My Worst Case Scenario

©2007 b stearns 

_____________

Oneshot. Reads as either gen or JD/Cox as you like, because that’s how I roll. R for language, because while I’m sure they think it in their heads, I’ve never heard anyone on the show say ‘fuck’. The fault for this belongs to my employer, for passing out a pamphlet on emergency procedures and spending too much time going over what to do in case an armed person gets in the building.


Summary: the usual ‘we were at a conference or whatever and something bad happened and caused us to realize how much we care about each other’ plot. For being unoriginal, and for OOC moments, I plan to burn myself in effigy later while singing ‘the waffle song’.

Warnings: violence, language, hostage situation involving guns.

Disclaimer: not mine; I can’t has a Scrubs; all your base are belong to Bill Lawrence. Fanfic is illegal but it keeps me quiet. When Sam and Dean Winchester start speaking to me again, I’ll put your fandom back the way I found it and go quietly.

Supernatural fans: Just replace ‘JD’ with ‘JDM’ and it suddenly becomes a whole ‘nother story.


* * *


Dr. Perry Cox stalked out of Kelso’s office and promptly began to look for something to destroy. Preferably glass, or something that would at least make a fascinating amount of noise when thrown. Several people dodged out of his way, recognizing the expression on his face.


A workshop? He didn’t have time for a fucking workshop. Especially not with last-minute notice. This was a setup. Kelso wanted him gone for a day to do something behind his back. He knew it.


It was an all-day thing in San Jose on newer pain management techniques, held on the campus of some HMO’s corporate office. Interventional pain procedures: pain management as a cost effective method for helping patients in ways that can eliminate the need for surgical intervention, having obvious benefits for the patient and cost savings to the health industry!

Kelso was mostly interested in the cost savings part. And the fact that some of the techniques resulted in a higher bill for the patient.


Cox wasn’t going to destroy a lab over the prospect of finding himself signed up for this thing, but it was close. In fact, if he took a moment and thought about it, it wasn’t all that bad. It was a couple of hours’ drive, it got everybody out of his hair for a day, and -


“And take one of the residents or whatever with you,” Kelso yelled down the corridor after him. “One that can get stuck teaching some of the techniques to everybody else. It was a two for one special.”


The labs were all locked and required key cards now. Someone was on to him.


* * *


JD was leaving one room in the ICU and headed for another, chart in hand, when Turk passed.


“Don’t forget,” JD said, “it is on at lunch. You, me, a little b-ball. I have new moves to dazzle you with.”


His answer was laughter that receded as Turk kept walking. “Yeah, good luck with that!”


“We’ll see what’s what,” JD muttered to himself. “My hook shot is gonna be legendary for more than killing pigeons one of these days.”


“As peachy-keen as that sounds, Daisy May, it’s still hard for anyone to take you seriously when your skirt is tucked in your pantyhose.”


JD turned and froze. Dr. Cox was glowering in his personal space and had that one vein popping from his forehead, the one everybody knew to avoid causing the appearance of at all costs. It was the sign of pending underling-death and possibly a touch of the Apocalypse.


“Whatever pointless little activities you have planned the next couple of days, cancel them, and meet me here out front tomorrow morning at six-thirty. Try very very hard to look presentable even though it takes all your concentration, bring your own pen, and be uncharacteristically silent. I’m stuck attending a ridiculous workshop and I’m allowed to cause one other person the same glorious suffering, and you, punkin’, are it.”


JD opened his mouth, trying to process what had just been dumped on him. Cox pointed at him with one hand and made a throat-slashing motion with the other. “The ‘uncharacteristically silent’ part began about twenty seconds ago and is non-negotiable. Any questions you ask will be stupid and will only cause me to repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, repeat myself, which will have a direct and positive correlation to any injuries you sustain immediately after. Now go.”


JD walked away, eyes widening as he turned.


“Six-thirty sharp, Newbie!” Cox yelled. “If you’re an instant late you ride in the trunk.”


He wasn’t going to automatically put me in the trunk anyway? JD thought. Wait, had he just been invited on some kind of outing with Dr. Cox? He didn’t even know where they were going or what it was about, and they were driving, and he might not have to ride in the trunk.


Wow.


* * *


Lunch didn’t go that well. It started out fine, and JD managed to pull off one hook shot, but it went downhill once he started laughing over it. He was so amazed that it had worked and been awesome that he cracked up and couldn’t even talk smack about it. Turk finally passed him the ball again while he was still laughing, and the game of horse became a game of horsing around. Then a rebound off the backboard from The Todd nailed JD in the head and he still couldn’t stop laughing even if he was lying on the ground.


“Dude, you really worry me sometimes,” Turk said, offering him a hand up. There was sarcastic-sounding applause coming from behind them near the rear entrance of the hospital, and Turk ignored it, figuring it was the Janitor. He finally hauled JD’s upper body off the ground and began to drag him off the court.


Dr. Cox stood watching them, arms braced on the safety railing on the wheelchair ramp. “Hitting puberty can be such a giddy experience,” he said.


Turk realized JD had been fine until he’d noticed Cox watching.


* * *


The next morning, Dr. Cox handed him coffee and told him to get his ass in the car. JD did so, carefully, trying not to touch anything he didn’t have to. He flinchingly chose a cupholder as if hoping it wasn’t already delegated to some special unknown use.


“You spill anything in here, I’ll make origami out of you,” Cox said.


The first twenty minutes went fine; Cox chose the radio station and JD scribbled in the binder he’d brought along.


“What are you doing?”


JD glanced sideways at him with a deer-in-headlights look, using the smallest motions possible. It was obviously a question that he could get wrong in so many ways.


“If I ask you a direct question,” Cox said with exaggerated mock-patience, “then you can actually speak, Newbie.”


“Paperwork,” JD said.


Cox raised an eyebrow at him but didn’t ask. Residents were expected to publish quarterly, and whatever JD was so intent on had the look of a clinical treatise on something. Well, minus the almost illegible handwriting. He didn’t ask, because if he opened that door, JD would ramble excitedly, and that always meant accompanying hand motions, and sooner or later he’d spill something.


“Okay, let’s get the rules straight,” Cox said. “Don’t sit near me, don’t look at me, don’t talk to me. We’re not eating meals together, we’re not discussing any part of this workshop, and this is not a slumber party. Don’t be trying to come over and share your makeup tips or ask my opinion on which shoes go with which dress. Do I need to go on, Sharon?”


“No,” JD said.


Cox narrowed his eyes at him. The kid was not supposed to be taking all of it so well. He wasn’t fidgeting or making goofy faces or whining about wanting to play with the radio. He didn’t even look more nervous than usual. He had jumped without asking questions when Cox had told him to be waiting to take off for a day, without knowing where he was going or why. He simply obeyed. He was acting exactly how Cox wanted him to act. For some reason that was even more annoying than the verbal diarrhea that usually came with spending more than ten seconds with him.


JD glanced at him again, saw his expression, and said, “Um, I mean, yes?”


“What part of that was so hard to understand, exactly?” Cox said.


“It just seems...like maybe you’re not done ranting yet,” JD said, keeping his eyes on his lapful of papers. “Don’t stop on my account. It’s the only reason you brought me along.”


Cox took a hand off the steering wheel and reached over to administer a hard flick to JD’s ear. It made a satisfying snap against JD’s apparently hollow skull. “Don’t give me any attitude. And make sure you take a lot of notes, because I sure as hell won’t.”


JD brought a hand up to shield his ear. “You brought me along as a note-taker?”


“Kelso expects you to teach the other residents and interns whatever you learn. So you’d better pay attention.”


That shut the kid up and caused a ghost of a blush. JD dropped his hand from his ear and got dreamy-eyed and was obviously imagining himself as some sort of all-knowing teacher. Jesus, he was predictable. The color drained a moment later, though, and he went back to his paperwork, looking crestfallen. “Kelso made you bring me?”


Oh, for the love of... Cox sighed and checked the rearview before changing lanes. “The strangest things are important to you, Newbie.”

 

JD glanced sideways at him with wide blue eyes and a mouth quirked in a way that suggested a full-blown pout was about to commence.


“He told me to bring somebody,” Cox said gruffly. “I chose you, Pikachu. Are you happy now?”


JD wrinkled his nose in what looked like an attempt not to smile. “Yes,” he whispered.


Aha! Dr. Cox liked Poke’mon. That practically made them best friends.


* * *


Cox advised JD to figure out where to be and then get as far from him as possible without getting completely lost.


The first scheduled item was a thirty-minute orientation and an introduction of the speakers in a conference room on the second floor of a smaller, separate building facing a parking lot. He had a little brochure-map. There were still twenty minutes to waste, so JD walked around the campus and then poked around the lobby for a minute. Pretty standard. It was all security at the front desk and they looked pretty annoyed by life in general, so he went to look at their cafeteria. He hoped the pudding was different than the stuff they had at the hospital.


That turned out to be pretty standard, too.


He found the right place with a few minutes to go and watched people mill in the hallway. There were mostly suits on the guys, and what Turk referred to as chick-suits (when Carla couldn’t hear him) on the women. They didn’t seem like regular doctors. He had a brief moment of wondering if he was in the right place, but, the laminated placard taped to the door said so. The building was mostly empty except for another conference down the hall, and didn’t seem to be used for anything but extra office equipment and random conferences.


There were maybe twenty five people filtering into the room, and he waited near the door for a moment to watch. It was a pretty fancy conference room -- marble table, mahogany inset paneling, muffins and juice.


“I hope they have chocolate chip,” he said aloud without realizing it.


Someone huffed a very annoyed sigh from very close by. JD blinked and realized he was leaning in the doorway, blocking it. He glanced to his left and found Dr. Cox sneering at him.


“I don’t know you!” JD yelled, squeezing by.


Cox shook his head. There wasn’t much else he could do.


* * *


Hours later, JD snagged a sandwich from the cafeteria in the main building and spent the time sitting on a bench on a grassy slope behind the building and staring into traffic on the 101 nearby. One of those guys with the big over-the-shoulder sandwich boards was at the corner below advertising a mattress sale, and JD wondered what it would be like as a career. All he had to do was stand there all day, wave at people, listen to music. There’d be no one to talk to, though. It was probably a better job for Dr. Cox, who was pretty tired of talking to other people. When he imagined Dr. Cox wearing a giant colorful sandwich board, though, he also imagined him using it to hit whoever walked by on the sidewalk, knocking them into traffic.


“That’s no way to sell mattresses,” he said aloud. Hospital mattresses, maybe. He glanced around to make sure he was alone. Eventually, he’d have to stop mumbling aloud to himself, but it was a hard habit to break.


That was a Chicago song from the eighties. Hard Habit To Break. Peter Cetera had been a better singer than the guy who took over in the late eighties and nineties...what was his name? There were actually several guys who sang in that band, he couldn’t keep them straight. Should guys do duets with each other? It seemed to work for Chicago. And Journey. It was okay as long as the guys were singing about something and not singing to each other. Steve Perry kind of sang to the other guys in the band and that was really weird if he thought about how much that guy dressed like a girl in the seventies...but it had been the seventies. JD tried to imagine himself in really tight white pants and then decided that was a terrible idea. If he and Turk did a duet, though, that was different, they could totally sing to each other because they were cool that way.


He glanced at his watch. He had to go back in. It was one o’clock and time for the seminar on transforaminal epidural injections.


* * *


Cox leaned back in his chair and tried to focus on the statistics being waved around on the slideshow at the front of the room. He was purposely sitting in the back and praying to God that there would not be some sort of buddy activity, one of those cutesy ‘find a partner, team up and be sociable’ kinds of things, because he hated that bullshit. Hands on, fine, as long as they demonstrated and then got the hell out of his way.


JD sat in the front, taking notes like his life depended on it.


Well, it did.


He’d barely seen the kid all day, and that was good except for the part where it was annoying, because he was doing exactly what he was told, again. It annoyed Cox that he was annoyed by that, and there was nothing more annoying than when he annoyed himself.


He shook his head. He was beginning to sound like JD. Maybe he needed three shrinks instead of two.


The projector made a whining noise and flickered, causing one of the instructors to pause mid-sentence and tap on it. Apparently distracted, JD looked up and chewed absently on the top of his pen. His eyes wandered to the ceiling and glazed over a little.

Daydreaming, again. The guy spent so much time off-planet that it was a wonder he could retain anything or remember who he was. Cox didn’t want to hear the internal reminder that that kind of behavior was usually a sign of brilliance. Sadly, it was accompanied by absentmindedness, emotional immaturity and heretofore unimagined clumsiness, but, the kid did have potential. He just needed to be pounded into shape. A less marshmallowy, i’s-dotted-with-hearts, pink gingham, girlish shape. He had enough imagination to think of scenarios that escaped everybody else while they were panicking, and he really cared about damn near everything and everyone. Cox would eat that stupid fucking stuffed dog the kid kept around before he’d admit even to himself that anything, anything the kid did was endearing....but. As annoying as he was? The wide-eyed adoration and tenacity bordered with silliness was endearing.


What am I going to do with him?


The lecture was almost halfway interesting, shock of all shocks, so he kept an ear on it while waiting for JD to do something he could hassle him for later. Drool, maybe. Or, God help them all, shout something incredibly random when he bridged himself back to the real world.


So of course he was staring right at JD when the kid snapped back into the present. It was nothing more than a frown and a refocus on the instructor, but it was followed with a glance toward the door at the back of the room. He ducked his head a little, face turned away, sneaking a glance at the instructor again before looking back at the door.


Cox propped his head in one hand and turned it toward the door as if out of boredom. The door was cracked open and he didn’t hear anything from the hallway beyond, and he didn’t see anything from his angle. He could only assume JD saw something, because the kid twisted and gave him a look of absolute horror before he rocketed out of his seat. It startled the people around him as he bolted for the door. The instructor’s droning voice faltered, and the sound of clothing rustling and chairs scraping as many bodies twisted to look filled the room with a restless unease.


JD shut the door carefully and put his back to it, sliding down to the floor. “Get down! Everybody down!


Even Cox knew better than to pelt him with questions or accuse him of trying to get out of a boring lecture. Several people froze, including the instructor, but Cox was already out of his seat and headed for the wall by the door.


He’d almost made it when the first gunshot was heard, ridiculously loud, easily felt through the floor.


The rest of the group dove for the floor. There was screaming beyond and the slamming of doors, people likely diving for cover. The other conference, down the hall. Someone beyond was shouting unintelligibly and the sound slowly moved away. JD kept his back braced against the door, feet planted, turning his head when Cox came shoulder to shoulder. “One guy,” he said, voice low and breathless. “I only saw one. Shotgun.”


“So, somebody having a little trouble with their healthcare, maybe, or jealous over a failed office romance,” Cox said. He was thinking at top speed, reacting like he would to any code. Their jobs were nothing but one crisis after another and it had become so commonplace that some idiot could be shooting in the hallway and not keep him from thinking clearly.


“Long as he runs out of ammo before he corners anybody, I don’t care,” JD said.


“We need another way out of here,” Cox said, glancing around the room. No other doors. One air duct grate near the ceiling.


The rest of the group had taken to the inner corners, furthest from the door. Cell phones were out and 911 was getting unintentionally flooded. “One at a time!” Cox hissed at those closest. “You’re gonna confuse the cops if you all call at once.”


They ignored him. Idiots.


There was another boom from the shotgun from somewhere else in the building, then the sound of feet running by just outside. Running for it, making a real dash for safety.


Cox got a grip with one hand on JD’s shirt and one at the waistband of his jeans and pulled him along the floor away from the door, then reached up and flipped the lights off. Someone gasped.


“We should split everybody up,” JD murmured.


“How you want that done, Newbie?” Cox hissed. The kid was shaking; he hadn’t let go of his shirt yet and could feel it. “Through one of the many pockets in space-time they keep tucked under the tables in here?”


“Don’t give him a chance to open doors and just mow down whole rooms of people,” JD whispered from closer. “Make him chase us one or two at a time.”


‘We don’t even know where the exits are,” Cox whispered, finding himself matching JD’s tone unwittingly. He couldn’t remember how far, how many corners, how many open spots. He twisted and grabbed for the nearest shadow. “Room full of medical professionals and nobody coming up with ideas?”


“Hey,” the guy said, “the rest of us are administrators. Everybody wants out. I don’t think anybody’s willing to play bait while anybody else runs for it, though. I’m all outta straws to draw.”


“I’ll do it,” JD said. “I’ll watch the corner, you get everybody out of here.”


“Okay, I don’t know what the hell’s gotten into you, but now’s not the time to try out for the Justice League,” Cox said. “Stay put and wait for the cops.”


Two of the others moved to the other side of the door; he couldn’t make them out enough to figure out who they were. He hadn’t been paying attention to anybody else in the room. One of them, a man, spoke up. “There could be more than one, they could be going room to room and just killing everybody.”


“We don’t know that,” Cox snapped.


“Right, which means it could be happening,” the guy said.


“We have to split up,” JD said. “At least get spread out into other rooms, better places to hide if we can’t get straight to an exit. I’ll keep a lookout.”


“No, Newbie,” Cox said. “I’m babysitting you, and if your mommy and daddy find any marks on you when they get home, I don’t get that buck-fifty an hour I was promised.” Cox dropped his voice further and leaned in too close. “You touch that door and I’ll drop you. Since you seem, God help me, to be the only other sane person left, I’d rather you help me get the sheep back out on the range. But I can do it myself while dragging you along by one foot, if you like.”


“I’ll be back,” JD said. “I’ll see you outside.”


“You’ll see me on the other side, if you don’t knock this off,” Cox said.


JD stood and ducked to one side, trying to get a good look out the sliver of window. The hallway was quiet - or at least he wasn’t hearing screams or gunshots. There was a sense of pressure, of breath held and waiting. For all they knew, the guy was pressed up against the wall just to one side of the door. “We’re like fish in a barrel,” he whispered. “I can’t, I can’t wait in here for it to happen.”


“I’m not fucking kidding around with you, here, Newbie,” Cox said. “Don’t touch the door.”


A hush fell as heavy footsteps came back down the tiled hallway. There was the rattle of a doorknob somewhere across and down; then footsteps headed their way. JD ducked down, planting both hands flat on the door. Cox moved to do the same.


The knob rattled. Weight pressed against the door.


JD’s arms shook with the amount of force he was trying to level on countering the test of that barrier.


There was a moment of silent hesitation. Then the footsteps moved away.


JD straightened after a long moment. The silence continued. Cox reached over and jabbed him hard in the leg with a finger and gestured for him to get to the back of the room.


It had become second nature to obey him when directly ordered to do something. Sure, he’d argue with him when he felt strongly enough about one thing or another, but when Cox whistled and directed him somewhere, he simply went. So it took him an extra moment to remember that they were off hospital grounds. It was technically during his regular shift, yeah, and it was a hospital-sponsored and work-related workshop, but that had all ended the moment Cox had acknowledged the seriousness of the whole thing by turning the lights off. They were in a whole other situation, and it rendered the standard rules null and void.


JD slumped against the wall for a moment, looking deceptively defeated.


It was the fact that Cox didn’t think JD was capable of deception that completely screwed him right then; JD showed every little thing on his face, and the harder he tried to hide something, the more obvious it became to even the most casual observer. He was a person who had a habit of screaming hey, look at me, I’m hiding something.


So Cox turned around to take a crack at getting the sheep to pay attention to him so he could herd them out once one of them managed to get a cop to point them to the nearest exit from their vantage. He turned his back because JD could be mouthy when he got his back up but he was easily controlled.


Then JD opened the door and took off.


Cox caught the door as JD cleared it, knowing better than to say anything that might echo in the hall and get the wrong attention. JD had his back to the facing wall, eyes fixed on a point to his right, obviously listening hard. Then JD looked at him and they stood unblinking for a long, charged moment.


JD’s expression changed for just an instant to something Cox couldn’t place, something open and vaguely apologetic, but he knew he wasn’t catching on. Then JD bolted to his right and was gone.


But not headed outside.


He left the door open and a moment later could hear JD shouting, hey I’m over here, receding deeper into the building.


“That was just really stupid,” someone said to his left. Cox recognized the instructor’s voice.


Cox stiff-armed him to the floor without looking.


Before that could become an issue, he said, “Two at a time, out. Look for stairs, go to the right and away from the noisy resident, and keep moving. Understand? Go, go, go people, let’s go. You, and you, out, then me and her.” He pointed to a thirty-something in ridiculous heels. “Shoes off, hot stuff, we’re in stealth mode.”


* * *


JD was remembering that one scene in Breakfast Club where Bender was trying to get Mr. Vernon’s attention away from the others by running down the halls and banging on the lockers. He’d loved that part of the movie, it was hilarious, and how cool was a guy who distracted the bad guy to save his friends?


He was going to get a hell of a lot more than suspended from school if he screwed up, though. Martyrdom seemed like such a good idea and a noble thing except for the whole death part.


There could be more than one guy. He hoped not; one was more than enough. Maybe if there was just one, he could talk him down.


At close range, the pellets essentially act as one mass; an entrance wound would be about one inch diameter, and the wound cavity would contain wadding. He remembered all the photos he’d ever seen of gunshot wounds in the triage courses he’d taken, and he wished he couldn’t.


He hadn’t heard anything along the lines of either screaming or gunshots since the earlier volley. Did it mean anything? Had he given up, wandered to another building, shot himself? It was actually pretty hard to shoot oneself with a shotgun, seriously, unless it was sawed off. The whole Kurt Cobain thing was still an open question in his mind. If anybody could do it and get it right the first time, he supposed it would be a rock star. But of course, Courtney Love was more than capable of staging the whole thing, and –


Focus, he thought.


“Hello,” he yelled. “I’m late, I can’t find my conference room. Anybody home?”


He turned a corner and stopped abruptly. It was a dead end, with a group of terrified-looking people huddled into one corner next to a tall potted plant. Part of the conference that had been down the hall, he figured. It was a surreal moment of silent, mutual gaping. To his right, roughly ten feet away, was the guy he’d caught a glimpse of just minutes earlier, with a shotgun pointed loosely at the group. He was a little shorter than JD, heavier, silver at the temples. He looked even more frightened than the group in the corner, if that was possible. He stared back at JD as if trying to decide what to do.


Ok. It wasn’t some crazed, random lunatic. It was a scared guy who was in over his head, making a stand he’d probably spent weeks or months gearing up for. That was still bad, but not the worst case scenario.


“Hey,” JD said, “you wanna talk about it?”


That seemed to jostle the guy out of his shock. He swung the shotgun a little in JD’s direction and said, “Go on, get with the others. You by yourself?”


“Yeah,” JD said automatically, keeping still, keeping his hands visible. “What’d they do? They don’t even work here, we’re just using the building.”


That seemed to be news to the guy. He faltered, and the look in his eyes was sheer panic by any standards.


“Doesn’t matter, now,” the guy said, but there was no conviction in his tone.”Get with the others. Or I’ll shoot you. I’ll do it.”


As scared as he was, JD had room to doubt that. The guy was sweating so hard and looked so pale that JD thought he might go into shock before he managed to squeeze the trigger again. Still, JD headed toward the others with a nod. “I’m JD,” he said. On TV, people were less likely to just kill you if you tried to open a channel of familiarity with them, starting with your name.


The guy repositioned his grip on the gun. “I don’t care,” he said. “Just shut up while I think.”


Or not.


“Nobody’s been hurt, right?” JD said, hoping it was true. “So it’s still okay if you just run for it. They won’t find you.”


“I gotta do this,” the guy said, and absurdly, it made JD feel better. He spoke, he was reachable, he was on some kind of mission.


“Because you’re just making a point, right?” JD said. Psych 101 was a long way behind him and he was trying to use the same method he used to gain rapport with the patients who came in that were panicking. Or Doug. Sometimes it worked with Doug. “Nobody would listen until now.”


“Don’t do that,” the guy said. “I already heard all the doublespeak, you don’t know.”


A tinny and distant clanging sound was just audible in the resulting silence. It sounded like a fire alarm. Someone was evacuating the other buildings.


Someone just over JD’s left shoulder began to cry very softly. He was disturbed to realize that he had no idea what the ten or so other people with him looked like. He had carefully avoided looking at their faces.


“Who else is here?” Angry Guy With Gun said to JD. “Where’d you come from, who else is in the building?”


“No one,” JD said. “I got here late, I was looking for my room. You can still get out of this, just walk out with us like you were at the conference too. Okay? C’mon.”


There was just an instant where it looked like Angry Guy was open to other options, where he seemed to hesitate.


Then the fire alarm went off.


JD knew even then that it was an accident.


With his finger already tight on the trigger and nerves strung a step too high, it was no real shock that startling the guy would get him to yank the trigger.


The sound was hideous in the enclosed space. The guy stumbled back a step under the kick, flailing one arm out for balance, and three of the group started screaming. Everyone started scattering in every available direction. JD ducked instinctively from the blast, ears ringing, adrenaline jacked up yet another notch.


Angry Guy seemed as shocked as anyone else and didn’t even try to stop them.


Someone grabbed the back of JD’s shirt in a convulsive grip. JD unfolded his head from his arms and glanced back to his left to shout at them to run. It turned out to be a blond guy in a suit staring at him with wide hazel eyes. JD glanced down and saw the blood beginning to run down the guy’s right arm, and turned all the way around. Blood was already beginning to drip from the edge of his jacket cuff. There was a fair-sized hole just above his elbow and no exit wound.


‘Start walking,” JD shouted over the noise. “It’s not that bad. I’m a doctor, I can tell. Head for an exit.” He looked at Angry Guy, who was still looking amazed and letting the barrel of the gun point at the floor. “You’ve gotta let him go, he needs help. You can keep me and let him go. Please.”


There was that same waver of the gun, the hesitation bordered with panic. JD knew the guy was okay to walk out of there, but shot was shot and he was already losing a lot of blood. Angry Guy kept acting like he’d come there to do what everybody feared – mow people down – but he also kept balking and it was a ray of hope.


JD shoved Bleeding Suit Guy toward the mouth of the dead end, leaving the other hand raised at shoulder height. The gun swung at him more solidly, and when the guy planted his feet, JD put both hands up and ducked to his right, yelling. Bleeding Suit Guy left a bloody handprint on the wall and stumbled away down the hall out of sight. JD heard the gun get cocked again even over the sound of the alarm and kept his eyes closed, resisting the urge to cower into the corner.


The alarm cut off suddenly, and the silence was just as much of a shock.


JD opened his eyes and stared at the handprint on the wall and the trail of blood that splattered its way out of sight. Somewhere, Cox had to have evacuated the others by then.


“Just you and me,” he said to Angry Guy. “Okay? Just tell me what this is about.”


“This is all messed up. I didn’t even get into the right building. They’re gonna get away with everything.”


JD looked at him. He didn’t even care who ‘they’ were, he just wanted the guy to keep talking. “What’d they do?”


“They knew we were covered, I paid all the premiums,” he said, staring at the blood on the floor.


JD heard the ‘we’ and said, “Is it your wife?”


The gun dipped a little again. “Doesn’t matter now.”


“You weren’t...I mean, you know it doesn’t fix anything to shoot people who had nothing to do with it,” JD said. “She...if she sees you on the news, she’ll be worried, and –“


“She died,” Not-So Angry Guy said, face scrunching in grief. “We ran out of time.”


“I’m sorry,” JD said. “Damn, I’m sorry.”


A phone in one of the rooms down the hall began to ring.


The guy wiped his face and looked at JD like was asking him what to do.


“Probably the cops,” JD said. “You wanna talk to them?”


The guy shook his head. “Nothin’ to say.”


They both heard a door slam down the hall in the opposite direction of where Bleeding Suit had gone. They both froze.


The gun swung up to point at JD’s chest again. “You said no one else was here.”


“Just let ‘em go,” JD said. “Whoever it is, just please let ‘em go.”


He didn’t know what to expect when the guy came straight at him. When he got nailed in the solar plexus with the stock of the gun and then popped in the forehead with it, it was pretty easy to lie there on the floor and gasp.


* * *


Cox froze.


The damn alarm and the gunshot and the screaming had been bad enough, but it had given them enough cover to get almost everyone out of the building. The fact that it had all happened right after JD had taken off in that direction was not lost on him, and he had to wonder...


No, Newbie was not dead. He was too annoying to be dead. But when he saw him again, he was going to beat the snot out of that little rat bastard.


They’d been moving one or two at a time to avoid getting caught in the halls as a group since they still didn’t know if it was just the one guy. They kept ducking into unlocked rooms or storage areas as necessary. He and the high-heeled HMO administrator, Sheri, were bringing up the rear and no one had managed to completely blow it until Sheri let a PC training room door with an automatic hinge get out of her grasp...and slam shut.


They listened to the echo and held their breath.


Now they had to stay put, just in case they’d been heard.


From the sound of the garbled shouting down the hall, they had been.


* * *


He realized he’d gone too far. Negotiation was not his forte.


When the guy had popped him in the forehead with the butt of the shotgun it was halfhearted and JD partially ducked it, but it connected nonetheless; guns and heads were not meant to come in contact with each other, ever. He’d been dragged into an empty room and had heard the door slam over the noise of having his own bell rung, and by the time he got back to his feet he realized it was too late.


He’d tried the door. It wasn’t locked, but he couldn’t move it. Something had been braced against the outside.


Let’s just see who comes out, then, Angry Guy had said. Let’s see who’s left and then that can be your fault.


It wasn’t the first time JD had been thrown into a closet, obviously, but it was the first time a gun had been involved. He figured all the practice he’d had being tortured by the Janitor had finally come in handy, because he could get out of pretty much any closet even with the door jammed into place with doorstops, chairs, rocks, gurneys, trashcans, duct tape, welded hinges, oxygen tanks, and once his own scooter. So even with the breath knocked out of him and a really wicked headache, he was able to take a conveniently placed extra fire extinguisher in there and ruin the doorknob. After all, he didn’t work there and no one was going to get pissed at him for trashing a door. Angry Guy had to know it was his last chance to take a stand, that he had nothing to lose, and JD wasn’t sure if the guy could be provoked into opening fire. Bleeding Suit Guy had been an accident, obviously, but the guy was so worked up, and...


And JD had the terrible idea that Dr. Cox was still in the building.


That was the worst case scenario.


* * *


It was a long couple of minutes.


Cox had finally stopped glaring at Sheri and was ready to take a look outside to see if anybody was actually going to start searching for them. So when he heard footsteps, he waited.


“It’s all over, folks,” a voice promised. “C’mon out in an orderly fashion and proceed to the exits.”


Cox blew out a breath and twisted the knob. He opened the door and took a step forward. It was about time, the cops had taken long enough to get in and –


“Hey!”


Cox froze, hand still on the knob, door still between him and whoever was in the hallway. Sheri stepped back.


“You even look at him, and I’ll drop you!”


The voice was unmistakably JD’s even if the tone and words weren’t. JD was good at pretending to threaten people but he sucked at actually doing it, or even coming close with any credibility. There was a solid, genuine-sounding menace in his voice for once.


“Come on, nutcase, you want someone to take this out on, let’s go.”


Cox heard the action on what could only be a shotgun being cocked, just inches from the door, and the reality of it descended on him; he’d been about to walk out the door because he hadn’t taken any of it seriously.


He heard the squeak of a tennishoe on a highly polished floor and there was less than a breath between that and the first barrel of the shotgun going off. The shockwave of compressed air rattled the door and popped Cox’s ears over the noise, which startled him into letting go of the knob. The second shot was further away down the hall, meaning a chase in progress. The girl never screamed, to her credit, but it wasn’t like she would have been heard anyway.


There were long seconds of silence. Ears ringing, Cox swung the door open the rest of the way just in time to hear the third shot and thought the guy must have reloaded as he dragged Sheri out behind him and pointed the opposite way down the hall. She hesitated for only an instant before running for it, shoes still in hand.


There was no fourth. There should have been a fourth, with two barrels. The guy either had finally run out of ammo - doubtful - or he just didn’t need to pull the trigger again.


Newbie.


Cox looked at the facing wall at the hallway juncture, at drywall blasted at face height and exposing wiring and studs beneath. The guy was not packing blanks or trying to scare anybody. It was only a matter of seconds that he stood there trying to decide which way to go, but it was a ridiculous amount of time in his head because it was a choice between trying to intervene for JD and possibly getting himself killed, or just getting the hell out of the building. Reason dictated getting out; the idea of JD lying further on with the same kind of damage the drywall had taken made reason look like shit.


If the kid was shot and had any breath left, he’d have been screaming.


The silence was ominous.


He thought of Jack and did the smarter thing.


One hallway over he started knocking carefully on doors and warning people that the guy was otherwise occupied, move it move it let’s go. Nobody questioned him. Doors opened and people made for the exits in small, painfully wary groups, keeping to the walls and checking around corners. He called out to 911 and warned the cops they were coming out, don’t be shooting the wrong people, and have you seen a dark-haired kid in jeans and a red button-down out there? No. They had not.


He paged JD and there was no response.


The afternoon was way too bright, but he went out with hands partly up like everybody else and was ushered to one side, toward a cordoned-off area where cops and onlookers and staff were milling.


JD was on the other side of the line, arms spread wide, arguing between bouts of agitated pacing. Not physically imposing with height or bulk, he couldn’t manage that, but he cut his own intimidating figure all the same with gesture and intent. Cox didn’t remember ever seeing it in him before, but he didn’t think about it for two reasons: the kid probably hadn’t had the chance to be pushed to it where Cox could see, and really he just wanted to get his hands on the kid. The two cops with folded arms and forbidding expressions reminding JD to stay on his side of the line weren’t giving him any physical ground, but they did glance back at the building, and it was obvious that JD was yelling that he wanted to know what was happening.


There was unadulterated joy and relief on JD’s face when he glanced up and saw Cox. The cops backed a step off then, finally, and JD sidestepped them; somebody was asking the people coming out of the building if they were okay and were answered one by one by everybody but Cox. Nobody was actually going to stop any of them, and the questions could wait. It was all over, done, everybody safe.


And then not so.


The joy on JD’s face faltered to confusion and then to alarm when Cox lifted him right off his feet by the front of his shirt, close to his throat. Whatever JD had seen in his face had been enough warning, but he hadn’t ducked, and it took both cops and a passing EMT to pry Cox’s fingers from the front of JD’s shirt and keep him from doing any of the actual damage that was promised by the rage in his eyes.


* * *


Giving statements to the police was always fun.


“I tried to talk him down,” JD said. “I did. I tried to reason with him, because yeah, he felt he’d been wronged and maybe he had, and I thought I could talk him outside. I screwed up, and he threw me in a closet. He got down one hall and decided to try pretending he was a cop, calling for everybody to come out, lockdown over. So I quit trying to talk him down. And it pissed him off, and he chased me out. The end.”


“And then Dr. Cox came out and tried to assault you,” the detective said.


JD shrugged. “He does that. You should see what it looks like when he’s not glad to see me.”


The cop looked at him steadily, checking his expression for humor. There was none. “And this guy’s your boss.”


“My attending, yeah,” JD said. “He’s a good guy. He just doesn’t want people to know.”


* * *


He called Turk first. He didn’t want anybody at home finding out about any of it first on the news, although he figured it was already on the air. Turk confirmed that with the tone of his voice when he answered with Goddamnit JD it’s all over the news, where are you, are you okay?


He didn’t tell the story; it could wait until they got back. He just didn’t want Turk and Carla to be scared, wanted them to get to Elliot and make sure she understood nobody was dead, wanted them to tell everybody it was fine. He didn’t know whether Dr. Cox had thought to call Jordan, maybe he had, but he asked Turk to do it anyway. He didn’t expect to cross paths with Cox again for awhile and as long as he was okay, that didn’t really matter. Too much.


When he finally checked his pager - he remembered it going off in the parking lot outside just after the cops had forced Angry Guy to put his gun down - he paused and stared for awhile. Then he saved all three messages.


you okay?


kid, answer me


jd please


* * *


He saw himself on the news in the lobby of a car rental place.


Funny, I just got here. He was allowed to leave town as long as he left his info and understood that he’d be coming back when they needed him to. He still hadn’t been able to find out for sure whether the guy who’d been shot was okay.


One of the local stations had caught him skidding out of the side entrance and ducking along the wall, then running back for the doors and flinging them open. The microphones didn’t pick up any of what he shouted at the guy when he followed with shotgun out and finger on the trigger, and that was probably best anyway. He clearly remembered looking down both barrels of the shotgun for the umpteenth time that day. The mics picked up most of what the cops shouted at the guy, and the shock was visible on his face when he dropped the shotgun and lowered himself to the pavement facefirst. JD had put his hands behind his own head and walked toward the cops, trying to catch his breath. There was all kinds of helpful supposition about what JD had been doing and who he was, and he was glad none of them had caught him for an interview because really, he was in no mood to hash anything over in front of a camera. He’d had a brief moment of envisioning his fifteen minutes coming as hero of the moment (That’s right, I’m a doctor, so of course I had to try to save the lives of those inside!) and then it faded, because it didn’t feel heroic. And seeing it on camera? Yeah, it looked like a graceless run for his life because that’s all it had been. He just felt wrung out, a walking adrenaline crash, and he wanted out of there. He wanted to go home and not answer questions.


There was a good long ramble about the gunman (Jeffrey Ruhl, he’s actually got a name and it’s a perfectly normal name, JD thought) and his lack of a criminal record, his troubled family history, his wife’s long illness. The tone was less than neutral like most newscasts were lately. The health care system was cold and uncaring and rolling over the people who needed it most in the interest of making money.


You’re preaching to the choir, he thought.


Aw, fuck.


The next shot was Dr. Cox grabbing him and shaking him like a really big redheaded terrier with a rat. He couldn’t look away; it was trainwreck material, he was rubbernecking himself and gaping in horror. The only good thing was that the shot was far enough away that they would be hard to really identify...by anyone but those who knew them. Great.


He just needed to get home.


“World’s crazy, right?” the clerk behind the counter said, handing him a set of keys.


“I heard that,” JD said.


He thought he had an inkling of what had really gone on there, after seeing the pages, but he knew it was pointless to try and be sure where it came to what was really going on in Cox’s head. It didn’t matter. The whole thing was over, done, everybody safe.


* * *


...and then not so.


His pager went off again while he was trying to decide whether to go for Advil or Excedrin for that really annoying headache.


NEWBIE, COME


Oh, hell no. He was not spending two hours in a car with the guy, not in the mood they were both in. JD was still jittering and would never be able to keep quiet, and he didn’t want to try and handle Cox’s peculiar brand of dealing with anything he didn’t have control over. He envisioned Cox pulling over maybe a dozen times, ranting in a circle around the car, possibly tossing him over the side of an overpass somewhere.


I’ll see you at work in the morning, he replied.


When there was no response, it felt like more of a threat than any words that might have been used.


* * *


He talked to Turk on the phone when he got back in, then Carla, then Elliot, confirming that he was fine, telling them he’d be in the next morning. He was begging off seeing anybody yet because he just needed to be alone for once, for a little bit, and stare at a wall.


Dr. Cox is looking for you. That from Carla, with audible worry in her voice, and all he could do was say, okay, well, I’ll run into him sooner or later.


He already had messages. One of the news stations had moved fast and found out who he was, maybe from the cops. No way it would be national news, and in any case neither his mom or Dan had even known he was there. It would be old news in a day or two, because there would be someone else with a gun storming a school, an office, a mall. It had become commonplace horror, one more he could rack up alongside everything else he’d seen that people could do to each other.


He ended up at the hospital in one of the lounges. He turned on the Discovery channel to avoid any news, and stared at Deadliest Catch for awhile, not quite seeing it, wondering if Turk would have remembered to send Dan a cake if things had not turned out well.


He dozed off to the captain of the Wizard yelling at one of the greenhorns to let up the slack on a line. He figured he was lucky not to be a crab fisherman, because hey, that was a dangerous job.


He startled awake a few minutes later to a sound that was memory only, and laid there with his head resting along the back of the sofa with heart pounding. He sighed with resignation as he realized how it was going to be.


* * *


“Man, you didn’t even blink when that guy pointed the gun right at you,” Turk said again.


“You didn’t see that on the news,” JD said with his face directly over a huge cup of coffee. They were down the street from Sacred Heart, at one of the espresso carts. “You’re making that up.”


“JD,” Turk said, turning toward him, “Dude, I saw the news, like a hundred times. When you ran out you didn’t keep running, you made sure that guy came out after you, and he pointed that thing right at your face. You. Are. The man.”


“You. Are. Delusional,” JD said. “It’s not the first time I’ve been shot at, remember?”


Turk laughed. “Old man Ellery was really sensitive about his lifesize plastic cow,” he said.


“See?” JD said. “Nothing to it.”


“You are playing this off way too easy,” Turk said. “You sure you’re okay? Because that’s some crazy shit.”


“I’m just not gonna think about it,” JD said. Except, you know, every minute of every day until a lot of time goes by and it sort of fades back off into the Stuff That Once Happened category.


“So when you gonna tell me all of it?” Turk said. “Everything. You don’t wanna tell it a million times, fine, we’ll all get together after shift is over. Don’t leave out the part about what you did to piss Dr. Cox off so bad.”


“I piss him off every day, so, it was just another day,” JD said. He didn’t ask if Turk had seen that shot on the news or seen Cox, or what. He didn’t want to talk about it.


Turk looked at him, looked away, and looked at him again. “You are seriously beginning to freak me out.”


“It’s all good, Chocolate Bear,” JD said, sipping coffee and looking at the cool, damp green of a spring morning. Stolen, really, because by rights he should have been in chunks on a hallway floor somewhere further south.


Everybody giving him a damn ovation when he came in the doors with Turk was too much. He hugged Carla and took off for the locker room just to get away from being looked at.


He would never enter a building again without having a couple of escape routes planned.


* * *


The first day, he let the kid get away with hiding.


Cox didn’t answer questions. He’d talked to the police, and that was that. He had no problem driving anybody and everybody off, except Jordan. He didn’t even try and fend her off; there were no hysterics, and he didn’t...actually lay out the story. It basically stopped at we were all locked in, and then Newbie went insane and begged to be shot at.


Passing it off and making it a non-issue made it tolerable.


DJ? Your little assistant? she’d said. After being locked in with you, being shot must have seemed like a good deal.


Somewhere in the back of his mind where it was easy to pummel thoughts into semi-submission once they’d surfaced and had their moment, it had occurred to him that he may have overreacted just a tad. Sure as hell hadn’t been the first time, so, no shock to anyone. Certainly not himself. He’d have to dial that back, someday.


The second day, he purposely went looking for the kid. Newbie was obviously fine if he was showing up for work, and he hadn’t called anyone a girl’s name - unless they were a girl - in far too long.


you want someone to take this out on, let’s go.


Carla and Laverne staring at him without saying a word every time he went by was not helping.


The kid evaded him all day. That took dedication. He even tried the damn roof a couple of times, and came up empty.


He sure as hell wasn’t going to page him. He didn’t need to summon him. Summoning him would make it seem like he wanted to look at him, with or without an excuse. He didn’t have any cases to throw at him, he hadn’t caught him screwing anything up...he just couldn’t catch him. He was beginning to suspect that the Janitor’s ravings about a labyrinth beneath the hospital were a possibility. Or someone had folded the little goofball into thirds and tucked him into a pocket to shuttle him from room to room.


On the third day, he was subpoenaed to be deposed for Ruhl’s initial hearing. He figured JD would have received the same. Nobody had wasted any time in getting the whole thing rolling, not with all the damn TV coverage and attention.


He passed the doctor’s lounge yet again, refusing to admit that he was looming or trying to trap anybody in there. That was crazy behavior. That was not the same as happening on someone and taking the opportunity to hash something out, or shouting at them until they cried and ran away – whatever worked best. He was going to keep passing all the lounges every few minutes until the right person was trapped in there.


At quarter to three, for whatever reason - giving up, too tired to care, complete lack of judgment - JD wandered in and stayed long enough, and Cox caught him. JD was on the couch in there, feet on the floor, head bowed. Whatever it was he was trying to pass off as a hairdo lately was falling forward over his eyes and he was obviously dozing. Two charts and an open medical text lay on the table in front of him.


Cox leaned against the doorway. Now that he’d trapped him, he was in no hurry, that was all. It wasn’t like he needed an opportunity to stare at the kid while he was still for possibly the first time in his wound-up, manic little life. So what if he hadn’t seen him since the workshop? Not much to look at. Turk had said he was fine, Carla had said he was fine, but fine was in the eye of the beholder and Cox chose to do his own beholding.


The bruise on his forehead was beginning to yellow. That was good.


He remembered that terrible moment when he realized that he didn’t have control over that one facet of the whole thing, that JD’s urge to deflect some mystery person’s anger superceded Cox’s authority. Cox had meant to say don’t you get hurt or even c’mon, stay around and do this with me, but he wasn’t capable of that. His control over the kid only lasted as long as the most to lose was a day or two of being berated, which they both obviously enjoyed. When the stakes were higher, the possibility of something like Cox’s genuine wrath wasn’t enough to deter JD from doing what he thought was right.  


That was, of course, what made JD one of the good guys, but Cox would never say so.


The TV was on, and the screen was flickering with a parade of commercials, spots for upcoming episodes. One was for that ridiculous Superman-as-a-teenager show, then something about trees on a hill, then that brothers-chasing-ghosts show. Jordan loved all that, said she ‘watched for the plot’. Right. One of the little beefcakes onscreen cocked a shotgun between narrative voiceovers.


JD’s head snapped up and his hands flailed out to the sides to find purchase. He stared at the screen, looking dumbfounded. Looking like absolute hell, as if he hadn’t slept since the workshop.


Cox raised his eyebrows, making the connection. Then he whistled, short and sharp.


JD grimaced and let his head rest against the back of the couch. “Couldn’t last,” he said.


Cox walked in, then closed and locked the door.


JD stood, grabbing the charts off the table. “Hey, look - I’ve got stuff to –“


“I don’t care if you’re late for your square dancing lessons, or if the cutest boy at school offered to teach you to do-si-do behind the barn during recess,” Cox said. “It’s nice that you’re afraid of me, it really is, seeing as I’ve spent all my free and not-so free time for more than a year making sure to drill that idea into your fluffy little noggin, Jenny, but enough’s enough.”


He was advancing on JD, placing his hands on the back of the sofa and swinging a leg over to stand on the cushions. JD backed away, charts still in hand, looking unsettled and perplexed but no moreso than usual.


“Dr. Co - “


Cox clapped his hands together once, loudly, watching JD flinch. “When my mouth, or any part of me at all, is moving or about to move or possibly might move anytime in the foreseeable future, your mouth is closed.” He was still moving, stepping down from the sofa and advancing.


JD was fairly certain Cox hadn’t blinked yet, either. His eyes were wide and easily defined as scary.


He kept backing away, charts held down against his leg as he glanced at the door. Chance of making it to the door without losing a limb: negligible. An inconvenient wall between a bookcase and a chair caused him to stop backing away, and he held very still with the hope that Dr. Cox’s vision was just like a Tyrannosaur’s and that he would not see him if he just. Didn’t. Move.


That would have been kind of cool, actually - Cox with little tiny arms, unable to corner him by bracing them on either side of his head...


JD kept his eyes on the door. If he did that, he didn’t really have to look anywhere else. “Wh –“


Gah!” Cox yelled. “I just told you to zip it, Tessa.”


“You weren’t moving,” JD said in a very defensive whisper.


“The next thing outta you is going to be shoved back in,” Cox said.


JD jerked his wrist and flipped the charts across the floor, listening to them clatter away. He looked at Cox, finally. “The last goddamn thing I need is more of this,” he said, pointing a finger at Cox’s chest but not making contact. “You can bitch at me all you want, but by now I pretty much couldn’t care less what the hell your problem is.”


“Now we’re getting somewhere,” Cox said. “I just knew there was a feisty little vixen under all that coquettish eyeshadow.”


“What do you want?” JD said, not quite challenging. He genuinely wanted to know. “What is this, exactly? I didn’t take orders, I get it, but I don’t have to when we’re out of here. I did what I thought was going to save the most – “


Cox planted a hand on either side of JD’s head like it was a basketball and he was going for the free throw. He banged JD’s head against the wall behind just hard enough to cause a satisfying thud without actually concussing him or damaging the drywall. “Try again,” he said.


JD stared, eyes wide with shock. First off, the touching. He clearly heard Lieutenant Commander Spock in his head, mumbling Captain, this is highly irregular. “Uh – “


Thud. “You did what?” Cox said. “What you thought would save who?”


“The Geneva Convention specifically mandates –“


Thud. “I can do this all day, Clarissa.”


“I don’t know what you want me to say, I left my ESP at home today,” JD said between gritted teeth. That had rhymed, but he just knew if he said so, his head was going to pay the price.


Thud.


Ok, so it was going to anyway.


 “So what exactly is troubling your little mind, then?” Cox said. “I suspect, and believe me I know more about it than you do seeing as you don’t seem to have much of a grasp on reality, consciousness, the state of the union or what goes on in here –“ - thud - “most of the time, that – “


“You were opening the door,” JD blurted as he reached up and grabbed Cox’s wrists and squeezed his eyes shut. “You opened the door. I almost lost you to the oldest trick in the world, why would you do something so goddamn dumb? You of all people?”


Cox quit bumping JD’s head against the wall but didn’t release it.


“The inside of my head sounds like that guy pumping another round and you opening the door,” JD said. “Okay?”


“No,” Cox said.


JD opened his eyes again, just a little. There was a nice, long, awkward moment of staring and head-holding. JD fell back on hoping that if he didn’t blink, Cox would lose interest and wander away while simultaneously forgetting anything JD had said.


I almost lost you.


Especially that part, because oh, sometimes he really earned his girlish nicknames. Rather than berating him, though, Cox was still staring at him with something that looked like genuine concern, and a good rant would have been preferable for once. He looked at the ceiling with exaggerated calm. It seemed best.


Cox released him and stood a moment longer. Then he said, “You ever do anything like that again, and live? I’ll kill you myself.”


“I don’t plan on being held hostage with you again, so we’re cool,” JD said. He startled and had to look at Cox when he found a hand around his throat and his head being bounced off the wall again. Cox looked mad, genuinely worried-mad, not you annoying moron-type mad. The hand at his throat was careful, not cutting off air, just a really aggressive pulse-check. Then Cox leaned in almost close enough to make JD’s eyes go out of focus.


There was a low, menacing tone to go with the snarl on Cox’s face.


“Listen, smartass. As sorry as it is, you’re one of the best things in this hellhole of a hospital, and in my mess of a life, something you can just forget you ever heard because no way did I just say it. It’s not your job to save the world, and sure as hell not to save me. You don’t ever –“ - thud - “entice people to come after you instead of me, dumbass. You don’t ever, ever, e-he-ver accidentally or not so accidentally be willing to die for me. Do you understand? Do you need it spelled out in smaller words, possibly across your forehead? Maybe a hundred times on a chalkboard?”


JD thought sidewalk chalk would be cooler, maybe a different color every other line, and in the staff parking area; when he was done, it might be visible from space. But he heard the phrase one of the best things in relation to my mess of a life and it was worth having his head bounced off the wall for any length of time. It would have been the only reasonable opportunity to say something like your life is totally worth mine and/or it’s not my problem that you don’t know how to let anybody love you but he settled for thinking it loudly to himself and keeping his damn mouth shut.


A sharp whistle brought him back to the present. “Are we on the same page, here, Carrie?”


“Yes,” JD said. No, we’re not. We may not actually be reading the same book.


But he’d leave the bookmark in the spot he’d been on and save it for later.


“Good,” Cox said. “Because sooner or later, the way we run things here, someone is gonna get bumped off a drug trial or a transplant list, and a relative or significant other is gonna make it in here and open fire. You never know when, or how, and you won’t see it coming. So, you wanna try and be prepared for it? Think you can be the one who gets to save everybody?”


“I can try,” JD said.


Thud. “I don’t want any heroes in here,” Cox snapped. “Next time, you’ll get shot and you’ll be gone, dumbass, all that med school for nothing. And it just barely did you any good to begin with.”


“Then I’ll finally quit bugging you,” JD said. “That’ll be cool, right? Nobody but Carla left to call you on your shit?”


Cox looked, for an instant, like he might actually haul off and hit him. But instead he let go of JD and backed away, then pointed at the charts on the floor without looking at them. “Your break’s over. Get back to work.” He spun on his heel, flung the door open, and stalked off into the hallway.


JD sighed and collected the charts off the floor, then went back for the book he’d left on the table. He rubbed the back of his head and grinned on his way out.


* * *


When Cox went into the same room later on to catch the last few minutes of Days Of Our Lives, Carla was already there, sitting on the sofa.


“Finally found Bambi, huh?” she said.


Cox sighed and sat down next to her. “What did he say?”


Carla smiled. “Oh, he didn’t say a thing. I mean, usually it’s just a matter of threatening him or bribing him, but nobody can get him to talk about a damn thing lately, especially if it’s got to do with you. Doug was about to come in here earlier when you locked yourself and JD in, that’s all. He said he wasn’t sure what went on, but that it was kind of noisy and he was afraid JD was going to be missing limbs.”


Cox raised his eyebrows. He was going to have to follow Doug around for a couple of days just to frighten him, in appreciation for purposely causing gossip. “He wanted my opinion on whether he should start double-knotting his sneakers,” he said, “and I was advising him to give it all up and go for velcro, make the world a safer place.”


“He loves you,” Carla said. “No matter what you do, you’re not going to be able to shake him off. So live with it.”


He shook his head and folded his arms, keeping his gaze on the TV. “He loves everybody, Carla. He’s like a puppy, for Christ’s sake, and he still loves the world and believes there’s good in everybody and everything, and all kinds of other sappy bullshit I’m too tired to drag up and mock right now. He’ll wise up sooner or later and be a cynical bastard like everybody else, and be better off.”


“It’s cute when you try so hard,” she said. “I could just pinch your cheek and throw you down a flight of stairs.”


He shook his head again. “You’re not winning this one.”


“It’s not about winning,” she said. “It’s about wearing you down slowly over time until, before you even know it, you’re all warm and fuzzy and adored.”


“If you don’t leave right now, I’m going to call Homeland Security and tell them you’re part of a sleeper cell.”


Carla sighed. “Just don’t be so damn hard on him all the time. It’s not going to kill you to be adored. You keep slapping him down, he might lose a little more of that puppiness that you can’t admit you count on, and then the world sucks a little more as a result.” She patted his knee and rose, headed for the door. “It’s okay to love him back a little, too.”


Terrorist,” he warned in his most threatening tone.


* * *


Three days later, JD came to stand in the door of the same lounge and stared at Cox without saying anything.


Knowing who it was without looking, Cox said, “Out, Newbie. Adults only. Be a good little girl and find another place to rebraid your hair.”


“You’re the one who watches soaps,” JD said. “But you call me a girl. I like irony. If you say it enough, it begins to sound really weird, though. Irony, irony, ironyironyirony--”


Cox twisted to look at him. “Are you drunk? You have to be, you’d better be, because I don’t like your tone or the insinuation you’re barely smart enough to make, Melissa.”


“Girl,” JD said, eyes sparkling. “Big curly-haired girl. I’m sure you’ll make someone a great housewife again someday.”


Cox came off the couch in one easy, purposeful motion, vaulting it one-handed and looking much bigger than JD remembered from, oh, an instant earlier. JD was already moving. He took off into the hallway, headed for the stairs. He didn’t dare look back. There was no reason to get a good look at death coming right for him; just knowing was enough.


He made it outside, but only by the barest of margins and only because he’d vaulted a stair railing to the floor below. It was a near thing, and a very unpleasant thing with Cox making that growling noise from so close behind.


Cox paused at the edge of the makeshift basketball court, watching JD put more distance between them. A good fifty yards down the back lot, JD turned and kept digging his grave. “I’m not afraid of you!” he shouted from a nice, safe distance.


Cox flicked the end of his nose with a finger and crossed his arms over his chest. Several of the nurses from Pediatrics sat on a nearby bench and watched them with open amusement.


“Some people just jump from buildings to end it all,” one of them said.


He smirked without looking.


JD circled from a distance, posturing as he went.


“Ya have to come back inside eventually, Ophelia,” Cox said. “And when you do, you’ll have my undivided attention. Mission accomplished.”


There was a chorus of ooohs from the bench.


JD figured he could start a rolling clinic, kind of like a hotdog cart but cleaner. That way he could help people without ever going back inside. He could patrol the parking lots of America, waiting for skateboarders to crash. Cool.


Cox whistled from the wheelchair ramp. “I’ll be here, Newbie.”


JD watched him walk back inside.


I’ll be here. He hadn’t said it with quite the menace he usually would have. Maybe it didn’t really mean anything, but he thought it did.


He could believe it did.


* * *