

"Johnny - "

"Yep.  Even sounds like him."  He turned away to stare out the window once more.

"Okay.  Maybe I deserved that.  But Johnny, I've always considered myself your friend.  If you don't feel the same way, I guess I can't really blame you.  What can I say?  I'm here, and I've been doing everything I could the last few days to find you."  He waited, and was rewarded when Johnny turned once more to look at him.  This time he saw what he had missed before:  the fear in his friend's eyes.

"I know that Roy, and I appreciate it more than I can possibly say.  But...are you sure you still want to be my friend?  If you knew...."

"I do know."

Johnny winced and closed his eyes for a moment.  "Not everything."

"Maybe not.  Enough, though.  The FBI didn't hold much back.  They even told us about your first run-in with Tobias."

If possible, Johnny's expression grew more anguished.  "They know about that?  Ah, shit, Roy."

Johnny was silent, brow furrowed and gaze directed inward.  He stirred as if reaching a decision.

"I never wanted you to find out about that time in my life.  I was just a dumb, desperate kid."  He fumbled for a cup of water and drank through the straw before continuing.  "You know what's weird?  Until Tobias told me, I didn't even remember him from before.  Up until then...oh man.  You've got to believe me, Roy.  I didn't want any of this.  It just felt like I didn't have a choice, like I had no control.  I - I didn't object to everything like I probably should have.  I didn't understand what he was.  But I never asked for any of it."  The pleading look on his face made Roy's heart constrict a little.

"God, Junior.  Of course I believe you."

Johnny appeared skeptical.

"Anyway, it doesn't matter.  None of it.  You did what you had to do to survive.  Then and now.  I get that.  You and I can talk about this more later, after you're feeling better.  That is, if you want.  If not, I'll never bring it up again.  It's up to you.  But for now you need to rest and heal so you can get home and back to work.  I want my partner back."

At the mention of "home," Johnny's expression grew even bleaker, if possible, but he nodded, his gaze shifting to the window and back to Roy.  "You sure about that?"

"Yeah."  Roy smiled.  "Positive."  The silence stretched a little too long.  "Well, I've got a plane to catch - "

"Oh.  Sure.  I understand."  The thick lashes lowered, not quite shielding the disappointed look in Johnny's eyes.

"Hey.  I'll see you when you get home.  It's work here is done, and all that."  He gave an unconvincing laugh.  "Don't worry, though.  I'm not leaving you alone."

Johnny sighed.  "Guess you didn't hear.  Sam took off this morning.  Said his mom and sister needed him at home.  Which I completely understand.  I'll see him again, though.  Got a standing invitation up in Seattle."  A half-grin touched his features, but disappeared too quickly.

"That's great, Johnny."  Roy snuck a glance at his watch.  "But I wasn't talking about Sam.  There's someone else who really wants to see you."

Johnny stared at him blankly.  After a moment he raised an eyebrow.  "And?  You gonna enlighten me?"

Roy stopped in the act of zipping up his coat and studied Johnny intently.  "You don't remember?"

Tiny creases appeared between Johnny's eyebrows.  "Roy.  I was pretty out of it when you found me.  I mean, I was having a meaningful conversation with a dead guy, if that gives you some idea.  And they tell me I lost a lot of blood."  He held up his heavily bandaged wrist.  "By the time you came down the stairs things were real fuzzy."  He frowned.  "Who was that guy down there, anyway?"

"The dead man?  He was some local guy, the sheriff's oldest son.  His disappearance is what started all the trouble in Glennis."

Johnny gave him a blank look.  "Trouble?"

"That's right, I guess you haven't heard it all yet.  Some of Tobias' followers got worried when the sheriff started looking a little too closely at him as a possible suspect.  They headed into Glennis and shot up the place, which brought all the law enforcement down on their heads.  Things pretty much fell apart for them after that.  The FBI still hasn't got it all sorted out, but it looks like the sheriff's son wasn't the first young man to go missing in this area.  The difference was that nobody was looking too hard for the others."

"How many others?"

"No one knows for sure.  If they were left out in the woods, it could be months or even years before anyone finds them, if ever."

He didn't state the obvious, which was that Johnny could have ended up like them if things had gone differently.  Johnny clearly got the implication, as a shiver rippled through him.  "Wow," he said, and then gave Roy an oddly hesitant glance.  "So, uh, what happened to Tobias?  Did they find him?"

"Not yet.  It looks like he probably slipped across the border into Canada.  They might have had a chance at catching him if it hadn't started snowing again.  Agent Browder thinks it's only a matter of time, though."

Johnny digested the news in silence, until something else seemed to occur to him.  "Hey.  How did you find me, by the way?"

Distracted and only half-listening, Roy checked his watch again.  "Junior, I promise I'll tell you all about it when you get home.  But if I don't leave right now, I'm going to miss my plane and wind up with a very pissed off wife on my hands.  You wouldn't want that, would you?"

"Well no, but - "

He opened the door and then looked back once more.  "Johnny.  Seriously.  I'm glad you're okay.  If anything...I don't know what...."  He swallowed against the lump in his throat, unable to continue.  So he settled for giving Johnny a small wave and left, closing the door behind him.

He was in the rental car ten miles west of Glennis before he realized that he hadn't told Johnny about Brackett.




After Roy left, Johnny yawned hugely, more tired than he could remember being in his life.  He tried to stay awake, curious about the visitor Roy had mentioned, but finally gave up the struggle and drifted off, grateful for both the thick layer of blankets and the good drugs the doctor had him on.  He didn't know how much time had passed when he woke to the low murmur of voices outside the door.

His eyes felt glued shut, but he forced them apart.  The door swung open and Kel walked in, smiling uncertainly and carrying a handful of papers.  A surge of emotions swept through Johnny, almost too jumbled up to separate one from the other.  Surprise, anxiety, hope, regret, guilt - they all swirled together in a painful, exhilarating, nauseating brew.  For a moment, it was an effort to just breathe.  He wanted to look away, to shut his eyes and retreat into sleep again rather than face the man he had longed for, given up on, and betrayed several times over.

Johnny opened his mouth to speak.  "Kel," he said, and it came out as the barest of whispers.  He couldn't stop his flinch as Kel's hand moved toward him.  The hand paused, clenched, and fell to Kel's side.

They studied one another in silence.  Johnny hadn't looked in a mirror lately, but he knew he must look like hell.  He was surprised and dismayed at Kel's haggard appearance.

"Hi," said Kel.

The warmth and acceptance in his eyes proved too much for Johnny, who shifted his gaze away.   He swallowed past the ache in his throat and replied, "Hey."

"It's good to see you awake, finally."

"How long - "

"We found you a little over a day ago.  You've been pretty out of it since then.  And before you ask, you should be released in a couple more days."

"Oh.  That's good I guess."

Kel pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down.  He darted occasional glances at Johnny, but seemed more interested in the view outside the window.

Johnny looked down at his hands and picked idly at one corner of the gauze dressing which had come loose.  As the silence stretched, he looked up and felt heaviness settle in his gut.  He wished he could interpret the expression on Kel's face.  Then it hit him that Kel must have heard the same things Roy had about his past.  He nearly groaned out loud, feeling all at once exposed, raw, and utterly foolish to have ever considered himself worthy of a man like Kel.  The days and nights spent with Tobias had proved once and for all that he was not.

Exhaustion and defeat washed through him.  As much as he wanted to tell Kel to go away and leave him alone at that moment, it hardly seemed fair.  The man had come all this way out of concern for him after all, and none of this was his fault.

"Snowing again," he finally said and gave a huff of laughter.  "It'll sure be good to get out of this weather and back to LA.  I've had enough of this cold to last me forever."

Kel nodded, frowning.  "It's lucky we found you when we did.  Much longer in that cellar...."  He trailed off. 

 "Yeah.  About that.  I need to thank you for coming up here with Roy and helping to look for me.  Not sure how he talked you into it, but I do appreciate it."

"Johnny, we both wanted to come.  He didn't need to talk me into anything."

"Oh."  Kel sounded angry.  Johnny wasn't sure what to make of that.  "Anyway, like I said: thanks."

Another awkward silence fell.  This time, Kel broke it.

"By the way, I've got something for your brother."  He held up the papers in his hand, waving them vaguely in Johnny's direction.

Johnny couldn't help smiling at the mention of Sam.  "You met him, huh?  What did you think?"

Kel smiled back.  "Let's just say he grew on me.  Eventually.  I don't know how much Roy told you, but it's really thanks to Sam that we found you.  We weren't the only ones who were impressed.  I just got finished talking to Agent Browder, and he asked me to pass these brochures along to your brother."

Kel handed the papers to Johnny.  They turned out to be recruiting information from the FBI, along with a business card.  "Special Agent Archibald Browder," he read.  "Huh.  What do you know about that?"  He handed the brochures back to Kel, who set them on the table next to the bed.

"Later you'll get to meet Agent Browder yourself.  He and a lot of other people are going to have plenty of questions for you once you're feeling up to it."

Johnny gave a soft snort.  "Can't wait."

After another brief pause, Kel took a deep breath.  "Look, Johnny.  I know things are a little strange between us right now.  We - I sort of ran out on you after our date.  I'm so sorry for that.  I think I was being a bit of a coward."

Johnny waved a hand dismissively.  "Don't worry about it.  It's not like we were in a relationship or anything.  I know it was just about the sex."

"Johnny - "

"Kel.  I'm not some giddy chick who thinks that sort of thing means something.  I'm not exactly the type you'd want to get involved with anyway.  What would your friends think?"

"Now, just wait a minute, Johnny."

Kel sounded frustrated, but Johnny couldn't seem to stop the bitter words that continued to spill out of his mouth.

"Seriously.  It's no big deal.  Like I said, don't worry about.  Not for a second.  I was happy to service you.  Haven't you heard?  It's what I do.  Oh, yeah.  I guess you have heard.  According to Roy, I've been quite the topic of conversation around here lately.  It must have been downright entertaining to hear all about my sordid past.  And I'll just bet it turned you on a little, too.  Am I right?  "

"Johnny, will you shut up for a second and listen?"

Johnny heaved a sigh, started to say more, but thought better of it and clamped his mouth closed with an effort.  A sudden wave of exhaustion washed through him.

"Thank you," Kel said.  He was quiet for a few seconds as if collecting his thoughts.  "Okay.  I'll admit that when I invited you over for dinner I hadn't thought things through.  Or more accurately you could say I was only thinking with my dick.  I spent more time than I care to admit indulging in one fantasy after another featuring you as the main attraction.  I just never expected...I wasn't prepared to end up feeling the way I did.  The way I do."

Johnny struggled to stay focused on what Kel was saying.  He bit down hard on the inside of his cheek, trying to clear the cobwebs out of his brain.

Kel paused, but when Johnny didn't respond he continued.  "Johnny, obviously I'm attracted to you.  I'll tell you a secret: I've been just a little bit obsessed with you since the first time we met.  Jesus.  You were so aggravating back then.  Such a hot head."  He stood and began to pace restlessly around the room.  "I don't know if you realize how much you've changed since then.  You still drive me a little nuts on occasion, but I'm sure a few people could say the same about me."

Johnny laughed in spite of himself.  "Just a few?"

"Okay, fair point."  He sighed.  "I know I'm not saying this very well.  It's just that when I finally realized you might be open to...something with me, the only thing I wanted to do was to throw you down and use you.  To put it bluntly." 

 Johnny stifled a yawn.  "Yeah, I get it.  I seem to inspire that in people way too often.  And I'll tell you, it's not as great as you might think.  Like I keep saying though, don't worry about it."

"I'm not finished."  Kel sat on the bed near Johnny's hip, lifted his bandaged wrist and began to rub his thumb over the back of his hand.  "That night we spent together scared me more than a little because all of a sudden I was feeling things that I'd never planned for."  He gave a low growl of frustration.  "And I hate talking about this stuff."

A yawn escaped Johnny despite his best intentions.  "Sorry," he murmured.

"I'm wearing you out."  He still held Johnny's wrist.  "We'll talk more later, but there's one more thing I want you to hear.  You implied earlier that you weren't good enough for me."

"Cuz I'm not."

"Damn it, Johnny.  That's such a load of crap.  Do you actually believe I'm that big of a snob?  You must have some serious misconceptions about where I come from.  Did you know my grandfather caught fish for a living?  And my father put himself through college busing tables?  I'm no better than you are.  Quite the opposite, actually.  You've had to work harder to make something of your life than I have.  What you've accomplished is pretty damned impressive."

Johnny blinked at the intensity of Kel's glare.  "Okay," he said stupidly.

Kel gave a dry chuckle.  "We're obviously going to have to finish this conversation later.  Luckily we're going to have plenty of time."

"We are?"

"That's right.  By the time you're ready to get out of here, the repairs on your Land Rover should be finished, and I've volunteered to drive you home."

Johnny's heart did an odd little flip and he caught himself before he started grinning like an idiot.  "You don't need to do that.  I can manage fine on my own."  Just like I always have.

"That's entirely debatable.  The point is you don't have to.  And I'm glad to do this for you.  I owe it to you for running off like I did."

Johnny directed a bleary look at Kel.  "Bullshit," he slurred.

"I'll be more than happy to argue the point with you when you're a little more alert.  Anyway, I need a ride home, so if it helps, you can tell yourself you're doing me the favor.  The bottom line is when they spring you in a couple of days we're leaving together, which will give us plenty of time for more talks like this one."

"Oh joy," Johnny muttered.

"In the meantime, while you're too groggy to resist, there's something I've been wanting to do."  He turned towards Johnny and rested a hand on his check.  Johnny's eyes kept fluttering closed, but he willed them open long enough to see Kel's eyes darken as he leaned in and captured his mouth for a soft kiss.

"Wait," Johnny whispered against his lips, turning his head to the side.  "Don't.  Not until you know everything."

"It's okay, Johnny.  There's nothing to know except that you're okay.  Don't you understand?  I thought I'd lost you.  I want to be with you.  I want to give this thing a try."

Johnny shook his head.  "Don't," he repeated.  "When I tell you all the things I've done..." 

"Not now.  Let me just hold you, convince myself that you're really here."

"No more secrets..."  He could feel himself losing the fight to stay awake.  "You have to know...."

Kel spoke into his neck.  "Later, Johnny.  Tell me later.  I promise I'll still feel the same.  Just be still.  Be still and trust me."

Kel's voice vibrated through him, so deep and warm and loving.  Johnny had missed that voice, and those arms, so he stopped fighting, shut off his thoughts, and relaxed into Kel's embrace, wanting to inhabit that space forever.


The End