Disclaimer: I own nothing

Dr. Cox's POV

"About a month ago I was held hostage in convenience store for over 18 hours."

What? WHAT?! I have to force myself not to scream that question out loud. My head turns sharply to look at the kid. He keeps his gaze aimed down at his shaking hand, fiddling with the cigarette box. I can feel my mouth hanging open, which must be oh so attractive. I snap it closed and swallow. What? Hostage...what?!

This confession has obviously been a long time coming and I'm afraid that anything I say right now will do something to cause him to withdraw again. So I do the one thing I am the least known for doing. I sit quietly and listen. Or at least I try to. He's taken another drag and has lapsed into silence again. Maybe I am supposed to say something? Damn it, I hate not having the answers. I can hear his unexpected statement echo in my head. A month ago? Hostage? How did we not know? Or maybe everyone else knows and I'm the only one in the dark. No, you idiot. Those tweens wouldn't have been able to keep something like that in. And they were every bit as clueless as I was as to why Newbie was acting so odd. I guess I know now...sort of. Over 18 hours? My mind tries to form some inappropriate comment about Newbie being lucky he was wearing that Platex 18 hour bra...but I quickly squelch it down. You can feel the vulnerability coming off him in thick waves. Yet another reason why I should remain quiet. I can't always control what comes out of my mouth.

"He had a gun. I lost count of how many times he pointed it at me or pressed it to my head."

His voice was quiet, but not so much that I had to strain to hear him. It was remarkably steady...especially given what he was saying. I tried to picture a terrified Newbie at the hands of an angry gunman, which is actually a pretty difficult image to conjure up. As often as I've seen him tuck his tail between his legs and scamper off because of something threatening I said to him, I can't really think of a time when I've known him to be really and truly white-faced scared of anything.

"I had just met this man named Tim right before...before it happened. You may have seen him, actually. He came into the hospital today."

JD glanced up at me when he said it. Just barely. His voice had taken on an almost casual tone. He didn't seem able to hold eye contact, though and dropped his eyes back down. Tim. I guess Scarface has a real name.

"We were having a really nice conversation, too..."

You can actually see the kid drifting off in his mind. Come on, Newbie...don't fade away on me. But just when I thought I had lost him to another daydream, he cleared his throat and gave a small shake of his head. Probably clearing his thoughts.

"He um...Tim, that is...he had a heart attack. Right there on the floor of the travel plaza." He glanced at me again. "That's where we were, a travel plaza. I had stopped to get gas because the place I first pulled into only took cash and I didn't have any on me. Plus, I really wanted a slushie..." For a second a glimmer of the old Newbie flashed across his face. He cleared his throat again. "Anyway...he collapsed. John - uh, the uh...guy with the gun - he told me not to move. He had the gun pressed against my temple at the time. He was yelling. He thought Tim and I were planning something."

I watch as JD lifts a very shaky hand to his face, taking another drag. That should be one of the most bizarre and unnatural thing to witness, ever. But for some reason it's not. It seems to fit in an odd way...right now...at this moment. My arm twitches. I want to reach out and squeeze his arm, or shoulder, or something. I want to touch him in some reassuring way, but I don't really know how to go about that (being the emotionally retarded bastard that I am). So instead I just try to telepathically tell him I'm supporting him. I'm such an ass.

"Someone yelled out that Tim had lost consciousness and I sort of forgot that there was a gun held to my head, so I went to help him. John tried to shoot me, but missed. He hit Gary instead."

The kid's voice cracked on the last word and his shoulders started moving up and down as he began to sob quietly. This time, with instincts I didn't even know I had, I raise my hand and it hovers over his shoulder for a moment. Just as I'm about to actually touch the kid he sits up and takes a calming breath. My hand doesn't make it to his shoulder.

"I have been going to see Gary in the hospital...on my days off. I met his family. They were so nice to me...I couldn't tell them. I'm such a coward. I couldn't tell them that it was my fault he was there, in a hospital bed...in a coma. They even sent me flowers one day to thank me for being there for Gary. That was the day I found out that John had killed himself. The day the police came. John had written me a letter. I guess it was his suicide note in a way. Only, I don't think it was meant for anyone else to see."

Newbie dropped one arm down to the side and I watched his hand float over to the crumpled piece of paper I had noticed earlier on the floor. The suicide note. Ah...so that's what he was doing before I got here. I wonder how many times he's read that note.

"I found it in my wallet. John gave it back." He smiled slightly and stared off distantly. "He gave everything back he took that day...left everything in the car he stole. He even made a couple anonymous calls to the police for them to find it...and to find...him."

The smile was gone and replaced with a look of sadness - deep sadness. And something else, too...regret.

"He wasn't a bad guy. He was just...desperate."

I had to bite my tongue to stop myself from shaking him and telling him that he was wrong. John, or whatever the guy's name was, was the definition of a bad guy. He terrified a group of people for almost a full day at the barrel of a gun, and shot one of them. I can feel the unfamiliar sting of tears in my eyes and I try to convince myself it's because I'm biting my tongue too hard and not because it has just occurred to me that the bullet was meant for Newbie. God damn it! We all came so close to losing the kid and none of us had any idea.

"He died. Gary. That's what Tim came to tell me today. Gary died."

He was speaking quietly again, but as he spoke his breathing became quick and shallow, and his eyes started to blaze. What came out of his mouth next sounded sharp and poisonous.

"He died because I didn't think! He died because I didn't do as I was told."

I want to scream at him. I want to slap him across the face for thinking such an idiotic thought. Instead I just turn my body slightly so I'm facing him a bit more and shake my head.

"God! I don't know what to do, I don't know who I am anymore. I can't sleep. I barely eat. I can see everything when I close my eyes, when I go to sleep...it's all there. I come to work everyday and I feel like I'm living some sort of elaborate lie. It's like I'm pretending to be fine. I'm pretending to be a Doctor when I'm really a...a killer! Gary's dead, John's dead...and nothing make sense!"

The kid is working himself up. The tears are dripping down his nose and splashing on to hands that are shaking even more than they already were. His face is red and his jaw his clenched. He looks like it's taking all his strength to not explode right here in front of me, but he still just sits on the floor. He's just sitting there, staring down, not looking at me. Maybe he forgot I was here. He may as well be talking to himself...a lot of help I'm being.

As we sit there in silence I start to think he might be done with his little confessional. And this is where the uneasiness sets in. This is where I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to do something - say something profound and wise. But I'm drawing a blank and all I can think about is how I've been treating him this past month. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and I swear someone has dropped a rock into my stomach. My cigarette burned out a long time ago. I swallow thickly and run a hand through my hair.

"JD, I...why didn't you tell us?" I hope to God that didn't sound accusing. I have to fight the urge not to hold my breath while I wait for his response. He sighs and leans back against the wall.

"I tried to talk about it when I first got back. The audit was going on, and everyone was already pissed off when I came back to work. No one wanted to hear me talk about my stupid vacation. And now I don't want to drag anyone else into this...black hole that I've fallen into, so I just keep pushing everyone away. At first I did what I always do, which is run around practically begging anyone I see to talk to me." He let out a wry chuckle. "I even tried talking to the Janitor. When that didn't work I just...shut down."

He's quiet for a moment. I'm thankful for the silence. It gives me time to let it all sink in. I think I must be in some kind of shock. I know there is so much more to this that he hasn't mentioned yet, so many more details. Already the information I've just heard is overwhelming. I can vaguely remember him trying to get me to talk to him a couple of times those first couple of days. I had no idea! How was I supposed to know he actually had something like this to talk about? This isn't my fault is it?

Damn it. Who cares whose fault it is. It's not going to do either one of us any good if I sit around placing blame. He's clearly already done some serious blame misplacement of his own. We're going to have to work on that. We're going to have to work on a lot of things it seems. And for the love of God, since when did I start thinking of anything going on with Jessica as a "we" situation?

I hear the lighter flicking. Glancing over at JD, watching him light another cigarette with all this new information banging around in my head is enough to make me want to bolt for the door. But considering we're both sitting in front of the door. I guess that wouldn't work so well. So instead I just stare at him like I've suddenly lost the ability to verbally communicate. He's still shaking. I guess I would be too. He said he wasn't sleeping well, and I have to say that one has been pretty obvious - never more so than right now. His skin doesn't look like the proper shade of...whatever color ghostly white human skin is supposed to be. The shadows under his eyes could have been painted on like a football player. He said he hasn't been eating well - also not a surprise. I guess he wasn't lying when he said he wasn't sick, though. At least, not in the way I was thinking. His fingers look too bony holding that cigarette, and his cheekbones probably shouldn't be quite that prominent. He looks worn and exhausted. Broken.

His image becomes blurry in front of me and I realize my eyes have welled up. Again. This shouldn't be affecting me this much. It's not like I just lost 3 patients or anything. It's Newbie. I degrade him, call him girls names, flick him in the ear, shove him in the shoulder...I don't...tear up over some ridiculous dramatic sob story about a freak hostage situation that somehow didn't even make it to the news around here. Not that I would know, come to think of it. It's not like I watch the news or read the paper. I'm a doctor for God's sake. I don't have that kind of time. Besides, I'd rather watch my soap than see what kind of violent, mindless shit is happening out there in the world.

He tried to tell us. He went to me for help, or to just unload, and what did I do? I pushed him away and didn't listen to him. We all did. We were all so caught up in the stupid audit. I was so angry with Kelso and of course took it out on the kid, as always. This is all too much. And if it's all too much for me, I can't imagine what it's like for JD. The thought is jarring enough to cause me to do the unthinkable. I reach out and grab the back of his neck and gently pull him towards me so our shoulders are touching. Yes, even I know the importance of a comforting touch.

I can feel his shoulders shake as he leans into me. He rests his head on my shoulder, and I let him. Once again I find myself struggling with what to say to the kid. For someone who likes to talk as much as I do, it's amazing that I can't find any words at all. Dig deep, Perry. The kid needs you now.

It's such a relief to feel his shoulders steadying and his head lift off of my shoulder that I almost sign audibly. I let my hand slide off the back of his neck. He clears his throat and sniffs. I bet he needs a tissue.

"You're gonna be okay." I wasn't sure if I was asking a question or making a statement. It must have been a statement because he didn't respond.

"The funeral is on Wednesday. I'm going."

I nod and stare at his profile for a few seconds.


"No." he cuts me off. "You really don't need to say anything. I'm sorry, I know this is probably driving you crazy...all this...girlie-"

"JD." it's my turn to cut him off. He stops talking and blinks at me. "JD, you have to believe...I mean...you have to know that none of what happened was your fault." He blinks at me and then stares back at his hands. I see a few more tears splash them. "Look at me." He obeys. "You didn't do this. You can't keep going like this, blaming yourself...playing the 'what if' game. You can't. You know you can't. I don't know how to make this better for you. There is no quick fix and this is something you're going to be struggling with for a long time. But I know that if you don't get off the path you're heading down then..." I don't know how to finish that sentence, and I doubt I really needed to.

I watch the kid carefully. He dropped eye contact already and I can see him swallow hard. Be patient, Perry. Wait for it...

Sure enough, there's a slight nod. I put a hand on his shoulder and give it a small shake. He takes a deep, shuddering breath and nods again. This time the nod had a little more conviction to it. I shake his shoulder once more, just for good measure, before removing my hand. All of a sudden I notice that I'm starting to feel a little cramped from sitting around on the floor, so I pull myself up onto my feet. Reaching a hand out, I pull Newbie up as well.

"How about we go grab a bite to eat, Katrina."

He looks a little unsure, but nods. "O-okay. Just let me throw some shoes on and grab my wallet."

I allow my eyes to roam around the room some more while he's doing that and I spot the radio.

"And for God's sake, Silvia - turn off this depressing music!"

When he emerges from his room he actually has a slight smile on his face. He looks almost embarrassed as he flicks the switch on the radio.

"Tess gave it to me," he mumbles. "It's soulful."

Soulful? I roll my eyes and wait for him to walk in front of me to open the door. "There will be no soulful music in my car on the way, just so you're aware. And I'm picking the restaurant. I will order for you if necessary." I throw an arm loosely across his shoulders as we made our way out of his apartment and tried my best to keep the conversation light. We would have to revisit his hostage experience later, but for now I think we both have had quite enough drama.

"You're not the boss of me."

I can't help but smile despite myself. Hearing Newbie joke around with some of that light heartedness back in his voice is down right cheerful.

"Careful, Matilda."

"What are you gonna do about it? I yelled at Kelso today. I am invincible!"

I think he's going to be okay.

Author's note: Wow. That took decades longer than I thought and it's still not the way I wanted it. I've stopped and started on it so many times that I think it's lost it's flow. It probably doesn't work as well as it would have if I had just written it immediately following the last chapter. But there you have it. Just one more chapter and I'll be done...now...if only I could get back to work on Carefree No Longer...