Counting Days 

by Debra Noellert

 

 

Disclaimer: I don't own Without A Trace. Jerry Bruckheimer Television and CBS Productions have that privilege. I'm just borrowing it for fun. No money was made. I don't own Tylenol. Medication should only be taken under a doctor's supervision.

 

Notes: This story is a sequel to my earlier venture Letting Go. So it will make a lot more sense if you read that one first. In fact, you could probably consider this a bit of an Alternate Reality, since I got tired of waiting for TPTB to resolve Martin's drug problems and decided to resolve them myself; thus taking a sharp left turn from canon after "When Darkness Falls". Thank you to Julie for her work as beta. Warnings: a bit of bad language.

 

 

Day 4: (Monday) Martin probably shouldn't have driven to work this morning. He'd been distracted with how he looked; planning what he was going to say. He barely remembered the drive in. On the other hand, the idea of accepting Danny's offer of a ride seemed too clingy and dependent. After finding a parking spot he ended up making two trips back to his car for forgotten items such as his wallet and cell phone. It was probably a good thing that Jack was putting him on desk duty. As scattered as he was, he wasn't in any condition for field work.

 

Martin was almost to the elevators before he noticed Jack standing beside them watching him speculatively. He wasn't entirely surprised to find one of his coworkers waiting to accompany him up to missing persons, but he'd expected it to be Danny.

 

"Danny's upstairs getting coffee for everyone," Jack volunteered.

 

Martin nodded, ducking his head and wondering when he'd become so damn easy to read. Sure, Jack had years of experience reading others, but up until a couple of days ago he'd managed to keep a major drug addiction hidden from everyone he worked with. It wasn't that he was proud of what he'd done, but at least he hadn't been broadcasting his every thought to those around him, as Jack's comment seemed to imply.

 

After entering the elevator and pushing the button for their floor, Jack asked, "Ready to head into the lion's den?"

 

"I guess," came Martin's unenthusiastic reply. Coming clean to the whole team had seemed like such a good idea Friday night. Now Martin almost wished Jack had fired him just so he could avoid telling the others how pathetic he was. It really shouldn't be stressing him out this much. Jack already knew about his addiction. Danny knew. Though Vivian hadn't said anything directly, they were all sure she had figured it out Friday night when she dropped off the chicken soup. "Damn it!"

 

"What's wrong?" asked Jack.

 

"I . . . I forgot Viv's soup container in my car," Martin replied, a bit embarrassed at his outburst.

 

"I'm sure Viv won't mind waiting until lunch for you to go back and get it," Jack smiled indulgently, hoping to ease Martin's frazzled state.

 

The gesture was lost on Martin, who was already back to thinking about the upcoming meeting; rehearsing what he was going to tell the others. He was really only telling Sam and Elena, after all. Elena was new to the team, he hardly knew her. She seemed nice enough, but in the end her reaction to the revelation of his addiction wouldn't really affect him either way. Was he panicking this much just over the thought of telling Samantha?

 

"Martin?" Jack's voice jerked Martin back to reality. Jack's intent gaze was a bit concerned as he continued to hold the elevator doors open.

 

How the elevator had reached their floor and opened its doors without Martin noticing, he wasn't quite sure. "Right, sorry," Martin murmured stepping into the hallway.

 

"You need to relax, Martin." Jack tried again to offer support. He'd expected this morning to be hard for Martin. But he hadn't expected Martin to look as brittle as cracked glass, just waiting for a stiff breeze to shatter it. "Just remember you've already taken the hardest step," referring to Martin's entering rehab.

 

Martin nodded and reminded himself that regardless of what was about to happen, he had friends who would stand by him.

Satisfied, Jack moved down the hall, with Martin falling in step. A curt, "My office," to the rest of the team brought them along behind.

Danny brought up the rear, locking the door to prevent interruptions. He presented cups of coffee to Jack and Martin, and then stood at Martin's side in silent solidarity. Jack made the unusual move of settling on the couch. Vivian followed his lead, easing back into the cushions while sipping her own warm brew. Elena snagged one of the chairs by Jack's desk looking somewhat puzzled. This certainly wasn't how they usually started their workweek.

 

"What's going on Jack?" asked Sam, standing beside the couch. She was more than a little confused by the mixed signals floating about the room. That confusion only deepened when instead of answering Jack's eyes darted to Martin.

 

Martin forced down a gulp of coffee, cleared his throat and admitted, "Actually, I'm the one that wants; needs to tell you . . . some things." Damn, this speech had sounded so much better when he'd practiced it in his head earlier. "There are going to be some schedule changes for me. My hours will be cut back and I won't be doing any field work, for a couple weeks," Martin's eyes met Jack's, "maybe longer."

 

"God, Martin." Sam took a hesitant step towards Martin. "How sick are you?"

 

"Sick?" Damn again, Sam had taken his absence Friday and drawn the wrong conclusion. "Not sick, really. I, uhm, I checked myself into rehab on Friday." Vivian nodded encouragingly, while comprehension dawned on Elena's face. Only Sam still seemed confused.

 

"Drug rehab," Martin clarified, "specifically the Phoenix Center."

 

Surprisingly it was Elena who broke the silence. "They have a really good program," she volunteered. "A friend of mine went through there and they helped her build a new life. She said every person working at the Center was top notch."

Martin smiled, surprised at how pleased he was to have someone else confirm his own assessment of the Center.

 

"But you're not a drug addict," came Samantha's belated denial.

 

"I wish I could agree with you, but if I did I'd be lying. I'm hooked on painkillers." Martin wasn't sure which hurt more, saying those words or hearing Samantha deny his problem.

 

"I'm assuming," Vivian entered the conversation, "that since you're here right now that you've enrolled in one of their out-patient programs?" Her gentle but insistent tone reminded Martin of an interview she'd once run on a traumatized child.

 

"Yeah, I have to attend meetings or therapy before and after work every day for the next couple weeks, that's part of why my schedule is being limited. They'll also be calling me here to monitor my progress." Martin immediately wished he could take that last statement back. It made him sound like a three-year-old that needed to be checked up on rather than a mature independent adult. "I figured, since you'll be the ones picking up my slack, you had a right to know what was going on."

 

"Just so we're all on the same page here," Jack spoke up for the first time. "Martin's addiction to painkillers and his enrollment in a rehab program are not common knowledge. No one outside this room knows about it and for the most part it's going to stay that way."

 

"For the most part?" tested Vivian.

 

"Martin will tell his family when he's ready. In the mean time his caseworker suggested finding a psychiatrist here that could pinch-hit if Martin started having any problems. I was going to talk to Dr. Harris later today," explained Jack.

 

"Why don't you let me," offered Vivian. "If you want to keep this off the record," Martin's nod confirmed her guess; "I already have an appointment with her after lunch to go over a case. I can test the waters and see how she reacts with less chance of raising suspicion if she's disagreeable."

 

"Works for me," said Jack. He hadn't been looking forward to jousting with the all too observant doctor while Martin's career hung in the balance, even if he did think she could help. "Now, I think it's time you let me have my office back. I want the last of the paperwork for the Allison Brands case on my desk in three hours." Jack rose from the couch and unlocked his door dismissing the team.

 

Samantha was the last to leave. Pausing beside Jack she whispered, "I just can't . . . This is Martin we're talking about."

Jack could understand why Sam was having a hard time accepting Martin's condition. He wasn't sure he'd have believed it himself if he hadn't walked in on the middle of Martin trying to detox. "It will work itself out," was the best assurance he could offer.

 

Day 6: (Wednesday) Dr. Elizabeth Zimmer made another note. The session was almost done and she could tell Martin was eager to leave. Not that she blamed him. They'd been delving into his past, re-examining the events around his initial bout with addiction, something he was still quite resistant to talking about. Deciding to let it go for now she asked, "Have you told your family that you've entered a drug rehabilitation program?"

 

"Actually, yeah," Martin straightened in his seat, glad to be talking about something - anything - else. "I had a long talk with my Uncle Roger and my cousins Jamie and Brenda last night. They were really supportive. I think Uncle Roger felt guilty for not spending more time with me after the shooting, but I explained to him that's not how I ended up addicted."

 

Zimmer made another notation. "What about your parents? Have you considered telling them yet?"

 

For a moment Martin absurdly wished they were back to talking about his childhood trauma. "I thought I'd wait until I could tell them face to face."

 

"So when do you plan to have this face to face with them?" the doctor asked.

 

"I already had plans to visit them during the last weekend of this month. By then I'll have almost a month of sobriety. It will be as good a time as any to tell them." Or as bad a time as any, he thought to himself.

 

"Do you think your parents will be upset that you waited so long to talk to them?" Zimmer prodded.

 

"My father will be disappointed no matter when I tell him." Was that bitterness in his voice? Get a grip! "My mother will probably be . . . relieved to know the crisis is over and I'm already working on a fix for the problem."

 

"Well, I think we'll end here for now. I believe Rachel has you scheduled for a workshop after work this evening." Dr. Zimmer reminded.

 

"And then an N.A. meeting afterwards," Martin confirmed. He offered his hand in farewell and headed out as quickly as he could. He'd never thought the day would come when he looked forward to desk duty, but right now he couldn't wait to get to work.

 

Walking through the bullpen, Jack noticed Danny waiting by his printer. "Is that your expense sheet?"

 

Danny snatched up the paper as soon as it stopped printing and turned to dig through a pile of paperwork on his desk. "No . . . this is the expense sheet," Danny replied, pulling a page out of the stack and handing it to his boss. Noting that the only other person in the vicinity was Elena, Danny waved the newly printed paper. "This is my attempt to be a good sponsor and help ease the road with Martin's parents. Though something tells me his dad isn't going to be as cool about this as he was when Martin was thirteen."

 

"You never know," commented Jack, though he too expected Victor to pretty much go ape-shit. "We'll be there to pick up the slack if Senior drops the ball."

 

Danny smiled. "Anyway, on the off chance his parents want to be supportive paragons, I looked up the Nar-Anon meetings near their home in D.C."

 

"Nar-Anon?" asked Jack, thinking it sounded familiar and he should probably know what it was.

 

"Yeah, it's like Al-Anon or Alateen. Basically it's a support group for the friends and family members of addicts." Danny explained.

 

"They any help?" Somehow Jack just couldn't see Victor pouring out his woes to a group of strangers.

 

"I've never actually been to one of those meetings, Jack, but Sylvia told me they've helped her through some rough spots," Danny answered. Jack looked thoughtful as he took the expense sheet back to his office.

 

The Narcotics Anonymous meeting was wrapping up. The group had spent a fair amount of time offering support to young man named Mike who, despite a year of sobriety, was particularly shaken because his dorm roommate had thought it would be hilarious to spike his orange juice with vodka this morning. Mike had recognized the flavor and spit it out, but the taste had been enough to send him into a dangerous spiral of obsessive thoughts. Though Martin himself had stayed quiet, several people had spoken up with suggestions of how to cope and even how to deal with the roommate, though some of those suggestions weren't entirely legal.

 

Shrugging into his coat, Danny asked, "So have you given any thought to talking at a meeting?"

 

"No, not really," Martin started to look worried. "Is that something I should have started doing already?"

 

"Relax, Martin," Danny cut him off before he could get too wound up. "There's no rule about speaking up at a meeting. I didn't do it until I was four months in and the meeting got extended thanks to blizzard conditions. Some people never talk much at meetings. I was just wondering if you'd thought about it."

 

Entering the hall Martin did a double take when he recognized one of the people leaving the room across from them. "Jack?" Danny's eyes followed the path of Martin's.

 

Jack glanced over at the sound of Martin's voice. His let the corner of his mouth lift in a small show of recognition and then returned his attention to the elderly lady he'd been chatting with. A moment later the two parted with a friendly handshake and Jack joined his two off duty agents. "Hello, boys."

 

"Hi," Martin returned somewhat uncertainly. "Jack, what are you doing here?"

 

Jack jerked a thumb towards a sign hanging beside the door he'd just exited. "Nar-Anon meeting."

 

"But isn't that the support group for family members?" Martin asked.

 

"And friends," Jack insisted, letting those two words make his entire argument.

 

Smiling as he looked from his shocked younger friend to his determined older friend, Danny threw an arm around both of their shoulders. "I don't know about the two of you, but I'm starved." Steering them towards the parking lot with minimal resistance, Danny

continued, "It just so happens that I know a great little Cuban restaurant not far from here." Friends were wonderful things. Well worth sharing the secret location of his favorite restaurant with.

 

Day 9: (Saturday) Jack honked his car horn as soon as Martin stepped out of the Phoenix Center's main doors.

Looking towards the sound Martin quickly jogged over and climbed in. "What's going on? Danny was supposed to pick me up." At least that's what Danny assured him when he'd dropped him off eight hours ago. Martin had originally planned to drive himself; unfortunately, his truck's alternator had decided to give out.

 

"Danny got a call about his nephew needing to go to the hospital, something about not being able to get a hold of Sylvia." Jack checked his rear and side view mirrors before pulling into traffic. "He said you just needed a ride to the mechanic's, to pick up your truck."

 

"Yeah, they should be done with it by now," assured Martin. "Do you know what's wrong with Nicky?"

 

"The impression I got was he just needed stitches. Honestly, I think Danny was more concerned about Sylvia being unreachable," explained Jack.

 

Martin nodded in understanding. Since joining the missing persons unit he'd too become hypersensitive to friends and family being out of touch. The two settled into a companionable silence while classic rock played in the background. Just a few miles from the repair shop, Martin's cell began to trill. Identifying the caller, Martin flipped it open with a, "Danny, how's little Nicky doing?"

 

"Not too bad. His right arm now has 15 stitches he can show off to all his friends. Hopefully, next time he'll think twice before taking a bet to jump over a bunch of broken stairs." The scolding tone in Danny's voice led Martin to think that Nicky was nearby and Danny was trying to reinforce the lesson.

 

"Fifteen stitches in his right arm," Martin informed Jack. "Were you able to track down Sylvia?"

 

"Yeah, she got here a few minutes ago. They were doing some construction at her company and one of the workers cut the telephone line," explained Danny. "Is it okay if we bump our plans back to tomorrow? Sylvia invited me to dinner tonight to thank me for helping out, and Nicky says she's making Arroz con Pollo." Martin had learned Arroz con Pollo was one of Danny's favorite meals just the other night when he'd inhaled a plate full of it at the Cuban restaurant he'd taken Martin and Jack to. "Unless you feel like I'm bailing on you." Danny back-stepped at Martin's quiet.

 

"No way," insisted Martin. "Spend time with your family. Make sure your nephew knows better than to accept stupid dares. I'll just find something else to do tonight." It took a few more reassurances, but Danny soon hung up to join his family. During the conversation Jack had arrived at Martin's mechanic's shop and pulled into the tiny parking lot.

 

"The taxi ride is over," quipped Jack. "Are you good from here?"

 

"Yeah, I'll be fine," said Martin. Truthfully, he was a tiny bit nervous. He'd been so busy recently juggling work, rehab and N.A. meetings that he'd barely been alone except to sleep. While it helped him avoid dwelling on darker thoughts, it didn't leave much room for self-examination, something Martin knew he needed to work on if he wanted a serious chance at long-term recovery.

 

"Don't be afraid to call if you need anything," Jack ordered in a suitably gruff voice.

 

"I got it," Martin assured. He headed in to pay for his car, thinking he needed to pick up a pad of paper on his way home. It was time to start Step 4: Make a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

 

Danny leaned back so Nicky could clear away his plate. As soon as it was scraped clean and deposited in the sink Nicky returned to ask, "Can I watch TV?"

 

"Yes," replied his mother, "but only for thirty minutes. Don't forget we have church tomorrow." The last was spoken to the boy's back as he dashed out of the kitchen to catch the end of his favorite show.

 

"The meal was delicious," complimented Danny. "You really out did yourself."

 

Sylvia smiled as she refilled his water glass. "It's a small thank you for the way you looked out for Nicky today. He loves spending time with you." Her statement was true enough. The boy had been scolded several times during the meal for talking with his mouth full as he tried to regal his uncle with all the exciting adventures only a boy can have. "I know you have a busy life," she continued.

 

"Not too busy for my nephew," Danny protested.

 

"Nicky told me you had to cancel your plans to stay with him," said Sylvia.

 

"Not canceled, just postponed." Danny toyed with his glass. "Martin will be fine for one day."

 

Sylvia must have heard some doubt in his voice because she noted, "You're worried about your friend."

 

Danny shook his head; no way was he getting into Martin's addiction with Sylvia. She would understand, being married to an addict, but it had to be Martin's choice who to tell and when to tell them. Danny wouldn't betray that confidence. "Martin's been going through a rough patch lately," he explained vaguely. "So I've been hanging with him more, trying to help him out." Honestly he and Martin had been practically living in each other's pockets the past week. The first few weeks of sobriety could meld a truly intense bond between sponsor and the one being sponsored. It always did for Danny. Given time Martin would become more competent with his coping skills and less dependant on Danny's support. The bond would mellow and shift below the surface, waiting until it was needed again. Or it could be broken if Martin surrendered to his addiction. Danny immediately tossed that thought aside. Martin was going to survive his addiction. Danny wasn't willing to accept anything less.

 

"Can I ask you a question?" Sylvia's tone implied that whatever her question was, it was going to be a doozy. "You're willing to help your friend Martin, and you've got a job where you help strangers everyday. Yet when Rafie was out we hardly saw you. I'm not trying to accuse, I just don't understand. How can you give so much to others, but offer nothing to your brother?"

 

"But I did," argued Danny even as he recognized she had no way of knowing his history with Rafie. "For years I gave him everything I had to give; all of my love and faith and trust. I made excuses for him and lied for him, all the while hoping, someway, somehow he'd find a way to make things better, even as they kept getting worse. By the time I stopping making excuses and realized how far he'd fallen . . . Sylvia, I couldn't even keep myself sober much less help someone else."

 

"But what about now? Have you even gone to see Rafie since he went back to jail?" asked Sylvia.

 

Danny just stared at his glass unwilling to look Sylvia in the eye. "Seeing Rafie brings up a lot of bad memories. I was afraid that if I spent too much time around him I'd somehow go back to being that drunk I used to be." Danny finally looked up. "I know it's not fair to Rafie, but I'm just not sure I can stay sober and be his brother at the same time."

 

"But you found him, when no one else could; you kept him from killing himself. I think you're a lot stronger than you give yourself credit for." Sylvia got up to leave the kitchen, but paused beside Danny. "I know your brother misses you."

 

"I'll think about it," was all Danny would give, but it seemed enough to satisfy Sylvia.

 

Day 13: (Wednesday) Martin entered the tech room where Mack was working his computer magic. "Jack said you might be done cleaning up the ATM video footage."

 

"Yeah, just let me pull it up." Mack's fingers danced across the keyboard.

 

"Sure," Martin sighed. He frowned and rubbed his left temple.

 

"You okay?" asked Mack. It hadn't gone unnoticed by the Bureau staff that Martin had been on desk duty for over a week, for no apparent reason. The gossip mill had offered explanations ranging from mysterious illness (a definite possibility if Martin's pale face was any indication) to being punished for insubordination, though Mack didn't buy the last. He'd seen Jack and Martin together just this morning, and they'd been as relaxed and friendly as he'd ever seen them, hardly the behavior of coworkers at odds with each other.

 

"I've spent the last three hours trying to decipher some totally insane accountant's idea of financial records," explained Martin as he continued to rub his forehead.

 

"Ah, creative bookkeeping," Mack assumed Martin meant embezzling or the like.

 

"I wish," grunted Martin. "At least that would make sense. I don't think the person who wrote these up could even add. Between that, the small type and various scribbles in the margins, I've got a monster headache going. I could really use some good news right now."

 

"Well, here we go," Mack motioned to his main monitor. "There wasn't much I could do about picture definition, but I did lighten it, which showed me this." Mack selected the part of the image that showed the unnamed suspect's wrist.

 

"Is that a tattoo?" Martin bent closer.

 

"Yeah, you can't see all of it, but that's definitely the head and part of the body of a serpent tattoo. It might help us identify the suspect."

 

"Good work, Mack," Martin complimented. "Would you print up some photos I could pass on to the rest of the team?"

 

"It will only take a couple minutes." A few more keystrokes and the printer started buzzing.

 

Martin gathered up the copies glad to have a new lead, no matter how small.

 

Martin was half way through the door when Mack's, "Hey, catch," stopped him. Martin snatched the small bottle out of the air with his left hand. "It's for your headache," Mack explained. "Just don't operate any heavy machinery in the next couple hours," Mack instructed somewhat teasingly.

 

Martin stared at the bottle: Tylenol with Codeine No. 3. Codeine was an opiate just like the narcotics in the painkillers he used to take. Of course, this was a much weaker dose. It couldn't be that dangerous. Would it really be wrong to take just one to ease his headache? Two or three would guarantee an end to the headache and maybe even give him a little bit of that mellow, relaxing high that would soften all the edges of an already harsh day. Christ, what am I thinking? I can't take any of these.

 

'Just let go.' Danny's words echoed through Martin's mind as he found the will to ease his grip, letting the innocuous bottle slip to the floor.

 

"Here let me get it." Mack rolled away from his computer to helpfully retrieve the fallen medication.

 

The sudden overwhelming fear that he'd be too weak to refuse if they were presented again had Martin kicking the bottle sideways across the room as though it was a deadly weapon.

 

"What the hell?" Mack jerked back confused and more than a little pissed. All he was trying to do was pick up something a coworker dropped and he nearly got kicked for his trouble.

 

"Don't offer me those," Martin instructed in a shaky voice. "You can't ever offer me those!" A small corner of Martin's mind was aware that his reaction was over the top and would be difficult to explain away. But a much larger part was frustrated and angry. Angry at his own weakness; and at Mack for tempting him, however unknowingly. Frustrated that even after denying himself the drugs he still felt their pull, drawing his gaze, waking a soul deep craving. Feeling that craving grow, Martin turned to leave while he still could. He was forced to stop when he nearly walked into Jack.

 

Everything about Jack's stance said he'd seen enough to know what was going on. Setting a hand on Martin's shoulder, he said, "Go to my office and take a couple minutes to pull yourself together. I'll be there in a few." Jack watched Martin rush from the room, tracking him until he confirmed Martin had followed his instructions. When he turned back to Mack he didn't bother to hide the rage on his face. "Would care to explain," Jack started in a dangerously quiet voice, "just exactly when you became a drug dealer?"

 

"Drug dealer?" Mack's voice cracked with shock. "Whoa, whoa, wait a minute. All I did was offer a friend something for his headache." Mack had seen Jack in bad moods. He'd even viewed one or two particularly intense suspect interviews. But he'd never been the focus for Jack's anger before. When Jack stepped forward into Mack's personal space, forcing Mack to roll his chair back in retreat, Mack decided that an angry Jack Malone was one of the scariest things he'd ever seen.

 

"Something?" Jack's tone demanded an immediate response.

 

"Tylenol." Mack waved to the bottle resting on the floor across the room.

 

Jack's eyes narrowed in disbelief, then he stepped back, moving to retrieve the bottle. Eyes skimming the label, Jack's jaw clenched just before he whipped the bottle at Mack. Mack juggled the light missile a couple times before securing it. "Tylenol with Codeine; that's a narcotic, Mack. What the hell were you thinking? You're not a doctor. You can't give this stuff out to people."

 

"He said he had a headache," defended Mack. "If he didn't want them all he had to do was say 'no thanks'. He didn't have to freak out and kick it across the room. I was just trying to help."

 

"No, you were just offering the drug of choice to an addict with less than two weeks of sobriety under his belt." Jack made the command decision to bring Mack 'in the know'. It was the only way he could see to keep this incident from becoming the newest water cooler topic. As long as Mack felt like he was the wronged party he was likely to complain about what happened. But if he realized that Martin had been acting out of self-preservation he'd probably keep quiet, if asked.

 

"I didn't know," said Mack feeling apologetic and even ashamed of his actions.

 

"No one outside the team is supposed to know. Martin has enough on his plate without having to worry about having the entire Bureau looking down on him. I need to know this incident won't leave this room." Jack's words were more command than plea. He wasn't afraid to use his supervisory position to insure Martin's privacy.

 

"I'm not going to tell anyone," Mack quickly assured, "but Jack you should know that people are talking; at least about Martin being on desk duty. So far the theories are about unknown illnesses and insubordination, but whether someone guesses right or just passes the wrong rumor to the wrong person, it could still mean trouble for Martin."

 

"I'll look out for Martin," replied Jack, glad that Mack was showing a willingness to protect Martin. "You just make sure you get that bottle of pills out of this building." Observing Mack's eager nod Jack headed towards his office.

 

Martin paced back and forth in Jack's office; as he listened to Danny's cell phone go directly to voice mail. "Danny, this is Martin. Call me back as soon as you get this. I need my sponsor." The last sentence was a plea that held more than a bit of desperation. Martin hit 'end' without saying goodbye. He tried sitting down in one of Jack's chairs but that lasted all of about fifteen seconds before Martin was up pacing again.

 

The swoosh of Jack's office door had Martin spinning, expecting to see his boss. Instead Dr. Harris walked in with some folders, heading straight to Jack's desk to drop them off. Martin flashed back to the Monday after he entered rehab, when Vivian had volunteered to assess Harris's willingness to council Martin off the record.

 

Martin sat at one of the smaller tables reviewing the phone records of their newest missing person. Although it was already starting to look like this person might be missing voluntarily rather than due to foul play. Vivian approached with a smile leaning over Martin's shoulder. Martin looked up somewhat nervously, knowing that Vivian had just left a meeting with Dr. Harris where he'd likely been at least one of the topics of conversation.

 

"It's all set," said Viv. "Lisa said she wouldn't report anything about your addiction as long as you keep seeking the help you need and it doesn't compromise your work. You can talk to her anytime you want to." Vivian patted his back before moving away.

 

"Waiting for Jack?" Dr. Harris asked Martin. He nodded stiffly. "Is something wrong?"

 

Martin nearly snorted, "Aside from me overreacting and making complete fool of myself in front of Mack, everything is fine." Yep, all of the counseling he was going through was definitely having a bad influence on him. Every time someone asked him a question he promptly spilled his guts.

 

"Overreactions are often a matter of perspective," the doctor commented non-judgmentally. "Do you want to talk about it?"

 

What a question. Of course, Martin didn't want to talk about it, but at the same time he knew he needed to. Dealing with problems and temptations as they arose was one of the themes that had been pounded into Martin's head over the last several days. It was why he'd called Danny, to talk this through and get his head straight. But Danny wasn't available and Dr. Harris was right here, ready to listen so, what the hell. "Mack noticed I wasn't feeling so well: headache. He gave me some Tylenol, the kind that has Codeine in it." Martin could still feel the weight of the bottle in his hand.

 

"And what did you do?" prompted Dr. Harris. When she'd agreed with Vivian to keep any counseling sessions regarding Martin's addiction off the record, she'd really thought job stress would be the most likely trigger to his addiction. The possibility that a coworker, someone within the FBI, would offer Martin drugs had never occurred to Lisa. It appeared Martin had been similarly caught off guard. This incident could lead to a set back of Martin's recovery if not handled properly.

 

"After imagining scenarios like taking just one or finishing off the bottle, I dropped it, and then I kicked it across the room. I think I might have yelled at Mack." Martin was disturbed to realize he couldn't clearly recall what he'd said to Mack. "Then Jack appeared; told me to come here and calm down."

 

Lisa spared only a small thought for what Jack was likely doing to Mack right now. Her priority was Martin. "Many would say that by refusing Mack's codeine you passed a huge hurtle. Are you more confident about your sobriety, now that it's been tested?"

 

"Maybe I would be it if hadn't been such a near-miss thing; if I wasn't still wishing I could go back and get those pills," confessed Martin as his agitated pacing started anew.

 

"It might help if you looked at it from a different perspective. You told me how close you came to taking the pills, how much you still want them. Now can you tell me why you didn't?" Lisa gently tried to redirect Martin's train of thought. Dwelling on his cravings and how hard they were to resist was the surest path to relapse.

 

"Why?" asked Martin, his pacing halted.

 

"Martin, you're a drug addict who was offered free opiates from someone unaware of your condition. You could have taken several with little to no chance of being caught. Why didn't you?"

 

Martin sat in one of the chairs as he thought about it. "I guess for a moment my mind went back to when Danny found me clinging to that other bottle of painkillers, in my truck. He kept talking to me. Telling me I was stronger than a bunch of pills, that I wasn't alone. 'Just let go,' he said. So I did." Martin's hand mimed the action with his memory. "Then I was back in the tech room and Mack was bending down to pick up the bottle I'd dropped; give it back to me. That's when I kicked it away and told Mack not to give them to me again."

 

"It sounds to me like your reaction was perfectly understandable, given the circumstances." Dr. Harris settled into the chair next to Martin. Vivian had mentioned that the rest of the team was aware that Martin was in rehab, but she hadn't said anything about Danny being the one who helped Martin in that direction. Still, it made sense that Danny would be the first to pick up on signs of addiction, having struggled so long with his own.

 

"I remember when Danny first told me he was an alcoholic," commented Martin. "He said he'd been sober for over seven years but he still had to go to AA meetings twice a week to stay sober. I heard the words, but I just couldn't wrap my mind around what they meant. How do you get to the point where something so consumes your life that even half a decade after you've given it up it still dictates how you live? And now, here I am waiting for it to get better, for the cravings to disappear." Martin dropped his head into his hands running his fingers through his hair in frustration. "I can't seem to get past the idea that it's always going to be this hard."

 

"Perhaps the cravings won't get better but your ability to cope with them will," Lisa pointed out. Martin nodded agreement with her words but didn't look like he believed them. "Have you given any thought to calling your sponsor?" Lisa hoped that reminding Martin he had support he could rely on might help.

 

"It was the first thing I did when I got here, but the call went straight to Danny's voice mail," answered Martin.

Lisa tried not to show her surprise that Danny was Martin's sponsor. Martin seemed to realize what he needed to do; it was life that was interfering with his ability to do so. "What do you think Danny would be telling you to do if he was here right now?"

 

"Quit worrying about the rest of my life and try to focus on getting through the next couple hours," came Martin's immediate response.

Lisa smiled. "Sounds to me like some pretty good ad . . ." Martin's cell phone interrupted Lisa. The relief on Martin's face when he identified the caller told Lisa that Danny was likely the one on the other side of the signal. "Good advice," she reiterated as she stood.

 

"You should listen to your sponsor." Lisa motioned to the cell before turning to the door.

 

"I will, Lisa, thanks," said Martin before hitting the talk button on the phone.

 

Exiting Jack's office, Lisa immediately noticed Jack and Vivian talking a few feet away.

 

Seeing Lisa, Jack asked, "How's Martin doing?"

 

"Better now. I left him talking with his sponsor," Dr. Harris explained. Remembering something Martin said, Lisa had to ask, "Do I want to know what condition Mack is in?"

 

"I left him in one piece, more or less," said Jack. "It was a stupid thing to do, but he didn't mean any harm. Mack's already gone to remove the pills from his office. He also warned me that the rumors were starting to fly about why Martin's on restricted duty."

 

"You can't be that surprised," insisted Vivian. "This is the Federal Bureau of Investigation, curiosity is a pre requisite."

 

"I guess when Danny gets back we can sit down and decide how Martin wants to handle the rumors," murmured Jack.

 

Samantha and Elena approached from the hallway. "Does anybody know what's up with Mack?" asked Sam.

 

"He was very nervous and apologetic when we ran into him in the elevator," added Elena, "but I couldn't figure out what he was apologizing for."

 

"Mack thought he'd help Martin with his headache by offering him Codeine," explained Jack.

 

"Danny's not going to be happy when he hears about that," commented Elena.

 

"I need to start going over the phone records," Sam excused herself from the group. Elena trailed after to help.

 

"That's the third time Sam's left the area when conversation turned towards Martin's addiction," Vivian pointed out.

 

"I've noticed," said Jack. "She's got a worse case of denial than Martin ever had."

 

"Do you want me to talk to her?" asked Dr. Harris.

 

"No," said Jack. "I'll give her a bit more time. If she hasn't accepted the situation by the time Martin is ready to go back out in the field, I'll drag her to Beatrice."

 

"Who's Beatrice?" asked Vivian.

 

"Beatrice is a sweet little old lady I met at my first Nar-Anon meeting. She's also a master of soft interrogation, and better at getting people to face reality than any therapist I've ever met. I'd be seriously trying to recruit her right now if she wasn't already decades past retirement age." Jack found himself smiling as he thought of the tiny 87-year-old spitfire. The muted sound of Martin's laughter drifted to the group. "Sounds like Danny's working his magic."

 

"Indeed," agreed Lisa, "and on that note I'll get back to my office. Jack I left the files we talked about on your desk."

Jack nodded and Dr. Harris walked away. "I thought keeping Martin on desk duty would keep him safe and protected. Getting offered drugs by his coworkers . . . I never saw that one coming."

 

"That's life." Vivian shrugged philosophically. "Learning how to cope with events like this is how Martin's going to learn to live with his addiction," she pointed out. "In regards to our case, I think we need to bring Spielman in for more questioning. His alibi is weak and the more we look into his past the more motive we find."

 

Day 18: (Monday) "I'll put your order in and be back with your appetizers in just a few minutes," declared the twenty-something waitress.

 

Once she'd left the booth, Elena asked, "So what was it that you wanted my help with?"

 

"Well, you know I've been working my way through NA's 12-step-program. Doing things like: admit I have a problem; admit it's a problem I can't deal with on my own," explained Martin.

 

"And you want me to help you with one of these steps," guessed Elena.

 

"Exactly," agreed Martin. "But I don't want you to feel obligated. If you're the least bit uncomfortable just let me know and I'll find someone else to do this with."

 

"Not at all," Elena assured. "So which step are we going to work on?"

 

"Step 5: admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs." Martin paused; letting Elena back out if she wanted to.

 

"Can I ask why you'd want to do this particular step with me?" queried Elena.

 

It was a question Martin was still struggling to answer for himself. It certainly wasn't that that he didn't trust the rest of his team; he trusted them with his life. But the truth was that all of them were treating him different lately, except Elena. "I think part of the reason I'd rather do this with you is because you didn't know me before the ambush, before I got hooked on this crap. Since I've disclosed my addiction Jack's been handling me with kid gloves. Vivian's been mothering me. Danny's probably changed the least, aside from being more vocal about my well-being. But Samantha . . ."

 

Samantha was the team member Martin was most frustrated with. She kept acting like everything was normal until someone mentioned Martin's addiction or the rehab program he was going through. Then she would change the subject or find an excuse to leave the area as fast as she could.

 

When he'd pointed out the behavior to Danny, his friend's response had been, "Not everybody knows how to act around people with addiction."

 

"Sam's never treated you that way," insisted Martin.

 

Danny had countered, "Sam never knew me before AA."

 

Pulling himself back to his explanation to Elena, Martin continued, "Anyway, I don't even want to imagine how they'd act if I told them all the stupid, self-destructive things I did while I was using these past couple months. I mean, Jack's been a real friend lately, but he's also my boss and I've already put him in a bad enough position. The others . . ." Martin struggled to articulate why he couldn't do this with any of the members of their absent team.

 

"You don't want the others to think any less of you than they already do," Elena suggested. "Because we hardly know each other, you don't really care what I think."

 

"It sounds kind of insulting when you put it that way," Martin admitted sheepishly.

 

"Relax, I'm not insulted," assured Elena. "Sometimes it's easier to talk to a stranger. If it wasn't, therapy and counseling wouldn't be nearly so successful."

 

As the appetizers were served, Martin gave Elena a bit of background, telling her what he could remember of the ambush and subsequently waking in the hospital. Then he detailed the excruciatingly slow recovery from his injuries. With their main dishes he admitted first doubling and then quadrupling the number of painkillers he was taking after he was knocked down a flight of stairs and injured again during the Cassidy case. He talked about lying to his doctor's office and a couple local pharmacies to get more drugs. Snatching pain meds from family medicine cabinets and then withdrawing from friends and family so they wouldn't suspect he was using. Martin topped his list of sins with stealing the pain meds from the clinic while he was supposed to be working. By the time they'd declined desert and were finishing their sodas, Martin was relating how he'd almost attacked Danny to get the pain pills back from his partner.

 

"I don't think almost counts," declared Elena. "You might have thought about hurting someone, but I do that every time a telemarketer calls. You never crossed the line from thinking to doing, and that's what really matters."

 

"In that case, I think we're done," said Martin with a relieved sigh. Checking his watch he noted, "We've been gone almost an hour and a half. We should probably get back to the office." Martin pulled out his wallet to pay the bill and tip. "Thanks Elena, I really appreciate this."

 

"I'm glad I could help," said Elena sincerely. "You're a good person Martin." The two left the restaurant to return to the Bureau.

 

Day 25: (Monday) Martin crossed the floor with a bounce in his step that Danny hadn't seen in too long. Taking his chair, Martin spun around once before typing rapidly on his keyboard. "Someone's in a good mood," noted Danny.

Martin flashed a smile at his friend. "Jack just officially okayed me for field duty."

 

"Don't get too excited," warned Danny, "he's likely to hover over you just as much in the field as he has been around here."

 

"Man, I'll take what I can get." Martin never could have imagined how frustrating it would be to be anchored to the office while everyone else was spread to the four winds pursuing leads to their case. Though his return to work after the ambush had been slow, his injuries had limited his impatience. But being forced to ride a desk in relatively good health gave new meaning to the word exasperation. At this point he was willing to do just about anything to get Jack to let him back out in the field.

 

As morning passed Martin went on his first interview with Jack and Vivian. He couldn't help but notice the way the senior agents tended to keep him between them and ask all the questions, leaving him to make notes and look interested.

 

In the afternoon he went out with Danny and Elena, revisiting the scene of a fight involving their missing person and looking for clues that may have been missed in the nearby alley. About halfway through the investigation, Danny casually mentioned to Elena that Martin needed to brush up on his Spanish. The next thing Martin knew his fellow agents were chatting away in Spanish, shooting comments and questions his way as he struggled to keep up. Only their good-natured eagerness to actually teach him, kept Martin's irritation at bay. Martin even got a bit of a break when Danny and Elena started arguing over proper pronunciation. Elena pointed out Danny's Cuban accent even as Danny bemoaned Elena's Puerto Rican one. By the time they got back to the office Martin had a cramp in his side from laughing so hard at the two's antics.

 

When they entered the bullpen Vivian informed them that there were no new leads. Since they'd likely have to wait until morning before their information requests were answered, Jack had already cleared the team to head home for the night. Martin quickly cleared his desk, and was shouldering his backpack when he heard raised voices coming from Jack's office. Through the not-quite-closed blinds he could see Jack and Samantha engaged in a heated argument. Though he couldn't make out what they were saying, Martin suspected the argument was about him.

 

"Don't worry," said Vivian from behind him. "Jack and Sam will straighten things out."

 

"There wouldn't be anything to straighten if I hadn't screwed up," insisted Martin. He hated that his friends were at odds because of him.

 

"True," conceded Vivian. "But you're not responsible for how Samantha chooses to react to the situation. That's all on her." When Martin just kept staring at his coworkers with a crease in his brow, Vivian changed tactics. "Didn't you tell me that you were having dinner with family tonight?"

 

Martin pulled his gaze to Vivian, letting her distraction attempt succeed. "I'm meeting my Uncle Roger at Donatelli's."

 

"Sounds nice," said Vin with just a hint of envy. "So what are you waiting for? Get out of here. The case will still be here when you get back in the morning."

 

"But will the team still be in one piece?" Martin couldn't resist looking back towards his boss's office where Jack and Sam were now regarding each other in stony silence.

 

"I promise," guaranteed Vivian, "our whole team will be here, too. Now quit worrying about everyone else and go enjoy dinner with your Uncle."

 

Martin didn't see any way that Vivian could back up her promise, but he was willing to take it on faith. Besides, if he followed Viv's instructions he'd have enough time to go home and change before dinner.

 

Martin made it down to the parking garage when he heard his name shouted. A second later Danny trotted up beside him. "Any chance I can get you to smuggle dessert out of Donatelli's?"

 

"No way, man. You want dessert, you'll have to go get your own," insisted Martin.

 

"Can't tonight," said Danny more seriously. "I'm going to visit my brother."

 

Martin knew that Danny had been estranged from his brother for a long time. Even now their relationship was, at best, strained, despite Danny having stopped Rafie from committing suicide via heroin overdose. "So how's Rafie doing?"

 

"As well as can be expected," shrugged Danny. He may have been able to talk Rafie out of killing himself, but he couldn't hide all the laws Rafie had broken. Thanks to a good lawyer and a lenient judge Rafie should be out of jail by his baby's second birthday, with good behavior. "I've just been thinking about him a lot lately," admitted Danny.

 

"Wish him well, from me," said Martin as he veered towards his truck.

 

"I will," assured Danny. "See you tomorrow." Climbing into his car, he sat for a minute trying to gather his thoughts. Part of him was still debating whether going to see Rafie was a good idea. Finally, Danny realized that whether it was a good idea or not, didn't really matter. Sylvia had said that Rafie missed his brother, and the truth was, he wasn't the only one. Danny started up the car and began his journey to the prison that was Rafie's current home.

 

Samantha was pissed off, and justifiably so. How dare Jack tell her she wasn't capable of partnering with Martin in the field just because she wasn't willing to treat Martin like some pathetic, loser junkie the way the rest of the team was?

 

The idea of Martin being a drug addict had been unbelievable from the beginning. The more she'd watched Martin those first few days the more certain she became that Danny and Jack were blowing the situation totally out of proportion. Maybe Martin had taken more pain pills than he should have, to get back to work and in the field, but that didn't necessarily make him an addict, anymore than going on a drinking binge made someone an alcoholic. While Samantha might not be an expert on addiction, she did know that it took longer than three days to withdraw from a major drug habit. Since Martin had returned to work Monday with his announcement about entering rehab, she hadn't seen shakes, sweats, mood swings or any of the other symptoms she'd expect to witness from someone suffering through withdrawal. Instead, aside from being a bit quieter than usual, Martin was the same friend he'd always been.

 

Perhaps Danny was letting his own past color his perceptions of Martin. Maybe Jack was just erring on the side of caution. Honestly, she didn't care. Martin seemed willing to go along with the others, and so would she if that's what it took to get her friend back in the field. Only now that Martin was in the field, Jack was saying that he wouldn't partner her with Martin because she was dangerous to him. Dangerous because she refused to accept his situation for what it really was.

 

That was when Samantha exploded, hissing out, "This is so insane. You and Danny have somehow convinced Martin he's a drug addict when he couldn't possibly be any such thing. Addicts lie, steal, ruin their careers and destroy their families. Martin hasn't done any of those things. Why don't you just admit you've been overreacting?"

 

Jack coldly replied, "If you'd ever bothered to ask Martin, you'd know there was a lot more going on than what you've seen on the surface."

 

"Fine, Jack. You tell me what haven't I seen? Or better yet, what you have seen that makes you so sure Martin is an addict?" demanded Sam.

 

Jack clinched his jaw, trying to rein in his anger. "I'd be happy to tell you everything. All you have to do is come to a Nar-Anon meeting with me so I can explain." Jack hated that Sam had forced a confrontation here at the office. Even though he'd known she wouldn't like the things he had to say, he hadn't expected her to explode like this. There were too many things he couldn't say without risking Martin's career, and the glass walls surrounding them were hardly soundproof.

 

"Right," she scoffed. "So you can brainwash me like you have Martin?" A small part of Samantha was surprised at what she was saying. Did she really think that Jack and Danny had set out to brainwash Martin? But if Martin wasn't brainwashed, what other explanation was there?

 

Unwilling to let the discussion escalate any further Jack laid down an ultimatum. "Then I suggest you start thinking about what other departments you want to transfer to, because I won't have an agent on my team that I can't trust with the others. And right now, Martin needs this team a whole hell of a lot more than you do."

 

For several seconds, Samantha's only response was shocked silence. Then she narrowed her eyes, straightened her spine and said, "Fine, let's go to this meeting then."

 

An hour later she sat on a folding metal chair next to Jack listening as a group of about twenty recited the 12 steps they lived by. She didn't doubt that a lot of the people here needed this group to help them cope with the addicts in their lives, but she wasn't one of them, anymore than Martin was an addict. And as soon as this meeting was over she was going to find Martin and tell him so.

 

With the reciting of the 12 steps done, a little old lady who'd introduced herself as Beatrice started talking. "Now I know this isn't how we usually do things, but I've been informed that we have a young lady here who doubts whether her friend should really be in Narcotics Anonymous. I thought that we could answer Samantha's questions and maybe help her figure out where her friend's best interests lie."

 

Samantha was caught a little off guard at being the sudden focus of the meeting but she didn't let that deter her. "Well, Beatrice, I work in law enforcement. Because of that I am very familiar with what addiction does, both to the addict and the people around them. Addicts lie, steal, and ruin their careers, their friendships, and even their family relations. Addicts aren't reliable, capable FBI agents like Martin. I don't deny that he might have taken a few more pain pills than he should have, but that alone doesn't necessarily make him an addict."

 

"I should hope not," agreed Beatrice. "If overindulgence meant you were an addict then I suspect we'd all be addicts of one sort or another." Sam was relieved to hear the meeting's leader speak so reasonably. "So, does everyone here agree that Samantha just made a fairly accurate description of what it is, to be an addict?" Murmurs of assent came from all around the room. "Well, since Martin isn't here I guess we'll have to rely on Jack to tell us what he knows of Martin's behavior. Let's start at the beginning shall we? Samantha said, 'addicts lie'. Jack are you aware of an instance where Martin lied in regards to his supposed addiction?"

 

It felt a little odd for Jack to be on this side of the questioning, but since Beatrice had been a part of Nar-Anon since her son had come home from Vietnam addicted to morphine, more than forty years before, he was willing to surrender to her expertise. "Martin has admitted to lying to his doctor and several pharmacies to get more drugs when his painkillers initially ran out." When he'd spoken at an earlier meeting, his goal of learning support techniques meant he'd only talked about Martin's situation in the vaguest of terms. It seemed strange now, to hear his own voice listing Martin's sins.

 

When he'd first called Beatrice to get her advice on how to deal with Sam's denial, Beatrice had been frank about the fact that it wasn't uncommon for the close friends and family members of addicts to become quite entrenched in their disbelief. In her experience, there were two scenarios likely to shake some sense into Samantha. He could either lock Sam and Martin in a room together to fight it out, or they could do an intervention for Sam at a Nar-Anon meeting where she'd be surrounded by others with similar experiences and forced to face the facts of Martin's condition; not rationalize them away.

 

Jack's first preference had been to go with locking the two in a room, and maybe checking on them after three or four hours. It wasn't until this afternoon, when he'd called Danny to get an update on the case, and heard Martin in the background laughing hard enough to bust a gut, that Jack had changed his mind. Maybe he was being overly cautious, but he wasn't ready to intentionally put Martin in a situation so rife with emotional upheaval. He almost thought his second call to Beatrice had been expected, the way she easily assured him that everything would be ready as long as Jack could convince Samantha to come to the Nar-Anon meeting in two hours time. In fact, he had a sneaking suspicion that every person here was a handpicked member of Beatrice's 'Denial Intervention' brigade.

Samantha sat still in the silence that followed Jack's admission. Only the fidgeting of her fingers on her bent knees signaled her agitation. She couldn't deny she was surprised to hear that Martin had lied to acquire more painkillers. It certainly didn't seem like something he would do, but she reminded herself that a few small lies were still a long way from an addiction.

 

"What about stealing?" Beatrice continued to probe. "Did Martin ever steal drugs or perhaps money to buy drugs?"

 

Reminding himself that Beatrice had warned that it would likely take full disclosure to convince Samantha, Jack offered the most damaging evidence he had, "The day before Martin entered rehab he went on an interview with another agent to a clinic where he stole narcotics off their drug shelf."

 

"Oh my," said Beatrice. "That not only covers stealing, but also goes towards damaging Martin's career, wouldn't it?"

 

"Unfortunately, Martin's job wasn't the only one put at risk. Another of my agents, Danny convinced Martin to surrender the drugs and then returned them to the clinic untouched. If O.P.R. ever finds out what happened, it would likely threaten both their careers, since Danny didn't report the theft," explained Jack.

 

Next to Jack, Samantha was pale with shock. Here she'd been assuming that Danny had imagined an addiction that didn't exist, when in truth he'd been covering for Martin. "But he never went through withdrawal." Sam needed an explanation for the last piece of the puzzle.

 

"He, sure as hell, did go through withdrawal," insisted Jack, his tone turning exasperated. "According to Danny, that first night, when Martin wasn't vomiting or passing out, he had the shakes, sweats and even hallucinations. I saw some of those symptoms myself the following morning. But when he checked into rehab his doctors recommended Rapid Detox. Martin was put under anesthetic while all of the opiates were flushed out of his system. Days of withdrawal symptoms were washed away in a few hours of sleep."

 

"Why didn't he mention any of this?" asked Samantha in confusion.

 

"How could he," inquired Jack, "when every time he started to talk about his addiction you walked away? You essentially abandoned him, Samantha. But now you want to partner up in the field like nothing ever happened. How can I ask Martin to trust you with his life when he can't trust you to listen to the truth?"

 

Samantha's breath was catching in her throat, while moisture collected in her eyes. She couldn't understand how she could have been so wrong. She'd been certain she knew exactly what was going on.

 

"I think that's enough, Jack," scolded Beatrice, setting a comforting hand on the blonde agent's shoulder. "Samantha has a lot of new information to consider. Give her time to take it all in."

 

Jack backed off, willing to follow Beatrice's instructions. He could see by the look on Sam's face that she was reevaluating her beliefs. Now that she'd stepped out of her state of denial, he was fairly certain she'd come to understand and accept reality, even if it wasn't quite as comfortable as it used to be.

 

Day 28: (Thursday) The doors had closed and the elevator was just beginning its slow rise when Jack's cell rang. "Malone," barked Jack.

 

"It's Mack. I thought you should know that Assistant Director Victor Fitzgerald is up here and he seems to be on a bit of a rampage."

 

"Wonderful," sighed Jack. "Why is he pissed at me this time?" Jack couldn't think of any recent cases that would have drawn the AD's ire, which made him wonder if Victor was upset for a more personal reason.

 

"That's just it," Mack hurried to explain. "He's not looking for you. He's looking for Martin and Danny. And the only reason I could think of that he'd be looking for those two would be if he somehow found out about . . . that thing you asked me to keep quiet about." Jack wasn't pleased to have to agree with Mack.

 

Beside Jack, Danny was also answering his phone. "Taylor . . . He what? Go back a minute. Tell me exactly what you saw."

 

"Okay, Mack. Thanks for the heads up. Can you tell me where Victor is now?" Jack asked.

 

"Yeah, I can see him. He's escorting Martin to your office," detailed Mack.

 

"Good. Keep your head down. I'll deal with Victor," instructed Jack. He ended the call and looked to Danny.

 

"That was Vivian on my cell." The words flew out of Danny's mouth accenting his agitation. "She said that Victor just came storming into the office holding what looked like surveillance photos of Martin and me at a Narcotics Anonymous meeting."

 

"Surveillance photos," repeated Jack, "and I thought my dad was a hassle." Noting the elevator was about to arrive at their floor, Jack decided, "I'll be the one to confront Victor. I'm Martin's supervisor. If this is work related Victor should be talking to me anyway."

As the doors opened, Danny stepped out first, insisting, "But if Viv's right, and this is really about Martin being in Narcotics Anonymous, then I should be present as his sponsor. So I'm going with you."

 

Jack could tell Danny wouldn't be turned from his current course of action. He didn't like the thought of Victor turning his wrath on Danny, or Martin for that matter, but he doubted he'd be able to prevent it completely. "Just let me do the talking." With that he pushed open his office door. A quick assessment caught Victor's angry demeanor, complete with pulsing vein at his temple. It also caught Martin's pained defiance. Obviously, the conversation wasn't going well, so far.

 

"You're not welcome here, Agent Malone," gritted Victor. "This is a private discussion."

 

"Not in my office; with my agent, it's not," countered Jack. "Do you really want me to start quoting chain-of-command protocol?"

 

"This isn't about Bureau business." If Victor's jaw were to clench any tighter his teeth would shatter. "It's personal."

 

"Then, I would submit, Assistant Director Fitzgerald that it's inappropriate for you to commandeer either this office or time with an agent for personal business. Perhaps you could try meeting Martin for dinner, later." Though Jack's tone was pleasant his eyes held a steely resolve.

 

"I'll leave when my son has answered my question," insisted Victor.

 

"Wow," Martin spoke roughly, "was there a question? I must have missed it under all of the accusation and derision."

 

"I want to know what's going on in these photos," Victor demanded, slapping several pictures down on the desk between them.

 

With a quick glance Martin offered, "Looks like a Narcotics Anonymous meeting to me."

 

"But what were you doing there?" hissed Victor.

 

"The same thing as everybody else." Martin seemed to straighten for the first time. "I was working the program and trying to maintain my sobriety."

 

"Fitzgeralds are not drug addicts," Victor declared scornfully.

 

Martin absorbed his fathers words like a blow to the gut, his whole body wavering. The thought that he might be officially disowned, before this discussion was done, swirled through his head. "No," countered Martin, struggling to keep his voice steady, "at least one Fitzgerald is a drug addict. I'm addicted to pain killers, and I'm not going to risk my sobriety by avoiding NA meetings just because you don't like it." Martin felt Danny's shoulder brush against his in silent support. "I don't know what those surveillance photos were taken for, but it doesn't really matter. I was planning to tell you about entering rehab when I came to D.C. this weekend. I wanted to tell you and mom face to face, not over the phone."

 

Victor seemed to read the truth in Martin's voice and attempted to rein in his temper. "The photos were taken as part of a counter-terrorism investigation. The agent in command recognized your picture and forwarded them to me," he explained. "How long has this been going on?"

 

"Twenty-eight days," admitted Martin.

 

"And your part in this?" Victor asked Danny. Malone might have justification to be here, but the younger agent could make no similar claim. Victor had also noted how quickly Taylor had moved to stand shoulder to shoulder with his son.

 

"I'm Martin's sponsor," Danny answered proudly, daring the superior AD to make issue of it.

 

Victor, however, had no intention of picking a fight with Taylor. He was too focused on the idea that Martin's current situation crystallized an argument he'd been trying to make to Martin for years. "Maybe now you'll accept what I've always said; you're not cut out for this work. It is clearly destroying you."

 

Martin gave a weary shake of his head. "Not this again." For a moment there he'd almost thought he'd found a bit of understanding in his father. Instead Dad was falling back to the same tired argument he'd been using for years. "I am not going to leave the Bureau or let you use this to force me out."

 

"This situation is a direct result of your shooting," Victor still wasn't willing to say the word addiction aloud. "You're just not meant to be an agent. You must realize that too or you wouldn't be trying so hard to hide this."

 

"The only reason Martin has been hiding anything," cut in Jack, "was to protect you, Victor. He was worried about someone using his problems as political blackmail against you in D.C. Though, now, with almost a month of sobriety under his belt, it's going to be harder for others to make much of this."

 

Victor found he couldn't disregard Malone's words. Though life in Washington was supposed to be about serving the people for the greater good, in truth it was much more about image and politics. An Assistant Director of the FBI with a drug-addicted son was quite a tainted image; though a son in rehab did lighten the taint, especially since Martin seemed to have avoided breaking any laws. Then again, Victor wouldn't put it past Malone to bend the law to cover for his people, the same way he occasionally bent it to find missing persons. Victor almost wished his old friend hadn't sent him the photos. He could be having lunch with wife right now, in blissful ignorance. He really wasn't sure how to take the idea that Martin had chosen this particular course of action to protect him. It was his job to protect and guide his son, not the other way around.

 

"Besides," continued Jack, "we're all aware that Martin's dependency on drugs started long before the FBI."

 

Victor was startled. Surely they couldn't be talking about . . . "If you're referring to that mishap during Martin's childhood, it couldn't possibly be related. I dealt with that decades ago."

 

"That's the problem with addiction, Mr. Fitzgerald," Danny decided to address his superior as a father not a boss. "It never really goes away. When your vulnerable, when your guard is down it latches on and pulls you under. That's why people in AA and NA keep going all their lives. The only way to beat this disease is with constant vigilance."

 

"It never would have affected Martin again if he hadn't chosen such a dangerous profession," insisted Victor.

 

"That's pretty weak, Victor," Jack challenged. "Martin could have just as easily been injured in a car accident with the same result. Then again, maybe if you'd informed Martin's doctors about his past, after the shooting, they could have treated him with different medications, and we wouldn't be standing here, arguing over what caused this to happen again." Jack was amazed at how shortsighted Victor seemed to be where his son was concerned.

 

A knock on Jack's door silenced all four men. Vivian opened the door saying, "Sorry to interrupt, but, Jack we just confirmation that Engstrom inherited a house in Queens near where he was last seen with Josh. I think we need to move on this." Her fingers tapping on the door telegraphed the adrenalin pulsing through her system.

 

"Alright, Elena's still with Josh's family. So take Danny, Martin and Samantha with you to search Engstrom's. I'll catch up when I can." Years of practice allowed Jack to quickly shift all of his focus to their case. Danny and Martin followed Vivian out of the office without hesitation.

 

"You're letting him in the field?" asked Victor. "I'd heard rumors that Martin was on desk duty."

 

Jack couldn't help but wonder how such a rumor had managed to travel from New York to Washington D.C. "He's been in the field since Monday, with the approval of his psychiatrists." Jack watched as Victor watched Martin and Danny get last minute instructions from Vivian. At the end of whatever she'd been saying, Vivian put a hand on Martin's arm and seemed to ask a question. Martin's response was short, but coupled with a head nod it appeared to quell any worries she had, and allowed the group to move towards the exit.

 

"She knows," said Victor with certainty. "Who else is aware of Martin's . . . addiction?"

 

"Outside the team, there are two other people in the building who know. There might be others who suspect, but they don't seem to have contributed to the rumor mill so far." Jack could almost see the wheels turning in Victor's head, though he doubted he wanted to know what his superior was thinking. "Look, Victor, I get that he's your son and you want to protect him, but he's also a man who's more than old enough to decide what he wants to do with his life. Just because he's going through a rough time doesn't mean he can't still make good choices. He's intelligent, dedicated and he genuinely cares about the people we're trying to help. Frankly, the Bureau could do with more agents like Martin. I hope you'll consider that before you talk to your son again." Picking up the photos of Danny and Martin at the NA meeting, Jack handed them to Victor. "You can use my office if you want. I need to catch up with my team."

Victor waited until Jack had left the office before pulling out his cell phone. He had to wait only a few seconds to hear the voice he was seeking. "It's Victor, dear. I know it's short notice, but I want you to fly into New York as soon as possible. Martin has something he needs to tell you and he doesn't want to do it over the phone."

 

Day 30: (One month's sobriety) "Congratulations, Martin, on your first month of sobriety." The petite, mocha skinned young woman shook Martin's right hand with a surprisingly firm grip. His left hand self-consciously fingered the ½ inch burgundy and gold pin on his shirt. He'd found himself touching the pin repeatedly ever since Danny had very formally presented it to him at the start of the meeting, almost as though he needed to physically remind himself that he really had made it to one month's sobriety. All around them people were gathering in small groups to chat or shuffling into coats and exiting as the NA meeting wrapped up.

 

"Thanks, Simone. Congratulations to you, too, for making three months." Martin motioned to her nearly identical green and gold pin.

 

"And on top of that you gave a great talk to the group tonight."

 

Simone shrugged, causing the beads in her hair to click together. "I thought it would be a good way to celebrate my anniversary. You know, finally start working Step 12, and carry the message to others."

 

"I'm not quite there yet," admitted Martin. "But I get what you mean."

 

"Don't sweat it," admonished Simone. "You'll know when your ready."

 

Danny wove past a group of three as he returned from a quick trash run. Sidling up next to Martin, he took Simone's hand and said,

 

"Simone, your talk was incredible. You are a true inspiration." The full force of Danny's brilliant smile hit Simone head-on.

 

"Such a charmer, you are," Simone flirted back playfully. "I'd be only too eager to take you on; if I thought my sponsor would let me get away with it."

 

"Which I, most certainly, will not do." Simone's sponsor Kathy spoke up for the first time. The forty-something, graying redhead glowered at Simone and Danny with equal displeasure. "Absolutely no dating until you have at least six months of sobriety," she insisted. "I'd prefer it if you waited for a year."

 

Simone's hair beads clattered again as she shook her head in dismay. "I never thought I'd be waiting for permission to date at age twenty-seven," she commiserated to Martin.

 

While dating hadn't been an issue for Martin he could sympathize a bit. "Danny's been trying to tell me what I should be eating," complained Martin.

 

"You poor boy," Simone quickly consoled.

 

"Poor boy," protested Danny, "he eats grease laden, triple cheeseburgers for breakfast."

 

"Now, that's just revolting." Kathy quickly sided with Danny after a disgusted shudder. Even Simone now looked a bit askance.

 

Danny smacked Martin in the shoulder and waved at the ladies. "See, I'm right." After chuckling at Martin's wounded look the ladies said goodnight, retreating from the room. Danny and Martin followed suit, pausing just long enough for Martin to grab a card off the chair he'd been sitting on.

 

Stepping through the doorway, Martin had a moment of déjà vu as he saw Jack coming out of the room across the hall, shaking hands with the elderly Nar-Anon matriarch Martin now knew as Beatrice. The déjà vu soon gave way to utter shock, when he noticed that Samantha and Vivian were following Jack out of the room.

 

"Something wrong?" asked Danny leaning close.

 

Martin's head swiveled towards his friend only to be greeted by Danny's huge shit-eating grin. Danny had obviously been expecting the others to be here. At a loss for what to say Martin looked back across the hall, and felt his heart stop beating. Because there wrapped in Beatrice's comforting embrace was Martin's mother, his father just behind with a steadying hand on his wife's shoulder.

 

"Breathe, Martin," Danny instructed helpfully, as both men watched Elena finish the parade into the hall.

Vivian was the first to notice Martin observing them. She quickly approached, arms wide for a hug. "Congratulations, Martin," she said with a squeeze.

 

"I, I didn't expect . . ." Martin stammered.

 

"How could we miss your first anniversary?" she asked, moving to the side so the others could offer their greetings.

 

"Looks good," said Jack tapping Martin's small pin with a smile.

 

Feeling a bit embarrassed at all of the attention Martin mumbled, "It's only a month."

 

Danny smacked Martin's arm for a second time that night. "There's no such thing as only where your sobriety is concerned. Every day counts!" Danny insisted emphatically.

 

Martin couldn't do much more than nod silently because now his parents were standing in front of him.

 

"I'm so proud of you," said his mother pulling him into a tight embrace. Martin returned the hug, still trying to understand how his parents could be here now. He'd seen his mother yesterday shortly after she'd flown to New York at Victor's behest. Martin's two minute confession that he'd become addicted to painkillers, had led to a solid twenty minutes of tearful embracing as his mother apologized for not being a better parent; not recognizing the pain he'd been in either as a child or more recently. All the while, as Martin struggled to calm his mother and ease her guilt, Victor stood back in a contemplative silence, letting Martin handle the delicate balance of his mother's emotions. Though Victor's quiet was a welcome change from his usually vocal disapproval, Martin wasn't sure if it was a good thing or not. In the end, he'd decided that as long as Victor wasn't threatening either his job or his sobriety, he just shouldn't worry about it. But never for even a moment had he expected them to attend a Nar-Anon meeting because of him.

 

Meeting Victor's eyes over his mother's shoulder Martin thought for a second that he saw his father give him a slight nod of approval. Then Victor's eyes dropped to the card in Martin's hand and he asked, "What's this?"

 

"It's a card Danny gave me before the meeting, tonight." The card's front was a colorful fireworks display with the words, 'One Month' scrawled boldly across the top. There had also been a small laminated card inside that had the Serenity Prayer on one side and the twelve Principles of the Program on the other. Martin had already tucked it into his wallet for safekeeping.

 

"How sweet, may I look at it?" his mother asked.

 

"You didn't mention getting cards," Elena looked pointedly at Danny.

 

"It was a spur of the moment thing," he shrugged.

 

"Congratulations!" Mrs. Fitzgerald read the neatly typed message within. "Keep coming back – it works if you work it!" Below that in Danny's script was, "Martin, you're stronger than you think. But if in doubt – just let go."

 

"Just let go?" repeated Samantha curiously. "I don't get the reference. Is it a sponsor thing?"

 

"No," grinned Martin, "more like a Danny thing."

 

"You know it," agreed Danny as the two bumped fists, while sharing a look of absolute trust.

 

Turning back to the rest of the group, Martin said, "I really appreciate all of you coming out here like this."

 

"It was no trouble at all," assured Vivian.

 

"This is actually my second meeting," volunteered Sam. Martin knew that the first meeting had convinced Samantha to start asking him questions about his program and what he was doing. Martin couldn't even begin to articulate how happy he was to be able to talk to Sam again. He'd really missed his friend during the last month.

 

"I've been to three meetings," Elena jokingly topped Sam.

 

"Really, three?" asked Martin surprised.

 

"I wanted to be sure I knew the best way to be supportive," explained Elena. "After all you never know when you might need to help someone work through one of the steps of the program."

 

"Well I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm hungry. What say we move this celebration to someplace with food?" asked Vivian.

 

"Jack mentioned a great Cuban restaurant near here," Samantha volunteered.

 

"No, no, no," moaned Danny. "Jack, please say you haven't been telling people about the best kept secret in Cuban cuisine."

 

"Actually, yes I have," admitted Jack unrepentantly.

 

"Don't you know that as soon as word gets out about a place like this, that it's ruined," demanded Danny.

 

"What good is knowing a great place to eat if you can't share it with friends?" challenged Jack.

 

"That's not the point," insisted Danny.

 

"What is the point?" asked Jack.

 

Frustrated that no one seemed to appreciate how important it was to keep such place secret, Danny blurted out the first thing that entered his mind. "The point is I'll ruin my reputation if I go to Murciano's with this many gringos in tow."

 

"Who do you think you're calling gringo?" demanded Vivian.

 

"That mouth of yours is going to get you into trouble," warned Elena.

 

"Victor, dear. What exactly is a gringo?" asked Mrs. Fitzgerald.

 

Danny's face paled two shades as he realized he'd just called Martin's parents; no, make that FBI Assistant Director Fitzgerald and his wife, gringos. "I didn't mean you were gringos," Danny backpedaled to Mrs. Fitzgerald's bewildered face. "I meant . . . someone else . . . that wasn't you," he finished lamely, realizing there was no good way to salvage his comment. A small corner of his mind wondered how long it would be before he was transferred to Alaska.

 

Unable to contain himself any longer, Martin burst out laughing, "Mom, I love it when you play dirty." The lady in question smile brightly at her son's compliment, the bewildered look completely gone. Grabbing the shoulders of his shell-shocked friend, Martin turned Danny towards the exit. "I think Danny and I will go ahead and make sure the restaurant has enough seating for our group."

They were almost two blocks down the road before Danny dared to ask. "Is there any chance your dad will forget that I called him a gringo?"

 

Trying hard not to laugh at his friend again, Martin replied, "I think you should hope my dad likes the Arroz con Pollo as much as you do." They'd traveled a bit farther when Martin said, "Thanks, by the way, for getting my parents to come tonight."

 

"Just trying to be a good sponsor," Danny minimized his actions.

 

"You're a very good sponsor," assured Martin, "and an even better friend."

 

The End