Sweet Dreams
ATF Virtual Season
By Michelle

DISCLAIMER: If I owned them, I would be a very happy girl indeed. But, alas, I don't. Moral of this little tale? Don't sue. All you'd get would be some gas money, a flute with a dent in it and an ancient computer, anyway.

RATINGS: I had it at PG-13, but I use some pretty harsh language, so maybe R, though I doubt it.

WARNINGS: Umm, nope, don't think there are any. Unless you're a Vietnam vet. But even if, I don't think my descriptions are good enough to cause you pain anyway, but I warn you nevertheless. And, as I said in the ratings-thing, harsh language.

NOTES/COMMENTS: Well, I keep reading all this stuff about "write more about Josiah!" and "Have JD grow up a little" so I tried. Forgive any mistakes, I'm a new author! Also, I realize that this fic shows certain scenes from the story, and leaves others out. I tried this in an effort to not only shorten the fic, but to add an 'artsy' quality to it. You know, like fill-in-the-blank or something. I hope it comes out as understandable! Thanks a million times over to the best beta-reader out there, Kerry.

SUMMARY: Josiah's past is interfering with his present. Will the nightmares plague him forever?



Sweet Dreams


It was a hot sweltering, almost liquid, heat that seemed to permeate every inch of the jungle. They'd been marching almost non-stop for two days, the heat unrelenting in its vicious bite. None of the young men in the unit knew where they were headed. They hadn't been told. They just continued to march on all day, stopping only to sleep for an hour or two at varied intervals.

The tall, thin man plodded along at the back of the snaking line, chatting occasionally with the man on his right. In an effort to gain some respite from the sweat that was streaking down his tired face, he fruitlessly mopped his forehead with a dirty cloth that had once been a sock. He looked down for a moment to tuck the cloth in his pocket when he vaguely heard an explosion far off to his right. Darting quick glances all around him in the dense underbrush, he sighed in relief when no enemies appeared. With a small smile, he turned towards his friend.

A horrendous scream erupted from his dry, cracked lips. The vision that stood before him was not his friend. It couldn’t be. This man's face was red and blistered, oozing green pus. He stood transfixed, watching as skin fell off the unfortunate man’s face in chunks, falling to the ground below.

Finally, the reality of the situation began to hit him. He found himself taking an involuntary step backwards as his friend began to reach blindly for him...


Josiah Sanchez awoke to the loud buzz of the digital alarm clock on his nightstand. He slapped the brown box into silence and slung his legs over the edge of the bed, burying his face into his large palms. Sweat covered his muscular body and short breaths racked his strained ribs. He rubbed one hand roughly across the back of his head, trying to push the nightmares away, back to the corner of his mind where he had hidden them years before. It didn't work, of course; it never did. Josiah pushed himself off of the mattress, pulling the sweat-soaked sheets from his body and padded his way to the bathroom.

Leaning over the cool porcelain sink, he splashed some refreshing water on his face before looking at himself in the small mirror that hung above it. With a grimace, he acknowledged that it was going to be a long day.


The team’s profiler pulled his battered car into its usual space, noting with a touch of envy and surprise, that Ezra was actually on time for once. The normally tardy undercover agent was probably finishing the report on the last case that ended nearly three weeks ago. The gleam of the Jag parked next to him glowed in the iridescent lights.

Josiah longingly ran a hand over the black, ebony finish, reminiscing for a moment on things that never were and never would be. He had had so many dreams when he was young. Grow up, get married, own a car like this one...

"Mornin' Josiah!" JD's chipper voice broke through his thoughts, echoing that of Buck's a moment earlier.

"Good morning, Brothers." Josiah nonchalantly changed his palm’s task from stroking the car to gently pushing the orange tabby cat off of its hood. He turned towards the other two men, taking his briefcase in hand and following them to the elevator.

"Well now, don't you look like hell," Buck noted as they entered the metal box. He clapped the older man on the shoulder before punching the yellowed backdrop of the eleven, causing it to change to a pinkish-red hue. The two in the elevator continued with their incessant chatter, something that may have annoyed him at one time, but had grown used to the past few years. Josiah, nevertheless, was glad when the short ride was over.

He briskly entered the office and dropped his briefcase on his desk before heading for the coffee pot. With a sigh, he found that no one had thought to make any yet, leaving it up to Josiah to make the first pot. Yes, it was definitely going to be a very long day.


"Josiah, we're getting sent out." Nathan's voice cut through the single-mindedness concentration that he tended to have when reviewing a case.

"Where?" he asked, saving the file on his computer and switching it off before he turned to his friend.

"A school. Three kids just took about a hundred others hostage."

Controlling the sudden rush of bile, Josiah grabbed his jacket and headed for the door.


Chris stood off to the side, conferring quietly with the principal of the small high school as he attempted to take stock of the situation. The sharpshooter was in position by the Team Leader’s side, listening to each and every word being said. The others watched as Vin nodded every few seconds as he digested the information. When the principal motioned towards the roof, Vin's eyes followed the movement closely.

Approximately one hundred yards to the right of the men stood the remaining team members, awaiting their orders outside of the open rear-end door of a black van, emblazoned on the side with stark white letters, ATF. The undercover agent slipped out of his designer blazer and carefully hung it on a wooden hanger before putting on the flack jacket JD had handed him from the inside of the van. Buck was seated on the fender loading a fresh clip into his handgun. Nathan stood off to the side, his figure tense with all the quiet trepidation that engulfed his consciousness.

"You are troubled, Brother?" Josiah's deep baritone cut through the fringes of Nathan's disquietude, calming him a bit.

"They're just kids, Josiah." Nathan spoke in an oddly detached tone. "How can they do something like this? To other kids?"

These were questions that Josiah had heard too many times in his lifetime. They're only kids. How can we do this to them? Kids who were responsible for the death of his entire unit all those years ago. Kids who were so innocent then how can they be responsible for their actions? Although he'd asked himself many, many times over the years, he had yet to discover a satisfactory answer to that very question.

And so, he uttered the only thing he could, hoping that it would be enough, but knowing that it wouldn't be. "The Lord works in mysterious ways, Nathan."

Nathan turned to the older man, blinking rapidly a few times. ‘Mysterious ways?’ That wasn't something he'd expected to hear from this man. Before he could respond, Chris called the team together.

Chris swallowed deeply before beginning. "There are three boys that need to be . . .neutralized," he said, struggling for a word. Chris proceeded to pass around three blown-up head shots of the targets. "Daniel Simkins. Frank Harrison. And Calvin Herbert." he said as each photo left his hand.

"They arrived on the premises at approximately eight-fifteen and immediately began firing." Chris's voice had become monotonous in his attempt to keep emotion from his voice. Continuing, "Six students were wounded and eighty-three are currently being held in the gym. There doesn’t seem to be any fatalities at this time."

The seven men were somber and silent as they prepared for the events that were sure to change their lives forever.

Chris finally broke the silence. "Well, let's make sure no one else gets hurt." The others nodded in agreement before making their way to the red brick building.


Five minutes later, the team found themselves crouching behind the bleachers in the tiny gym, listening to the boys argue over their hostages.

"I say we kill 'em." One of them intoned. From their vantage point, Chris and Josiah couldn't see who it was that made that suggestion. They glanced up at Vin who was perched in the window high above on the roof, awaiting the signal to move.

A girl began to whimper at this statement and was soon joined by others.

<<Screams could be heard from the village as they approached it.>>

"Shut up!" A burst of fire echoed across the room.

<<Gunfire. Heavy clouds of smoke rolled off the still smoldering huts.>>

Josiah’s mind was brought back to the present when he felt the pressure of Chris's hand on his shoulder. It was their signal to ready. Vin motioned for them to make their move now by rapidly swinging his arm.

<<"Move people! Move!" the Lieutenant hollered.>>

Chris stood and rounded the corner with Josiah close on his heels.

"Freeze! ATF! Drop your weapons and no one gets hurt!"

<<Three youthful faces turned to look at them, not really surprised at their presence.>>

"Yeah, right."

<<They grabbed the closest villagers to them, putting the butt of the handguns against the innocent bystanders’ foreheads. The boy closest to him held a girl no more than four or five in his deathly embrace.>>

"Let them go now and I promise I won't hurt you."

<<The rest of his unit arrived, encircling the boys. They pushed scattered villagers back trying to eliminate the possibility of any more potential hostages.>>

"We aren't stupid."

<<He hesitated. What if he hit the girl when he shot? What if the bullet killed her instead of the boy? Gunfire rang out before he had time to make up his mind. The lieutenant slumped to the ground just as all hell broke loose. Shots were exchanged, and in the end, the boys were led off by soldiers. None of the villagers, miraculously, were hurt.>>


<<He looked up at the man in front of him uncomprehendingly.>>

"Josiah what's wrong with you man?" Nathan asked again. Josiah hadn't moved since the first gunshots went off.

‘Nathan?’ Josiah rubbed his eyes. What had he done? Three boys were being escorted away by a group of men he didn't recognize.

Josiah took a step to the side, trying to clear his head. How long had he zoned out? He didn't even remember where he was. How was he going to explain this to Chris? Josiah's eyes scanned the area quickly looking for his boss, not finding anything. Where was Chris? A split second later, he saw the pool of crimson liquid on the floor and followed the red tracks down until his gaze landed on a pair of booted feet.

"Nathan!" Josiah roared. "Chris is down!"


Beep. Beep. Beep.

The heart monitors made the only noise in the sterile hospital room where the injured man laid unmoving in the bed. Two worried individuals sat vigil next to the bed where Chris lay. Vin had been in the room all night, refusing to leave his friend’s side. Nathan sat in the plastic chair beside him more for Vin's sake than anyone else's. The ex-medic knew that there was nothing he could do for his boss except wait and pray. Out in the waiting room, JD and Buck flipped through the two-year old magazines unseeingly. For once, the two lively men were not saying much.

Back at the office, Josiah and Ezra sat behind computers, tapping away at their keyboards. Somehow the job of filling out the required reports about the incident had ended up being their job. Neither man was complaining since the thankless task kept them from thinking of more unpleasant things.

Ezra leaned back in the uncomfortable chair, rubbing his strained eyes and stretching his back as the computer saved his file. Straightening up from the uncomfortable confines of the desk, the younger man looked across the room to where Josiah sat silently pecking away. Ezra noted with concern that the older man looked terrible. He had dark circles that hung in bags under his usually crystalline eyes. His skin had an unnatural pallor to it, one normally associated with the dead or dying.

"Mr. Sanchez, how are you feeling?" The question had slipped out of his mouth before he could stop it. Immediately, the southerner chastised himself for sounding so blunt.

Josiah looked over at the undercover agent with bloodshot eyes. "I'm fine, Ezra. Just need some sleep. " he replied adding as he turned back to his work, "Thank you for asking."

Ezra knew that his friend was lying. He made his living by being able to read people and tell when they were lying. Besides, he'd said the same thing more than once and not meant it. Ezra gave his friend a long studied glance before turning back to finish his work.


It was pure chance that Josiah was the one who was with Chris when he finally woke up. Vin had been dragged out of the room kicking and screaming by Nathan just an hour earlier so that the sharpshooter would get a few precious hours of rest in the hospital lounge. The others were out somewhere eating, leaving Josiah to keep the vigil over their fallen leader.

"How long?" Larabee croaked, immediately deducing the reason for his being in the colorless room.

"Two days," Josiah evenly replied, standing and walking over to the bed. Chris closed his eyes and sighed. For a moment Josiah thought he had lapsed back into unconsciousness once more until Chris's voice pierced the silence once more.

"The others?" the man forced out through clenched teeth. "Those kids?"

"No one is dead, if that's what you mean. The six who were wounded are all in stable condition."

"S'Good." Chris lisped. "Josiah?"



"For what?" unable to fathom the reason why he deserved Chris' thanks. Dammit, his lack of attention to the situation at hand had gotten the man shot.

"For backing me up. At the school. Couldn't have done it without ya." the voice from the bed was getting weaker as the blue eyes drifted shut.

"I'll go look for the others. Need to tell them you’re awake," Josiah said as he reached for his phone. When the large man glanced over at the bed, he saw that Chris was already fast asleep again.


So, Standish got here before him today. Again. It was becoming habit. The past two weeks since Chris got shot, Josiah hadn't gotten to work on time once. He pulled the key from the ignition.

Josiah walked into the ATF building not really seeing where he was going. Last night the dreams had been especially vivid, he hadn't gotten much sleep. Consequently, he moved like a walking zombie. He looked at his wristwatch, once tight on his thick wrist, now hanging loose. Food no longer held it's appeal with him.

9:15. Shit. Chris was going to have his head. Chris's first day back since . . . the incident. A meeting had been scheduled for eight.

"Looks like I'm late." Josiah said to himself, stepping into the office he shared with six others. Six sets of eyes stared back at him from their desks, the meeting long since adjourned.

"Well, Mr. Sanchez. We were beginning to worry." Ezra's voice greeted him sardonically.

"Not everyone can live on as little sleep as you do Ezra. For that I apologize." Josiah turned to his boss. "Good to see you back Chris."

And for some reason, perhaps they sensed his troubles, no further word was spoken as Josiah made his way to his desk, flopped down his briefcase and headed for the coffee pot.


"Get down!" Josiah's voice reverberated in the office, drawing the stares of the others. He ducked behind his desk, dragging his legs toward his chest. "Shh!" he hissed. "They'll hear you!"

Confusion abounded in the office. What was going on with Josiah? This was definitely abnormal.

"Josiah? Are you feeling alright?" Chris made his way over to the desk, squatting beside the grizzled man. Josiah didn't seem to recognize him, looked right through him as though he weren't there at all.

"Josiah?" The others were around him now, each carrying worried expressions on their faces. Chris put a hand on his shoulder, which Josiah once more ignored. He had a dreamy, frightened expression on his face, like he'd seen a ghost.

"It can't be . . ." Josiah muttered, still staring at something behind Chris. Chris glanced behind him. There stood JD, confused by the statement as much as anyone else in the room.

Josiah stood up slowly, walking dazedly toward JD before embracing the smaller man in a bear-like hug. "Jack! I thought you were dead!"

JD looked behind him, wondering who this 'Jack' was, until it dawned on him that Josiah thought HE was Jack.

"Josiah, my name isn't Jack." JD replied, but the sentiment was lost on Josiah. The man just talked on and on like nothing had happened and no one was there but him and JD. It was more than a little frightening to behold.

"Josiah, please, I don't know what you're talking about. My name isn't Jack."


Two Hours Later

"Josiah, I hate to do this, but I have no other choice. I know . . . " After this Josiah began to tune out. He'd heard this speech before.

<<I'm sorry Sanchez, but after what happened to your unit, we don't think you're stable enough to continue here in Vietnam . . .>>

" . . .just can't let you endanger the team." Chris looked closer at the man in front of him. "Josiah? Did you hear what I said?"

"Yeah. Time off. A vacation." Josiah pulled his gun out of the holster, sitting it on the desk.

"Josiah, I'm just asking you to take a vacation, not suspension." Chris tried to hand the weapon back.

"Maybe you'd better keep it for a while. I'm not sure if I trust myself." With that, Josiah turned and left the office building.



That he couldn't handle his job was crazy. He'd been doing it for years. He was a decorated officer, a veteran of a foreign war, a . . .

"A what, Sanchez? After all these years, all that you've done, what is there? What defines you? Vietnam vet? Profiler? ATF agent?" he sighed into his glass. "It's all worth shit. You're just a big, over the hill nothing." A big, crazy, over the hill nothing.

Josiah tossed back the remains of his drink and motioned at the barkeep to pour him another.

Vacation. He snorted.

"This seat taken?"

Josiah looked up from his hunkered position at the bar to get a better view of the person addressing him.


JD didn't wait for a reply, he just hopped up onto the stool next to the older man and ordered a beer.

They sat in silence for a minute, neither sure what to say. JD, finally gathering his thoughts into a coherent sentence, broke the awkward silence between them.

"I'm not mad at you Josiah." It came out weird, not like he'd intended at all. But JD pressed on, afraid that if he didn't continue, he'd never finish. "I mean, all the guys, they might think you're going nuts or something but . . ." JD stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean that the way it sounded. I just mean . . ."

"Save it JD." Josiah's voice, colored by the liquor. "I got Chris shot, and I thought you were a dead guy. The last thing I need from you or anyone else right now is pity." Josiah stood up suddenly, tossing a few bills on the counter. He made it two steps to the door before stumbling, and grabbing onto the edge of the bar.

JD was there in an instant, under his right arm for support.

"JD . . ."

"YOU save it, Josiah. Come on, I'll drive you home." They left the bar haltingly, JD struggling under the heavier weight of his friend, but the weight for some reason, didn't seem that crushing.


Josiah awoke Saturday morning with a splitting headache. The small amount of light filtering into the room increased the pain behind his eyes tenfold. He groaned as he sat up, wondering where exactly here was. He glanced about the room almost immediately becoming aware of his surrounding.

"The CDC." he muttered, remembering JD dragging him home last night after finding him drunk at the bar.

"Mornin' Josiah." JD's voice cut loudly into the room. Josiah winced at the sound, one that normally would be considered quiet. But not, as Ezra would say, after one "imbibed such mass quantities of alcohol." Yup, whiskey will do that to a person. Josiah made a mental note to remember that the next time he saw it fit to drown his sorrows in a bottle.

"Good Morning, Brother Dunne. Would it be too much to trouble you for a few Tylenol?" JD produced a small white bottle and a glass of water at this, with a flourish.

"Already ahead of you on that one, Josiah." he said as Josiah took the items.

Josiah downed three of the red and yellow pills quickly, hoping that the medicine would act faster if he swallowed quicker. "Thanks."

JD sat on the couch beside his friend. "I would have taken you to your place, but this was closer and I thought you might blow chunks in Buck's car."

Josiah chuckled at that. JD certainly had a way with words. Just like Jack . . .

". . . right?" JD finished.

"I'm sorry, what?" Josiah turned to face the boy, trying hard to pay attention.

"I asked you if you would be alright." Josiah just nodded in reply, not completely trusting the croak of his voice.

They sat for a long moment, once again lost in the uneasiness that existed between them. Josiah never noticed before how little the two of them talked. He knew so very little about him. And his mind tacked on unbiddened, just like Jack . . .

<<"Hey Sanchez! Heads up!" A pack of cheap cigarettes came sailing over his way, thrown by his friend, and landed in his lap.

"Thanks Allis." Sanchez tore the top of the wrapper from the box, taking the first cigarette for himself and handing the pack to Allis as he say down beside him. "Hope you got a light. Damned rain's ruined my matches."

"When have I not, Mr. Sanchez?" Allis produced a silver and blue Zippo lighter, tossing his near black hair. The whole unit was in desperate need of a razor. Sanchez himself hadn't shaved in a month and he was one of the lucky ones. They smoked in silence, enjoying the company and the taste of real American tobacco, a taste not enjoyed by the men in his unit for quite a long time. Sanchez inhaled deeply, drawing the dusty flavored smoke into his lungs.

"How's Emma?" Sanchez finally asked his companion, not really wanting to break the silence between them, but concerned enough about his friend to ask. The last letter Allis got from his girlfriend hadn't sounded too promising.

Allis snorted once before replying. "Well, got myself a "Dear Jack" letter last night." Allis drug heavily on the cigarette, before flicking the butt away and tapping another out of the pack. "I just can't take the not knowing anymore. It's tearing me up inside. Then there's Louis. He's here, and he fights for what he believes in . . ." Allis said in a sing-song voice, mocking the letter he'd received. "What does she really think? I'm here because I DON'T fight for what I believe in? For crying out loud, it was her idea in the first place that I even enlist. Fights for what he believes in, my ass . . . I bet this Louis guy's one of them damned hippies, don't even bathe frequently."

"What the hell are you talking about Jack? YOU don't bathe frequently." Sanchez chuckled, trying to lighten the mood. Allis would only get himself worked up over this.

Allis smiled at the man beside him. "Takes one to know one, Stinky Sanchez." They both laughed at the juvenile kidding. "Besides, what kind of pussy-ass name is "Louis" anyway?" Allis looked at Sanchez, smiling. "Come on, don't pull a "Are you alright?" bit on me, gramps. I'm over her really. It was great while it lasted. I'll always have the memories. There are other fish in the sea, Sanchez."

"Yeah, and you smell like 'em too." Sanchez tapped another cigarette on his knee, and grabbed for the lighter.

The light mood was cut off abruptly as a contingent of green-fatigued Viet-Cong melted out of the tall grass and into the unit's small camp. Shots were off before any warnings could be belted out. Josiah and Allis fell to the ground, frantically loading clips into their rifles.

"Shit, shit, shit . . ." The words tumbled out of both men's mouths as the gunfire raged. Screams echoed around the area.

"Drop it." A heavily accented voice said from behind the pair. The two compatriots swallowed hard, laying their weapons on the ground, and turning over slowly. A soldier, maybe sixteen years old, held an automatic rifle over them. And then the boy fired. Sanchez felt the bite of a bullet in his leg, as he reached for his rifle and shot the young soldier in the chest. He watched with sick glee as the boy fell to the ground, dead.

"Shit. Allis, you alright?" Sanchez turned to look at his friend. But all that greeted him was the bullet-ridden corpse of a man staring blindly into the sun. . "Jack!">>


Josiah snapped awake with a jolt. He must have fallen back asleep on the couch while he was talking to JD. He hoped the kid didn't take it as an insult.

The headache he'd had earlier seemed to have receded a bit, allowing Josiah to get up without the blood rushing to his head. He made his way to the kitchen where he heard the tell-tale noises of cooking.

"Sorry about that JD. Didn't mean to conk out on you there." Josiah leaned on the edge of the counter near where JD stood scrambling eggs.

"Hey no sweat. Hope you don't mind scrambled. I can't make anything else."

Josiah wondered what prompted this from JD. The kid was usually the one getting mothered, not the other way around. "You don't have to do this JD."

JD grinned at the older man as he dished the yellow chunks out on two plates. "Like I said, no sweat, Josiah, really. It's Saturday afternoon, I wouldn't be doing anything anyway. Besides, Buck is still out with whoever he was with last night and I could use the company." The kid walked the plates over to the messy table, piled high with dirty dishes, papers, and an assortment of other objects.

Josiah sat without comment and began to pick at the eggs.

"What, do they taste funny or something?" JD asked when he noticed that Josiah wasn't eating much.

Josiah sighed, " No, they're great JD. I just haven't been eating much lately." He took another bite before putting his fork down.

"You want to talk about it?"

Josiah sighed again. No, he didn't really want to 'talk about it', but he owed the kid that much. If he had dragged someone's ass out a bar last night, he'd certainly want to know why the guy got so plastered in the first place. So he decided to tell him. It couldn't hurt, right?

"You know I served in Vietnam?" Josiah looked over at JD, who nodded. They'd all read each others' profiles. One of the first things on Josiah's was his discharge from the Army.

"I'm sure you know that we had to do a lot of . . . unpleasant things over there. Things that aren't ethical even in a war." JD nodded again, allowing Josiah to continue uninterrupted. "We killed many people. Innocent people."

"Things like that happen in a war Josiah, there's nothing you could do about it." JD said, thinking that Josiah's nightmare's sprung from the actions of others.

"No, that's not what I'm saying JD. I know innocent people die. I know I couldn't save them all. But I was personally responsible for the death of a boy. A kid, JD. One only a few years younger than you."

JD was stunned into temporary silence. Josiah continued on in a haunted voice. "Me and Allis," He paused, looking at JD, "Jack Allis, we were sitting around, talking, and they attacked. From all sides, there was no warning. We hit the ground, trying to load, but this kid came up from behind; surprised us. By the time the firefight was over, I had a bullet hole in my leg, the kid had one in his chest, and Jack . . . Jack had one in his head."

It all made sense then. Josiah's hesitation at the school, why he had so many nightmares. It wasn't that he had to kill a kid, as much as he couldn't save another. He knew without asking that this Jack was younger than Josiah.

"Allis, he looked like me, didn't he?" JD asked him, a tremor in his voice.

"Yeah, kid. Jack looked a hell of a lot like you." Josiah toyed with the remainder of the eggs on his plate, pushing them to one side. Food seemed less and less appetizing by the moment.

JD didn't know what to say about that. How could he comfort someone that didn't really need comfort? So he opened his mouth with the only thing he could think of, the most cliche saying in the book.

"There was nothing you could have done Josiah. It wasn't your fault. Sometimes, things like this just happen."

Josiah slammed a fist down on the table, the dishes rattling from the force. "Dammit JD! You weren't there! You don't know! He was right next to me when he died!"

JD was shocked speechless. Josiah never so much as raised his voice. To see the man explode was a fearful sight indeed.

"Hey what's all the commotion?" A cheerful voice, Buck's broke into the room.

Josiah stood, wiping his mouth with the paper napkin JD set out for him. "Nothing. I was just leaving. Thank you for your hospitality Brother Dunne." Josiah made a hasty exit.


"Come on Ezra! How about letting someone else win for a change?" JD complained loudly during their weekly poker game.

"Life shall continue Mr. Dunne, even if you cease to win."

The seven men sat in Buck and JD's den, playing poker, drinking beer and arguing over the previous night's football game. Ezra, as always, was winning and having a grand time doing it.

Josiah sat off to the side, wondering how he got roped into this. Actually, that wasn't a fair statement. He didn't mind coming here; like the others, he actually enjoyed it. It was just the mood he was in. That's what he got for mulling over the past all day. When JD called him earlier today to ask him to come, he'd almost told the kid that he had other plans. Something stopped him though, and here he was. That something being a much needed apology to JD, which he'd done as soon as he stepped in the door.

"Ha! Beat ya, didn't I?" JD's voice betrayed his exuberance at beating the card sharp.

Josiah grinned behind the mouth of his beer bottle. Too bad Ez let you win, he thought smirkingly. Josiah swigged on his beer, noticing belatedly that it was empty. "Hey, we got any more beer?" he asked.

Buck lifted the lid of the red Coleman cooler. "Uh, nope. Nothing in here."

"Anyone feel like going for more beer?" He looked around the room, the others all neatly avoiding his gaze. "Well, don't everyone talk at once." he waited another second. "Looks like I'm making a run." Josiah grabbed his keys and was on his way out the door when Ezra called behind him.

"Wait Josiah. I'll go with you. These miscreants seemed to have imbibed my portion of the night's libations due to the absence of more 'Milwaukee's Beast' . . ."

"That's 'Milwaukee's Best' Ezra." Vin called, rising readily to the bait.

Ezra smirked on his way out the door.


To his credit, Ezra waited until the way back before asking.

"Mr. Sanchez, I have been noticing that, of late, you haven't been functioning at peak performance." Ezra began, drawing out into a mile what could have been said in a few words.

"You mean when I started talking to a ghost last week?" Josiah asked.

"Yes, that and the incident at the high school . . ."

"When I got Chris shot." Josiah finished matter-of-factly.

"I didn't say that, Josiah."

"You thought it." It wasn't a question.

Ezra sighed, exasperated. "All I wanted to know is if you needed someone to talk to. God knows you've done it enough for me."

Josiah thought about it for a long minute.

<<I'll always have the memories.>>

"Are you sure you're okay Josiah?" Ezra asked after Josiah didn't reply.

<<Life shall continue . . . even if you cease to win.>>

Finally, he answered the other man. "You know, I think I'm fine."

Josiah didn't talk after that. He just drove toward the CDC with a stupid little grin on his face. No, he wasn't better, nor would he ever be. But for the first time in nearly thirty years, Josiah knew there would be no bad dreams.

And that, was something to grin about. Maybe this vacation thing could be fun after all . . .


The End