Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters of this work of fiction. Nothing has been bartered in exchange for this story (money or otherwise).

A/N: This was written a long time ago for the prompt of vanity for gh_unwrapped. It follows an alternative, earlier timeline and does not take recent events, happenings or story-lines into account. This deals with a serious issue - abuse and the importance of not ignoring it, nor turning a blind eye toward it.

Spinelli stood, looking at himself in the mirror of the vanity that stood in the front room. He winced at the pained look in the eyes of his reflection, and tenderly pressed a finger to the faint bruise forming along his cheekbone, beneath his left eye which was bloodshot and slightly puffy.

A 'parting gift' from Sonny who was unhappy, wasn't he always, with something he had said, or done. Spinelli wasn't too clear on that point. Had no idea whether it was his words or maybe something as simple as how he'd crossed the living room when he moved from the couch to the armchair that had set the acerbic man off this time.

"What happened to your eye?" Jason's worried reflection peered into Spinelli's eyes, caught, like a deer in headlights, by the shiny surface of the mirror.

Spinelli, startled by the sudden appearance of his mentor, started and turned, but, much to his horror, Jason's hand clamped down on his shoulder, spinning him on the spot, and he was face to chest with the man. He struggled vainly in the firm grip and tensed when Jason brought his other hand to his chin, lifting his face and scrutinizing the discolored mark beneath his eye.

He wouldn't meet Jason's searching eyes. Couldn't. Knew that, if he did, Jason would read the lie in his eyes when he questioned him about what had happened. And he couldn't tell Jason the truth. He either wouldn't believe him, or worse, would make an excuse for his boss's actions.

"What happened?" Jason's voice had an unyielding tone. He was not going to back down without some answers.

"Nothing," Spinelli whispered. He resisted Jason's attempt to raise his head so that he'd have no other choice but to look into his icy blue eyes and all would be laid bare to his shrewd gaze. Jason was, if nothing else, an astute and perceptive man.

"Nothing?" Jason questioned, his voice was low and menacing as his fingers brushed lightly over the contusion.

In spite of the gentle touch, Spinelli flinched and Jason's eyes narrowed as he continued to scrutinize him, assessing him for other injuries. Spinelli swallowed, hard, as Jason's hands, now freeing him from their grip, ghosted over an older injury which had yet to heal.

Another 'gift' from Sonny when he'd failed to get the information he'd wanted in a timely fashion. He had, in the end, gotten the codes that Sonny wanted, but not before he'd been physically, and verbally reprimanded for being a 'slow-assed freak'. He seemed to recall the words 'geekboy' and 'waste of space' applied to him as Sonny's fist slammed into his ribcage and he felt something give, but he had continued to work, apologizing for his ineptitude and slothfulness when Sonny had finished his diatribe.

Later that night, he'd been slightly nonplussed by the angry purpled bruise that seemed to encompass the length of his right side. Now, it was a motley mixture of yellows, browns and purple, with one spot, where Sonny had laid the first and second blows, a blackish color. He still couldn't sleep on his right side and had a difficult time raising his arms above his head. Though he didn't think that anything had been broken, he had no idea what a fractured rib should feel like, had nothing to measure it against.

"That hurt?" Jason asked, his eyes darting up to gauge Spinelli's reaction.

Spinelli grit his teeth, looking away from Jason's querying eyes, and shook his head. Jason, apparently unconvinced with the veracity of his answer, applied pressure to the injury, and Spinelli, in spite of his resolve to grin and bear it like a man, drew in a sharp breath, letting out something between a cry and moan.

Growing angry with Spinelli's stubborn refusal to answer his questions, Jason spun Spinelli around, so that he was once again facing the mirror, his back to Jason's chest. Jason's fingers, nearly bruising in their perusal of Spinelli's body, searched, blindly, for other hidden injuries. His eyes, penetrating, concentrated on Spinelli's reflected face, noting every flinch, no matter how imperceptible.

"Take off your shirt," Jason demanded when he'd finished. Spinelli's face had contorted, or scrunched up in pain too many times for his comfort. And, all in areas that were conveniently concealed by clothing.

Spinelli, panicking, shook his head and tried to back away from the vanity, but Jason blocked his escape, effectively pinning him to the antique furniture with his body, and holding him in place with his hands on his shoulders. Save for maybe biting down on one of Jason's arms, there was no way that Spinelli could get away.

Spinelli's heart leapt up into his throat and he fought to free himself, kicking out and pushing with all of his might against one of the few men in his life who had never, in all of his dealings with him, bodily harmed him. This was scaring Spinelli. No matter how angry he'd made Jason, his mentor had never physically reprimanded him.

"Let go," Spinelli said. His voice was weak and shaky, as were his limbs. "Please," he begged.

And like that, Jason backed off, leaving Spinelli bereft of his support. He wavered on his feet, but, before he could fall, Jason's hands were there, assisting him. Their eyes met, frightened green regarding concerned blue, in the mirror, and Spinelli sagged back against his mentor.

"Tell me what happened," Jason murmured, his mouth pressed against Spinelli's ear. His voice pleading. His arms surrounding Spinelli in what, in other circumstances, might be considered a hug.

"Can't," Spinelli said, his voice strained with the effort it took to suppress the truth, and the overwhelming emotions swirling around inside of him like a tornado.

And then Jason, looking into mirrored green eyes, nodded. He closed his eyes and Spinelli watched the play of emotions cross his face as he grappled with the truth.

"Was it Sonny?" he asked, already knowing the answer. Spinelli had been with Sonny, helping him on some mysterious project every day for the past week and a half. It was no secret that the man did not like Spinelli, and barely tolerated him when they had to interact.

Spinelli shook his head in denial. Jason both revered and emulated the mob boss. Had modeled himself after him when he was younger. This would either hurt Jason or cause his mentor to reject him for Sonny. Either outcome was not ideal.

"If it wasn't Sonny, then who did this?" Jason asked, indicating Spinelli's now purpled eye with a jut of his chin.

Spinelli shrugged. "No one," he muttered.

"No one?" Jason raised an eyebrow at the downturned reflection, seeing a glint of green in the mirror that told him Spinelli was still looking at him. "You telling me that you, what? Walked into a door or something like that?" he asked. He felt a cold rage building up inside as Spinelli continued to deny the truth with another shrug.

"Guess I'm just clumsy," Spinelli said weakly.

"Not that clumsy," Jason countered, wanting to get to the bottom of what had happened, and fearing the truth. It was Sonny, he knew it, and he just needed, for some reason he couldn't identify, to have Spinelli voice it.

Spinelli knew that Jason was getting angry with him, could feel it in the way the man's grip tightened around him, and read it in his eyes, their chilly resolve not at all diminished by the reflective surface of the mirror. But, he couldn't stop himself from shrugging, yet again, in response to Jason's counter of his explanation for what had happened.

Jason, battling to keep his temper under control, reasoned that Spinelli was the injured party and didn't need to have a verbal bashing to go along with his bruises. The boy's psyche was damaged enough, his lack of self-esteem evident in the way he was sneaking glances at him in the mirror, but not looking him in the eye. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

If Spinelli was going to be uncooperative, he was going to have to take matters into his own hands and…the action was complete before he'd finished his thought, his hands and fingers working almost of their own accord as they pulled Spinelli's shirt up and off over his head, not dismissing, but also not acknowledging the whimper of pain that action brought with it. Like a mom pulling a dirty Band-Aid off a child's wound, it had needed to be done, and he was not going to apologize.

What he saw confirmed what he had feared; Spinelli's right side was a mass of discoloration that could only be caused by blunt force. Judging by the differing degrees of bruising, that force had been delivered in quick and brutal succession, and, on more than one occasion if his eyes weren't deceiving him. He met Spinelli's eyes in the mirror, his eyes catching something that the boy's shirt had heretofore hidden, a long, jagged gouge leading from collarbone to shoulder. It was a vivid red in color, and by the looks of it, it was infected.

"What the hell?" Jason was livid, his fingers hovering over the gash. Heat was coming from it.

"It's nothing," Spinelli said hastily, shaking his head and grasping Jason's questing fingers in his own, pulling them down to his side.

He'd done his best to take care of the scratch, a 'souvenir' from one of Sonny's rings that had been deemed an accident by the somewhat apologetic man, but he'd forgotten to apply the salve this morning, and Sonny had kept him longer than he'd anticipated. Now, it looked far worse than it felt. Or at least that is what he was telling himself as Jason continued to glare at him through the mirror.

"This," Jason freed his fingers and pressed them to the hot flesh, "is not nothing," he emphasized each word with a light jab to the infected area, ignoring the winces his touch elicited.

"I'm fine," Spinelli's voice was hard as he pulled away. "I can handle it," he hissed, angrily. "I've been handling it just fine on my own," he said beneath his breath, but, at the flash of anger he caught in his mentor's eyes, he knew that Jason had heard.

"Well, you shouldn't have to 'handle it on your own'," Jason threw back at him. "Tell me Sonny did this and I'll take care of it."

Spinelli shook his head and Jason glowered in frustration. "Just tell me who did this to you," he softened his tone, "and let me help."

"I can handle it on my own," Spinelli reiterated.

He'd dealt with bullies all his life, and Sonny was nothing but a big-headed, trumped up bully. He'd tended to his injuries on his own in the past and had healed just fine. He didn't need, or want, Jason to intervene. He didn't want to be the cause of any strife between the two men. That would only lead to Sonny hating him more, if such a thing were possible, and seeking to harm him on every occasion as opposed to sporadically. Once he was finished with this rather sordid business Sonny had him doing, he would tend to his wounds and be done with Sonny until called upon at a later time. It was the way of things when it came to Sonny and him, and something he had developed a strategy for.

Though the man's words were unkind and hurtful, he put up a wall of indifference, pretending that the words hurt more than he allowed them to, because that is what Sonny needed. What the man thrived on, other than physically dominating him and putting him in his place. Another thing which, other than the actual pain, he managed to shove beneath his subconscious, were the, for lack of a better term, beatings he received at Sonny's hand.

He would not, in spite of how much it hurt, let the man get to him, but he had to let Sonny believe that he was getting to him. He had to whimper and cower and kowtow to the overbearing, abominable beast, or Sonny would, and he had learned this the hard way (an injury that Spinelli was determined Jason would not see, ever), ratchet things up.

It was a game. Nothing more, nothing less. A game that Sonny was under the misapprehension that he had won. A game that was painful and costly for Spinelli, but one which, though no one but himself would be aware, he would ultimately win, because, no matter what Sonny did or said to him, the overbearing bully was not going to make him go away. Sonny was not going to win. It was a game that Spinelli did not wish for his mentor to get caught up in.

"If handling it on your own involves getting possibly life-threatening infections and cracked ribs, then you're doing just fine," Jason mocked.

"I've been handling this kind of thing," Spinelli gestured defiantly at the gash and the bruises, "all my life."

The look on Jason's face, at his dismissive words, stunned Spinelli. It was a study of pain, remorse and something that Spinelli really couldn't find a suitable word for and it was all directed at him. He suddenly found it hard to look away from Jason's steely gaze. His breath hitched in his throat, and before he knew what was happening, he was being turned around, for the third time that night, finding himself, for the second time, face to chest and, completely unsolicited, hot tears streamed down his face, soaking Jason's tee-shirt as his mentor pressed his head against his chest.

Fingers, tender and soothing, stroked the back of his head as he cried. They nestled into the wild, unkempt tendrils of his hair as Jason did the unbelievable and held him in an embrace. A part of Spinelli's brain pondered this unusual turn of events, dispassionately, knowing that Jason would rather be hugging a two hundred pound grizzly bear than another man, no matter how close the relationship. He barely tolerated the lightest of touches, let alone something as all-encompassing as an honest to goodness hug. Never mind the fact that Spinelli was all-out sobbing and clutching to his mentor as a drowning man to a life preserver.

Sure, he could handle this on his own. Play Sonny's game. Take the hits, day after day, and go back, eager for more. But, standing with Jason's arms wrapped tightly around him, comforting him, he suddenly didn't want to play the game anymore. Didn't want to return to Sonny's mansion the next day to finish the repugnant business of extortion that Sonny had commanded, as his employee under Jason, he perform.

"Tell me," Jason encouraged, his chin resting on top of Spinelli's head as he rubbed calming circles in the younger man's back.

"It was Sonny," Spinelli whispered, hiccoughing as he tucked his head closer to Jason's chest, drawing comfort from the immovable wall of muscle beneath his cheek.

His tears, though they had subsided somewhat, continued to fall, unbidden. He squeezed his eyes shut as he spoke the truth, cursing himself for being so weak, and not protecting Jason and revealing that the man he admired was abusive.

Jason's hand stilled on Spinelli's back, and his fingers ceased their ministrations as he took in Spinelli's declaration. He'd known, even before Spinelli had uttered the words, that the marks on Spinelli had come from Sonny, but he hadn't wanted to believe it. Had, for some perverse reason, needed to hear Spinelli say the condemning words aloud for him to accept it. And now that Spinelli had spoken, he wished he could take it all back and not insist that he be privy to the truth.

Spinelli made to pull back, sensing that Jason was done with the comforting now that he had spilled his guts, and ratted out Sonny. Sonny was Jason's boss and Spinelli knew that he shouldn't have said a thing. He should have, as he had been doing, kept it all to himself and handled it on his own, in his own way.

"I'll just go up to my room," he muttered. "I have a busy day tomorrow. Got to be at Sonny's first thing in the morning."

No," Jason came to himself just as Spinelli pulled away, and tugged Spinelli back before he could completely disentangle himself. "You're not going back tomorrow, or anytime for that matter, not unless I'm with you."

"But," Spinelli protested. The tears now dry and sticky on his face.

"You're not going back to Sonny's tomorrow. As a matter of fact," Jason pulled back so that he could look Spinelli in the eye, "you're going to go to the hospital," he pressed a finger to Spinelli's lips as he opened his mouth to protest, "to get that," he glanced at the gouge on Spinelli's chest, "taken care of properly, and x-rays to see if any ribs are broken. Then, you're going to come home and rest. I'll be meeting with Sonny tomorrow morning, and taking care of some unfinished business with him."

"No," Spinelli shook his head. He didn't want Jason caught in the middle. "I'll be fine. It's nothing but a scratch, and I can breathe just fine. It shouldn't take me too long to tie things up at Sonny's." But enough time for him to do some more damage, he thought ruefully, even as he tried to convince Jason that he would be fine and to leave things be.

"Spinelli, you're not hearing me," Jason said. He moved so that they were an arm's length apart, and held Spinelli's gaze. "You're not going to Sonny's tomorrow. End of discussion."

"But I have to finish…"

"No," Jason cut in. "No. Sonny is not going to get another opportunity to mistreat you. I'm not going to let that happen."

Spinelli searched his eyes, and looked away when he saw the fiery determination in the normally impassive blue eyes. There was no doubt in his mind that Jason would do whatever it took to keep him away from Sonny.

"Just," Spinelli floundered for words, wanting to make sure that Jason understood what he was about to ask, and not fight him on it, "just don't say anything to Mr. Sir about," he gestured at the various bruises littering his body.

A muscle twitched in Jason's jaw and Spinelli watched in trepidation as the man shook his head. "You can't ask that of me," he said plainly, pulling Spinelli to him once more and hugging him briefly to himself before setting him loose.

"What," Spinelli swallowed, "what are you going to do Stone Cold?" Please don't make things worse, he silently pleaded.

"Don't worry about it," Jason smiled tiredly, rubbing a hand over his face, "I've got it covered. You," he stabbed a finger at Spinelli, "are going to the ER."

Spinelli shook his head in protest. "I'm fine, the Jackal assures you that…"

"I don't care what you, the Jackal, has to say on the matter. I, Stone Cold, am merely informing you that, unless you want to arrive at the hospital shirtless and carried over my shoulder, you'd better get moving."

For a full three seconds, Spinelli stared at his mentor open-mouthed and wide-eyed. "Surely Stone Cold doesn't really expect the Jackal to believe he will summarily dismiss his protégé's protests to the contrary and…" his speech was cut off by a squeak as Jason reached over and hauled him off his feet.

"Don't say I didn't warn you," he told the sputtering man as he carried him across the penthouse.

"Let me at least have my shirt," Spinelli stammered.

"You've got five seconds," Jason said as he placed him on his feet.

It took him only three to toss the shirt on over his head, in spite of his protesting ribs, and he was following Jason, thankfully of his own accord, in another two. He closed the door behind them as Jason led the way down the hall.

Spinelli hoped that, whatever Jason said, or, he gulped, did, to Sonny, that it wouldn't cause a division between the two men. He didn't think he could survive being caught in the middle of such a volatile situation. He knew, in the back of his mind, that Stone Cold could protect him, should it come down to that, but didn't want to drive a wedge between the two longtime friends. He didn't like Sonny, the man made it hard for him to, but he loved Jason like a brother, and would hate for him to be hurt by this.

Maybe he could convince Jason to let things be, he still had a few hours before he needed to return to the mansion and face Sonny's temper and fists. One look at Jason's face, set in stone, and Spinelli knew that nothing he could say would sway the man from his course.

"Drop it," Jason said, reading his thoughts as they flitted across his face.

"But," Spinelli made a last -ditch effort to salvage things, his gut twisting inside as various scenarios, all of them ending badly for his mentor or himself, flashed through his imagination.

"Spinelli," Jason turned to him, his eyes tired and surprisingly soft as he looked at him. "What Sonny's been doing to you isn't right. It's hard for me to believe that he would allow himself to become such a monster, especially after what his step-father put him and his mother through, but you," he lifted Spinelli's chin when the hacker looked down, "you don't deserve to be abused, physically, or," he paused, schooling his features as another unfathomable expression crossed them, "verbally."

Spinelli nodded and shrugged.

Sighing, Jason nodded, and gripped his shoulder. "You don't deserve to be treated like that," he said softly. "I'm not going to stand by and let Sonny continue to hurt you."

He ushered Spinelli into the passenger's seat of the SUV, shaking his head as he sensed that his words had not sunk in. It would take a lot more than words for Spinelli to understand that he'd meant what he said.

He hadn't intervened before now, and could kick himself for it, because he'd mistakenly thought it was something that Spinelli needed to work out on his own, that he should 'man-up' and stand up for himself. But, tonight, it finally dawned on him just how much Spinelli was in danger when around Sonny. That what Sonny was doing wasn't right. That it went beyond his normal, blunt, 'tell it like it is and damn the consequences' behavior, but was outright abuse. He picked on Spinelli, and Spinelli was unable to defend himself, not because he wasn't 'man enough', but because Sonny was a bully and Spinelli was a convenient, easy to manipulate, target.

Nothing Spinelli said or did would be enough to stop Sonny's maltreatment of him. No amount of changing his personality or 'manning up' would make Sonny treat him differently. Sonny would always pick on Spinelli unless someone did something to stop him. The onus fell on Jason's shoulders. He would set Sonny right, or, if the man failed to see the truth of what he'd become, an abusive bastard like his step-father, then he'd keep Spinelli safe from him, hide him away if need be. Refuse Spinelli's services to the mob boss, and tell him to hire someone in his stead.

If Sonny couldn't keep his hands off Spinelli and if the mob boss couldn't keep his words clean and inoffensive, then Sonny would lose a valuable resource, because Jason was not going to let things continue as they were.

He glanced in the side view mirror. Spinelli was slumped in his seat, his forehead flush against the window as he looked out into the darkness. His eyes, though open, were wary, and if Jason pegged it correctly, hopeful.

"You okay?" he asked, if for nothing else, than to break the pall of silence that had befallen them.

Spinelli nodded, and leaned back against his seat. "Just tired, I guess," he said.

And there it was again, that damnable shrug that Jason was beginning to despise. Spinelli used it as a sort of catchall communication device which was not quite an answer and yet one at the same time. To Jason, though, it communicated weary indifference, and deflected the truth. He didn't like it, but understood why Spinelli employed it. Yet something else that he was going to have to work on seeing if he could change with time and patience.

"The doctors'll check you out and then we'll be back home before you know it," Jason said with a shrug of his own.

Spinelli gave him a longsuffering glare through the rearview mirror and sank back into his seat, arms crossed defiantly over his chest. "I could be at home, snuggled beneath the warm covers of my bed right now."

"Spinelli," Jason turned to look at his roommate, "that gash is infected and I'm worried about those ribs."

"Fine," Spinelli muttered. "I just want to sleep. It's been a long day."

"And, you'll get to sleep once you're checked out," Jason ground out, his knuckles white, contrasting with the black steering wheel.

"You know they're going to ask questions," Spinelli challenged, perking up as a thought occurred to him.

"And you're going to tell the truth," Jason quashed his hope before he could even fully finish his thoughts.

"But that'll mean…" Spinelli was flabbergasted. He couldn't tell the hospital staff that Sonny Corinthos had caused the bruises that covered his torso. They might call the police and then he'd have to go through the rigmarole of having to talk to the police, maybe even give a statement and then further explain why he wasn't pressing charges. It would be humiliating.

"I don't want to go, take me home," Spinelli reached for the wheel, causing the SUV to veer into oncoming traffic.

Lights blinded Jason as he struggled to bring the SUV back into the correct lane. Cursing, Jason righted the wheel with one hand while holding Spinelli's wrist in a tight, bruising grip with the other.

"What the hell do you think you're doing?" Jason asked in a voice which was low and menacing.

"I don't want to go to the hospital," Spinelli said as though speaking to a young child, all the while trying to pull his hand from Jason's, and failing to do so. Panic, a ball of fear starting in his stomach and spreading up into his chest, took hold of him and he scrambled for the door, somehow managing to open it. Only Jason's hold on him kept him from tumbling out of the vehicle as it careened around a corner and skidded to a halt.

"Spinelli!" Jason shouted over his friend's panicked pleas. "Stop."

"Please," Spinelli's eyes were shining with tears as he begged him, "don't make me go. I don't want to."

"I'll be with you," Jason promised. He couldn't understand why Spinelli was so against getting his injuries tended to. It didn't make sense.

"I don't want to," Spinelli said, sagging against the seat. "They're just going to laugh at me."

"What?" Jason was flummoxed. "Who?" He was at a total loss as to who Spinelli thought was going to laugh at him, especially regarding something which was not, in the slightest, funny.

"The police," Spinelli said warily. His eyes were shut tight and his hand had gone slack in Jason's. "When I give my report and don't press charges. It's standard for hospital staff to call the police when someone's been…" he trailed off, not wanting to say the word.

"Oh." Jason hadn't thought of that. Had just taken it for granted that the doctors would fix his friend up and give him a prescription for any medications he needed. He hadn't realized what Spinelli's 'telling the truth' would mean, and the ramifications of telling anyone at General Hospital that Sonny had been the one to cause the bruises and the gouge on his chest.

"I just want to go home," Spinelli repeated.

"I'll call ahead," Jason, ignoring Spinelli's desire to go home, reached over Spinelli to shut the door, "have Epiphany meet us at the doors, you won't need to tell her anything," Jason looked him in the eye, "if you don't want to. She'll keep it under wraps if you do."

Jason knew that, even though Nurse Johnson had a very sharp tongue, she was trustworthy. She would not make Spinelli feel uncomfortable and wouldn't pressure him for answers that he didn't want to give.

Forlorn, Spinelli simply nodded his head and resumed his former position, forehead pressed to the cool glass as Jason made his call and ascertained that he wouldn't be pulling another dangerous stunt that could get them both killed. He just wanted this day to be officially over and sleep until this whole mess was finished.

Lulled into a sort of half-sleep, he didn't know that they'd arrived at the hospital until he felt Jason tugging him out of the vehicle. He blinked in the dull glare of the fluorescent lights, trying to figure out how to make his feet work on their own so that Jason wouldn't have to walk him in through the ER doors. Tonight was going to be humiliating enough, without being partially carried into the hospital by Jason.

"Over here," Nurse Johnson guided them to a side room rather than a curtained off section of the ER. "You," she pushed a clipboard into Jason's hands, directing him to, "fill this out. And you," she pointed at Spinelli who was teetering on his feet, "get up onto that bed."

It took a bit of work, and two and a half tries, but Spinelli managed to get up onto the bed with the help of the domineering nurse. She handed him a paper gown, giving him a pointed look, and then strode out of the room. "You've got two minutes," she called back over her shoulder when she noticed Spinelli staring disdainfully at the gown.

"C'mon," Spinelli tried to solicit Jason's attention, "let's go home."

"I can leave while you change," Jason said without looking up from his paperwork.

Sighing audibly, Spinelli tugged off his shirt, and put the paper gown on, covering his bare chest. He deliberately left his jeans on. There was nothing that anyone needed to see below his waist. Ever. Well, no one not engaged in an intimate activity of a completely different nature with him, that is. No, he would be keeping his jeans on throughout this ordeal, and would fight tooth and nail if either Stone Cold or Nurse Johnson tried to force the issue.

"Uh, Spinelli," Jason looked up from his paperwork, "I don't think that's what Epiphany had in mind."

"There's nothing that she needs to see below my waist," Spinelli responded bitingly.

"Okay," Jason replied, ducking his head to resume his work, "it's your funeral."

"All the high-handed Nurse Johnson needs to see is completely above the waist; it would be a supreme waste of my time to completely disrobe, only to have to…"

"Mr. Spinelli," Epiphany gave him a meaningful look. "I thought I asked you to get ready for your exam."

"I'm ready," Spinelli replied in a squeaky voice, keeping to himself that she hadn't really asked anything of the sort, merely given him a look and two minutes. Red blossomed up into his cheeks as she continued to stare at him, her eyes resting pointedly on his jeans.

"Lose the jeans," she said and left the room muttering something about shy boys and how she'd seen everything in her lifetime and nothing that he had was going to so much as cause a heart palpitation, let alone a swooning fit. Jason chuckled under his breath, and Spinelli stared after her incredulously, his cheeks flaming.

"You heard her," Jason said when nothing but silence met Epiphany's edict. "Spinelli." He looked over at his roommate who was staring steadfastly at the floor, fingers entwined in the flimsy paper fabric of the gown. "The sooner we get through this, the sooner we can go home."

Spinelli glared at Jason. What the hell do you mean by we, he wanted to ask, but didn't. Instead, he took a deep breath and waited for Jason to focus on the clipboard in his hands before he divested himself of his jeans. He kept his boxers and socks on, surely she didn't mean for him to take off his underclothes. Shivering in the sterile cool of the room, he kicked his legs back and forth as he waited for Epiphany to return, praying that his boxers, and socks, could remain on his person.

"Finally, Mr. Spinelli," she greeted as she entered the room. "Now, as I have been given to believe you would prefer this examination to be kept under wraps?" Anyone else and she would have flat-out refused to comply with Jason Morgan's wishes. She was head nurse, not some mobster lackey. But, as it was for Spinelli, she had agreed to Morgan's terms.

Spinelli nodded, looking at a spot on the wall across from him and not meeting her eyes.

"Okay, I'm going to begin now," she spoke calmly and in a voice she normally reserved for her youngest of patients. As she conducted her exam, she spoke softly and explained everything she was doing as she did it so as not to startle him. As far as exams went, it wasn't anything that she hadn't seen before, but it was something that she'd never expected to see on Spinelli. Who would want to hurt someone with one of the kindest, most timid hearts of anyone she'd ever met was beyond her, and she almost opened her mouth to ask, but remembered Jason's warning, and wisely held her curiosity at bay.

Jason watched every bit of the exam with an eagle eye. Noting every new bruise, no matter how faint, that was uncovered by the very meticulous Epiphany. What set his blood to boiling, were the older scars that she discovered and hmmmed over. He almost wished that she would question Spinelli, in spite of his admonishment that she not. He knew, or at least hoped that he was correct in this assessment, that the thin, whip like scars on Spinelli's back and abdomen had not been caused by Sonny. He would find out the answer one way or another. Either Spinelli or Sonny would tell him.

"Okay, Mr. Spinelli, we're almost done here," Epiphany promised the uncharacteristically quiet young man.

Spinelli nodded in acknowledgement. It was cold and he was uncomfortable having the nurse hover over him. He knew that she'd seen the old scars, the ones he normally covered up, and that she, and probably Jason were both curious as to how he'd gotten them. He wasn't going to tell them, he'd just let Jason know that Sonny hadn't caused them. That should be sufficient. The present was what Jason cared about, not past aches and pains Spinelli had suffered at the hands of others.

"I'm going to have Dr. Billings come in and take a look," Epiphany held up a stalling hand when both men opened up their mouths to protest. "He's one of our night shift doctors, grandfatherly sort of fellow, he won't ask any questions and will be quick. I need to have him come in give at least a cursory exam so that he can write up the scrip for the antibiotics. You do have an infection Mr. Spinelli, how long did you let that go without treatment?"

Heat rose in Spinelli's cheeks as he answered, "I was taking care of it, just forgot about it this morning."

"Doesn't answer my question." Epiphany was not backing down on this.

"It happened," Spinelli thought, "maybe two, three days ago?" he turned to her in question and she raised an eyebrow.

"I see. I'll be back with Dr. Billings shortly."

"Two, three days?" Jason turned on his roommate.

Spinelli shrugged and Jason gritted his teeth. He wanted to shake the shrug right out of his roommate, but knew that such an action would make him no better than Sonny. As it was, Epiphany had tsked at the light bruising on Spinelli's wrist and then glowered at him when he'd explained what had happened. Apparently it would have been preferable had they been hit head on by the oncoming car, than he inadvertently bruise Spinelli's wrist in the process of keeping them both safe.

"I think Mr. Spinelli has enough bruises without you taking a hand to him as well, Mr. Morgan," she'd chastised. The only thing which had kept Jason from giving the bristly nurse a piece of his mind was the faint smile that tugged at the corners of Spinelli's mouth and the sparkle of mirth in her eyes as she challenged him.

"I'm sorry, Spinelli," he had responded, keeping his scathing thoughts to himself.

"Ah, Mr. Spinelli, Mr. Morgan," a man whom Jason presumed to be Dr. Billings greeted them with a pearly white smile which would have been better suited to a dentist's office rather than a general practitioner's. "I'll just do a cursory exam and see what needs to be prescribed. That all right with you?" he asked Spinelli, patting his knee with a wrinkled hand.

Spinelli nodded. What would Dr. Billings have said if he'd told him that it wasn't all right? That he hadn't wanted to go to the emergency room in the first place? That none of this was all right with him?

He shifted in his seat on the uncomfortable bed and instantly regretted it as Dr. Billings' eyes were drawn, inexorably, to what he'd spent the bulk of the unwanted exam obscuring from Epiphany's and Jason's view. Dr. Billings, heedless of the sudden panic of his patient, grasped Spinelli's right knee with a gnarled hand and moved it, as well as the boxers blocking his view, gently aside so as to see the injury on his inner thigh.

This was something that Spinelli had gotten stitched up at a hospital closer to New York City nearly a week ago. The stitches had been done hastily, professionally, and without any questions asked. He'd been given pain meds and three days' worth of antibiotics which he'd dutifully finished in their due course. He was told to return two weeks later to get the sutures removed. He still had a week before they could be removed and had been ignoring the pain that the laceration caused him, keeping the pain pills on the stand by his bed.

"That's a nasty looking gash," Dr. Billings whistled, "these sutures need to be reset. Remove your boxers. Nurse Johnson," he turned to his startled nurse who cast a furtive glance in Jason's direction. The look he sent her told her that if he'd known about that injury, he'd have told her. That meant that Spinelli had tried to hide it from her.

She bustled, getting a suture kit from one of the cabinets while Dr. Billings directed Spinelli to lie down on the hospital bed and then set to washing his hands for the impromptu procedure. When this was over, Spinelli was going to be on the receiving end of a serious tongue lashing. The cut on his inner thigh was over two inches in length and any fool could see where some of the stitches had popped. Whitish puss was seeping from the raised wound.

"Where did you go to get this treated?" Dr. Billings asked as he injected a local anesthetic into an area around the wound.

"Mercy Hospital in Buffalo," Spinelli answered, automatically responding to the genial older man's innate kindness.

"I see. Did the butcher have a name?" Dr. Billings glanced at him as he expertly removed the festering stitches.

Spinelli found the older man's vehemence toward the doctor who had stitched him up rather disconcerting and he blinked up at the ceiling. He hadn't been able to go to doctors he'd trusted, not wanting to deal with the questions he'd known that they'd have. He'd thought that the doctor, he couldn't even remember his name, had finished rather quickly, but hadn't thought anything of it, assuming that it was a quick job, that he'd seen that type of injury on a daily basis. Now he realized how foolish he'd been to place his trust in a stranger, even one who worked in a profession which generally garnered trust.

"I forgot," Spinelli whispered. Tears formed in his eyes and he clenched his hands into fists as the doctor worked on the injury.

"Infection's set in, it looks like I'll be able to clean it up with a saline rinse, but you'll be on antibiotics for at least a week, and I'll be wanting you to come back in two days' time so I can see if I've managed to stop the impending infection. Tell me that butcher who dares call himself doctor at least gave you some antibiotics and a cream to apply?" he looked up from his work and frowned at the silent tears streaming from his patient's eyes.

"I finished the antibiotics, he didn't give me a cream," Spinelli replied honestly, unclenching his fists, he wiped at his offending tears.

"I see." Dr. Billings glanced over at the other man in the room. He returned the scrutinizing gaze with one of his own and continued the work of cleaning and then suturing up the wound which hadn't healed at all. If anything, it looked as though it had been further torn by rigorous activity which his patient should have been told not to engage in.

"And, I know I'm not supposed to ask you questions young man, but how did you come about this injury?"

"It was an accident," Spinelli said quietly.

"I see. So, you accidentally sliced into your inner thigh with what, a carving knife, a dagger, a switchblade?" Dr. Billings asked drily. "Looks like a stabbing gone awry, you ask me," he said with a shake of his head.

"It was an accident," Spinelli reiterated. And, in a manner of speaking, it had been. If one didn't take Sonny's considerable anger into account, or Spinelli's inability to effectively defend himself when under attack. The knife had slipped. Sonny hadn't really wanted to cut him, that deeply. He'd just been using it to demonstrate a point. Just wanted to make sure that Spinelli understood his place in the organization, far, far below that of everyone else on the payroll.

"I don't think so, son," Dr. Billings peered into Spinelli's eyes as he spoke, and Spinelli flinched at the look of compassion, and understanding in the brown eyes housed behind silver, wire rimmed spectacles. "I think that you got yourself on the wrong end of some nefarious affair. Not your fault, mind you, just doing business with the wrong sort of character, I'd wager. Not that it's any of my business." He glanced over at Jason, happy to note that the man had stood up from his chair and was glaring daggers at him. The kid he'd just stitched up could use a man like that on his side; someone to protect him from the likes of whomever had cut and beaten him.

"Now, judging by the looks of surprise that my discovery of that nasty injury elicited, I'd be willing to bet that there was some other wound you were concerned about Nurse Johnson," the doctor addressed the nurse who pursed her lips and nodded.

Epiphany handed Spinelli his boxers, and turned her back as he donned them. Judging by the crimson hue to his skin, he had been through enough humiliation for one day, and she was not eager to put him through anymore.

"Mr. Spinelli, would you mind showing us the cut on your chest?" she asked gently, ignoring the amused shake of Dr. Billings' head.

"Another accident?" he mused aloud as he examined the gash.

Spinelli shook his head. This particular injury had been no accident. Sonny had been fully in control of his actions, his manner cool and reserved as he punched him in the chest and then, because of the awkward angle, drew his ringed fist across from collarbone to shoulder. He shivered at the memory.

"Doesn't require stitches, but will need to be cleaned and then bandaged," Dr. Billings said to Epiphany who got the supplies, and set about cleaning the wound. "I'm going to write a prescription for an antibiotic which should help clear up these nasty infections, if this doesn't start clearing up in a couple of days, we'll revisit the course of treatment," he said, pointing at the reddened wound on Spinelli's chest. "If the wound on your leg worsens, call me immediately, here's my private number," he pulled a business card from his coat pocket and handed it over to Jason. "I'm also prescribing a local antiseptic cream to be applied twice daily."

As Dr. Billings continued with the instructions for how Spinelli was to care for his injuries, Epiphany straightened out the room. She had a couple of guesses as to how Spinelli had come about his injuries, and none of them made her feel any better about releasing the young man into Jason Morgan's care. If she thought that the offer might be accepted, she'd have invited Spinelli to come home with her.

"See you in two days' time, Mr. Spinelli," Dr. Billings said as he shook the young man's hand and exited the room, leaving an unhappy nurse, an exhausted and sore patient, and a pissed off mob enforcer behind.

"You shouldn't have tried to hide it from us," Jason said for what must have been the hundredth time, when they were finally on their way back to the penthouse.

It was now nearing three in the morning, and Spinelli was so tired that he kept slipping in and out of consciousness. He was armed with pain killers, antibiotics, an antibacterial cream and gauze, all of which he would gladly chuck out the window if he could.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Jason suddenly asked, taking his eyes briefly from the road to glance at his roommate.

"I thought that the doctor in Buffalo…" Spinelli started to say.

"Not that," Jason interrupted. "Why didn't you tell me what Sonny was doing to you?"

Spinelli looked at him as though he'd grown a second head before shaking his own head and leaning heavily against the door. "And sully the great Mr. Sir's upstanding reputation as a hale and hearty father and overall humanitarian?" Spinelli asked sarcastically, citing the mob boss's recent, and highly publicized, donation to a shelter for battered women and children.

"Damn it!" Jason slammed his hands against the steering wheel and Spinelli recoiled in his seat, putting himself as far away from Jason as he could get without jumping out of the SUV.

"I'm sorry Spinelli," Jason said quickly, taking in the pallor of his roommate through his reflection in the window. "I just wish…" he trailed off.

"Me too," Spinelli whispered.

Fifteen minutes later, they stumbled, bleary-eyed into the penthouse. Spinelli dragged himself up the stairs by sheer will and the promise of a soft, comfortable bed once he reached his destination.

Jason made a beeline for his room. First thing in the morning, he'd be paying a visit to his boss and having a little chat with the man. Comforted by the thought of setting things right, he fell asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Milo and Max were still talking about what they'd witnessed that next morning two weeks after the fateful event.

"It was a fearsome thing to behold, Mr. Morgan giving Mr. C, what for. I mean, he's always talking down to the kid, treating him like the scum on the bottom of his shoe that he'd like to scrape off," Milo was saying, his eyes glowing as he recalled how Jason had stormed into the mansion, eyes blazing blue fire, muscles bulging impressively in the confines of his trademark black tee-shirt.

"It was impressive," Max stated, eyes searching for any eavesdroppers that might be positioned to hone in on their conversation. It wouldn't due to have idle gossip running amok in the streets. He might not have approved of Sonny's treatment of Spinelli, and thought that it had gotten severely out of hand, and quietly cheered Jason on as he gave Sonny a piece of his mind, but it was not something which ought to be bandied about at large by any Tom, Dick and tongue-wagging Harriet.

"Mr. Morgan sure gave it to him," Milo said good-naturedly, oblivious to Max's scrutiny of passersby.

"Yeah, he did," Max signaled for his brother to be quiet and was glad that he caught on quick as a couple was within hearing range. It would not be good for Doctors Scorpio and Drake to overhear this particular conversation.

He still couldn't believe it as he thought back on it. Jason strode into the house, not waiting for Max to announce his presence. He hadn't even seemed to hear when he'd called after him, telling him that Sonny was in a meeting. Jason had slammed the door open, nearly rocking it on its foundation as he got right up into Sonny's face, a fistful of the man's white dress shirt clutched in his hand.

Heedless of his chance audience, the benefactress of the large gift of money that Sonny had donated to the shelter for battered women, he hit Sonny, square on the jaw and sent the puzzled man crashing into his desk. Max had been at a loss for what to do. It wasn't every day that the mob boss was attacked by his second in command, and there was no written manual on how to correctly handle such a situation. Maybe he'd write one.

Ms. Beecher had stood, aghast at what she was seeing playing out before her eyes. Having been a past victim of domestic violence herself, she was horrified by what she saw and cried out for the intruder to stop hitting Mr. Corinthos. Everyone was relieved when Jason, belatedly aware of the unexpected audience, stopped his attack.

"What the hell was that for Jason?" Sonny had asked, wiping at the blood seeping out of the corner of his mouth with a shirtsleeve. The hateful glare that he sent Jason caused a startled gasp from Ms. Beecher who inched her way around the room, positioning herself behind the safety of the couch.

"That was for Spinelli," he said. "From now on, you leave him alone. If you so much as raise an eyebrow at him..."

"Is that what this is all about?" Sonny laughed. "The kid spin you some sob story about my treatment of him?"

"No, Sonny, he didn't," Jason said quietly and laughed humorously, shaking his head. "He tried to protect you. Refused to give you up."

Sonny's brows furrowed in confusion.

"Seemed to think that your treatment of him was acceptable," Jason's voice had a discernibly deadly edge to it.

It was clear the moment that Sonny realized Jason was serious. He took a step backward, his eyes searching out Max and Milo, and Ms. Beecher who stood transfixed as she watched the events unfold in front of her.

"I just don't understand how you," Jason shook his head, "of all people could treat Spinelli, or anyone for that matter, abusively."

Sonny's face had fallen and he cast a pleading look to Ms. Beecher who was now regarding him with a cool disdain as she listened to Jason's accusations and paired them with the guilty look on Sonny's face. None of this struck her as particularly funny, and she started at the bark of laughter that issued from Sonny's mouth.

"That's rich, Jason," he'd said, "accusing me of abusing the kid. I've been on the receiving end of abuse and believe me you that ain't what I'm doing to Spinelli."

"So tell me, then Sonny, what constitutes as abuse in your eyes? Huh? How about leaving bruising marks from fists, or name-calling? Or how about cutting someone with a knife? Are those instances of abuse?" Jason had questioned.

Max, noticing that Ms. Beecher had blanched considerably at Jason's words, stepped over to her, offering to usher her out of the room. But, she'd stoically refused to leave.

"How about telling someone day after day how worthless he is, and then pushing him around?" Jason asked, his voice growing quieter as his anger at Sonny's apathetic countenance grew.

When it appeared as though Sonny was not going to answer, Ms. Beecher stepped forward, impressing Max with her bravery. "That sounds abusive to me," she replied quietly. "Sometimes," she hesitated before speaking, "victims of childhood abuse perpetuate the cycle of abuse, turning on others they perceive as weaker than themselves."

Sonny was shaking his head, backing away from Jason who was practically vibrating with anger. Max could tell, by the look of denial on Sonny's face, that Ms. Beecher's words had gone completely over his boss' head. He couldn't see the truth, that what he was doing was abusive. Whether that was due to what Ms. Beecher had said or not, Max didn't know. For all he knew, Sonny's abusive acts toward Spinelli could be an innate part of his nature.

One thing he did know for sure was that, now that Jason had mentioned it, what Mr. C had been doing to Spinelli was abusive. And he was ashamed that he hadn't done more to help the kid. He hadn't intervened, even when he thought that Mr. C was being too rough with the kid. He'd shrugged it off, and turned a blind eye and deaf ear to what was happening to Spinelli. After all, it wasn't like he was a child who couldn't defend himself. He was a grown man. Could grown men be victims of abuse?

"Spinelli ain't no kid," Sonny defended, "he's a man. He could've…"

"Could've what?" Jason asked. "Could've told you to stop, and you would've listened? Could've hit back? Could've made you stop?"

Sonny had paled as Jason's words washed over him, and yet, Max could not see any comprehension in the man's eyes, just a fearful, haunted sort of look before they turned hard and unreadable. "I think it's time for you to leave Jason," he said, "and tell Spinelli he's late."

"You don't seem to understand," Jason said patiently, "Spinelli won't be stopping by today, or anytime in the near or distant future."

"Excuse me?" Sonny had questioned.

"If you can't own up to what you did, and promise to treat Spinelli with respect, he's done working for you. I won't let him subject himself to abuse like that. Not again. One night spent in the ER watching him get stitches ripped out and then new ones put in, was enough," Jason said warily. "And, until you can admit the truth of your actions to yourself, I'm done working for you."

With that, he'd marched out of the room, not looking back once, even when Sonny had grabbed at his arm and attempted to pull him back into the room. A sharp, "Mr. Corinthos please stop," from Ms. Beecher had stilled his arm.

Jason, true to his word, hadn't been back to the mansion and hadn't answered any of Sonny's calls since. Milo and Max were betting against each other on how long the stalemate would last.

Ms. Beecher had left some pamphlets about adult victims of child abuse on Mr. C's desk as she made a hasty exit, mentioning a group that met every Wednesday at seven PM. Sonny had brushed the pamphlets off his desk without a second glance and had been busier on Wednesdays than he'd ever been in the past, always finding something to do, no matter how paltry, on a Wednesday.

"Mr. Spinelli," Dr. Billings addressed his patient, "I trust that you won't be getting yourself accidentally cut with sharp knives from here on out." He raised an eyebrow in question and Spinelli ducked his head, blushing profusely at the teasing.

"No sir," he said with the hint of a smile.

"Good," Dr. Billings patted his knee and stood up from the stool he'd sat on while removing the stitches from the now completely healed wound. "If you'd have just listened to me in the first place and taken it easy, you could've avoided the two weeks of house arrest," his eyes twinkled with ill-concealed mirth as he spoke.

Though it had been no laughing matter when Jason Morgan had brought Mr. Spinelli back to him with a high fever a few days after he'd initially treated him, he had, after several home visits found the arrangement that Mr. Morgan had made in his home for the unhappy young man rather humorous, if not a bit aggressive. Mr. Morgan had termed Mr. Spinelli's prescribed bed rest a house arrest, and had arranged for an assortment of people to visit him while he recovered from his infection that had been resistant to the normal course of antibiotics. Unless he missed his mark, he doubted that the man had allowed his friend to do little more than walk to and from the bathroom on his own.

Once, when he'd visited, he'd been accosted by a young dervish of a woman who had jawed at him from the moment he arrived to possibly a few minutes after he'd left. Mr. Spinelli had been blissfully asleep as he'd conducted his brief exam, and he wondered if his patient's sleep hadn't been feigned.

On another visit, a quiet, white-haired man, Mike something or other, had been entertaining Mr. Spinelli by reading Moby Dick. His robust voice captured the tone of the book perfectly and Dr. Billings had let himself get sidetracked as he sat for a spell with the two of them, thoroughly enjoying the theatrical reading.

"I know," Spinelli conceded, recalling the almost revolving door that had let in acquaintance after acquaintance to help keep him from getting bored during his 'house arrest'. He still was not happy about that. It had been a long two weeks. Some of it had gone by in a blur, thanks to the medications he'd been on, but the parts of it that he could remember had gone by so slowly that he felt the hand of the clock was actually moving backwards.

"Ready to go Spinelli?" Jason asked from the doorway.

"Yes. Thank you Dr. Billings," he said as he left.

"You're welcome. Now, I don't want to see you back here anytime soon. You got me?" Dr. Billings narrowed his eyes at him and Spinelli nodded.

He was eager to get back to work as a private investigator. Sam had mentioned that they had a new co-worker and he was eager to make his acquaintance. Not only that, but they had quite a few new cases that Sam had been running with the help of their new cohort and a few that they hadn't had an opportunity to get to yet.

"The Jackal is keen to meet his new associate," Spinelli said.

Jason wondered how Spinelli would react when he learned that he was the new associate Spinelli had been anticipating meeting for the past week and a half. He was a little nervous, hoping that Spinelli wouldn't be mad at him for his deception. Both he and Sam had wanted it to be a surprise for the sleuth; he just hoped that Spinelli would not see it as the two of them trying to undermine his position at the agency.

Unable to keep the secret a moment longer with the wistful look he could see on Spinelli's face reflected in the side view mirror, Jason cleared his throat. "Uh, Spinelli." He waited until Spinelli caught his eyes in the rearview mirror. "What would you say if I decided to work with you and Sam?"

A broad grin broke over Spinelli's face and Jason sighed in relief. "Really?" he asked, enthusiasm evident in his voice.

"Really," Jason nodded, a touch of excitement coloring his own voice.

"You mean?" Spinelli regarded him speculatively. "All this time? You and Fair Samantha? You're the new esteemed associate Fair Samantha has mentioned on numerous occasions while the Jackal was sojourning at the penthouse during his long, mandated convalescence?"

"Spinelli," Jason groaned, this had been a point of contention between the two of them throughout the 'protracted and completely unnecessary convalescence' that Spinelli had been 'unfairly subjected to'. "It was only two weeks."

"But the Jackal could have been a cyber-companion for the dashing duo, chasing down leads via cyberspace," he lamented, not for the first time.

"Give it a rest," Jason said in typical response, rolling his eyes at the longsuffering sigh that came from Spinelli. "Now that you've fully recovered," he glanced at the faded, but still visible yellowish bruise lining Spinelli's cheek. "You can cyberize all of the space that you want."

Spinelli shook his head and gave his roommate and coworker a sidelong glance. "Is Stone Cold certain that this is the course he wishes to take?" Spinelli asked quietly.

Jason, catching Spinelli's look of doubt reflected in the rain streaked windshield, shrugged and waited a beat before he nodded. "Yeah, I'm sure," he replied.

"But what about working for Sonny?"

"I'm not the first person to seek a change in career, and I won't be the last," he prevaricated, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

"Thank you," Spinelli said almost too quietly for Jason to hear.

No one had ever stood on his side going against a larger foe for him, and it felt nice to have someone in his corner for a change. He wondered how long it would last. How long would Stone Cold play detective before he got bored and returned to the adrenaline rich world he had walked away from? How long would Sonny let him stray before he called him back?

"Spinelli, stop," Jason could read his friend's thoughts as though they'd been spoken aloud. "I'm not going back to working for Sonny. You don't have to worry about it."

Spinelli shrugged and smiled shyly as Jason draped an arm across his shoulders and drew him close in a one-armed hug that caused the SUV to swerve into the other lane. He righted the wheel and steadfastly ignored Spinelli's laughter.

The change in his friend over the course of the past two weeks was like watching night turn over into day. He knew that there was still a long way to go, had read some of those pamphlets that Ms. Beecher had dropped off at the office for their clients to read, and encouraged Spinelli to attend one of the meetings. He'd gone, reluctantly that Thursday, and Jason had gone with him. Neither of them had spoken a word at the meeting, but afterwards, Spinelli had shared with him something that had happened to him when he was a child.

Until that meeting, he'd dismissed it as normal, but after hearing another person share something of a similar nature, he'd been empowered to speak up about what had happened to him. And Jason had listened, not interrupting once. According to some of the literature he'd read, it was important to simply listen and not offer solutions or make judgments. He hoped that, in the future, Spinelli would be more comfortable opening up to him and others, and that Sonny would get the help he needed too.

It was a bittersweet sort of happiness that Jason felt when he walked to the offices of McCall, Jackal, and Stone Cold, with Spinelli by his side. The both of them stood in front of the beveled door, Spinelli with tears of happiness sparkling in his eyes as he saw the third name added to the placard that hung over their door, Jason with a wry grin as he watched his friend surreptitiously through the distorted reflection of the door's patterned glass.

Three weeks ago, he'd seen his friend's eyes, one darkened by a bruise, both filled with sorrow, reflected in a mirror. A feeling of deja vu swept over him as he met green eyes reflected in the glass of the door, gone was the sorrow; in its place was unmitigated joy. And the fear that had been there since the moment he'd first met Spinelli had been supplanted by a tentative trust. He squeezed Spinelli's shoulder supportively as the young detective took a deep breath and opened the door.

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