by Angela B
Disclaimer: Not mine and never
Note: Thanks to NT for her fine beta reading
Ezra hurriedly drank the rest of his coffee and rinsed out his cup. Vin would be picking him up any moment and he intended to be ready to go upon the man’s arrival. All seven men were getting together for the day out at Chris’ for the first time in weeks. The case they had just finished had been one of the more grueling ones in recent memory. The undercover agent was looking forward to a day of relaxing and being with his friends. He had slept for almost three days and was still not feeling up to par, which was one of the reasons for agreeing to riding out to Chris’ with Vin.
Smiling, Ezra could hear the old jeep long before it made its appearance in his driveway. Ezra stepped out of the door, turned on his security alarm before shutting and locking the front door. Climbing into the battered jalopy and buckling up, Ezra dryly said, “Well, you think it’ll get us to the highway this time before breaking down?” The undercover agent smothered the smile that threatened to erupt. Joking about Vin’s jeep had become as secondary as Vin kidding him about his clothes.
Vin would have been stung by this remark back in the beginning of their friendship, but now he just smiled at the comfortable bantering before replying, “It’ll have to. I think all the guys are ahead of us.”
The sharpshooter had learned something the others didn’t; for all of Ezra’s complaining about having to ride in his jeep, the undercover agent really enjoyed it. Ezra liked the openness and freedom it gave, especially after a long, drawn out case, like the one he had just come out of. The complaints and snide remarks were part of the cover Ezra evoked to keep up the appearance of the refined gentleman; Vin just went along with it. The sharpshooter stepped on the clutch and reversed the vehicle into the street and took off for the life outside of the city.
Neither man tried to converse out on the highway. The wind whistling through the open carriage made talking difficult and both were relishing the simplicity of being with someone familiar without having the pressured feeling of talking. Vin caught a sideways view of his passenger. Ezra had his head leaned back against the seat with his eyes closed. The simple look of relaxation and enjoyment seemed to be magically erasing the fine wrinkles that had appeared during the case. Vin turned his attention back to the road and took a relaxing breath. This was what he enjoyed the most, the freedom of the open space and someone who equally relished the solitude.
Ezra was enjoying the feel of the wind blowing against him. It was like the wind was blowing away all the troubles and anxiety of the past few weeks. He had found himself wondering what his co-workers had been doing at certain particular moments while he was undercover. Of course, he knew at least one of them was watching him or at least listening in on him almost all the time, but it wasn’t the same as being able to see them face-to-face. There were times he wanted nothing more than just to sit down for a cup of coffee and exchange a few words, or just to catch a glimpse of one of them and have that reassurance that they were there. Now, those weeks seem to be vanishing into distant memory. He was on his way to be with the whole group for the weekend, nothing but fun and relaxation. Ezra couldn’t help the small smile from escaping.
It was one of those rare moments on the highway where there seemed to be no other living person on earth but the riders in the jeep, with no other vehicle around for as far as the eye could see. That was something Vin enjoyed about the drive out to Chris’, besides the mountainous scenery, the highway was one of the less heavily traveled. Vin was enjoying the solitude when he reflectively looked up into his rearview mirror and absently shook his head. Coming up behind him at a high rate of speed was a red Firebird. Vin watched as the driver raced up right behind him and then whipped out to the side.
Ezra heard a muttered oath, opened his eyes and raised his head up in time to see a red blur whip back in front of the jeep. If not for Vin’s driving skills, the Firebird would have clipped the front fender, sending both vehicles into a tragic crash. As it was, Vin let off the gas and turned the steering wheel slightly to the right, sending the jeep onto the shoulder. Both Ezra and Vin knew in a heartbeat, as the tires tried to grip the gravel and lost their traction, that they were going over the side of the ravine. Ezra tightened his grip on the dashboard as Vin tightened his grip on the steering wheel and tried in vain to the very last moment to gain control over their impending wreck.
The Texan tried to ignore the pain radiating through his body and stay in the blissful unconsciousness that had taken him when the jeep had rolled over the edge of the highway and tumbled its way down the steep slope. The pain began increasing and ever so slowly, Vin came to full conscious. Nothing made sense to him and after opening his eyes, he quickly squeezed his eyes back together as the light blinded his pupils and his stomach began rolling. Even with his eyes closed, Vin had the sensation of being on a carousal speeding out of control. Knowing something was still wrong, he tried it once again, and this time the sensation wasn’t quite as revolting, though the scenery confused him. Looking out where the windshield had once been was dirty-looking he noticed that leaves were hanging upside down. His head had begun throbbing violently. Looking to his side he saw an unmoving Ezra, still belted in but hanging upside down. It was then that the images flooded back into his brain. The jeep had rolled down the hill and they had landed upside down. Rationality made its way to the front of his brain and several cognitive thoughts hit at once. The first being; that if not for the roll bar on the jeep, they would have been flattened and second; he had to extricate himself from the mangled vehicle and see about Ezra and thirdly; he had to get help.
Reluctantly, he moved his hand to the seat clasp and pushed the button. The seat belt recoiled back to its resting position, nearly snapping his shoulder in the process. Vin, no longer restrained, fell to the ground with a bone-jarring crunch. He had reflexively held out his arms in front of him during the fall and heard as one wrist popped backwards at an unnatural degree. Darkness thankfully took him away from the pain momentarily.
He wasn’t sure how long he had been out this time, but he knew it couldn’t have been for very long. The drop seemed to have increased the previous pain ten-fold and Vin knew without a doubt that he would remember that little lesson for the rest of his life. Taking another inspecting look at his unresponsive friend, still dangling from his restrained position, Vin didn’t want to watch the chest too hard in case his worst fear was confirmed. He was able to process that no blood seemed to be pouring out of the still body. Upon further inspection of the body, Vin laid eyes on the cell phone. Ezra usually looped his belt through his phone cover and for this, Vin was overwhelmingly grateful. Reaching over, he managed to unsnap the cover and pull the phone loose. It never occurred to the sharpshooter to look for his own phone. Squirming and maneuvering his body, Vin was able to crawl through the open space of the door and roll out onto the ground. Lying there panting and holding onto what was surely a few busted ribs, Vin managed to hang onto the phone as once again darkness crowded in.
Chris was in his kitchen pulling out all the necessary items to make lunch with when a sudden odd feeling came over him. He wasn’t sure what was wrong, but he was overcome for a brief moment that something terrible had just happened out in the real world. Shaking his head to clear the morbid feeling, the blond resumed his duty.
Chris had just taken all the Bar-B-Que supplies out into the backyard when Nathan and Josiah came around the corner. Looking up expecting to see the two major troublemakers of the group, the small, nagging, sad feeling came back when he saw it wasn’t Ezra and Vin. Josiah, seeing the frown crease his friend’s forehead, said jokingly, “What’s the matter, Chris? Not who you were expecting?”
Chris quickly smiled and shook off the feeling. “Nah, just expected ya’ll to be those two troublemakers. You know they’re riding out together and with those two anything is possible?” he stated, rolling his eyes heavenward.
Nathan nodded his head reluctantly in agreement. There was a reason Chris tried to keep those two separated when a chaperone wasn’t available. Before he could comment, Josiah spoke up and said, “Now Chris, have a little faith in our young brothers. Surely they can manage to get out here without getting into any trouble.”
“I hope so,” Nathan muttered.
Vin rolled over and grabbed onto the jeep. Struggling to get his feet underneath him, he felt like he was trying to stand in Jell-O. His legs buckled twice before he could get himself into an upright position. Holding onto the undercarriage of the jeep, Vin rested his head against the frame and waited for the rotating world to slow down. After several shallow, slow breaths, he raised his head and stared out into space. He needed to do something important, but his thoughts were so jumbled it actually hurt trying to think. Finally his eyes came to rest on the phone still clutched in his hand and recalled he needed to call for help. Forgetting whose phone it was, he hit the encoded first button and was thrown when the wrong person answered.
“Yeah?” Buck answered as he hustled JD out of the house and down the sidewalk. He was slightly agitated at his younger friend. They should have left the house a half-an-hour before but JD was on the phone to his girlfriend and neither one would actually hang-up first. Now they were running late and Buck would miss out on the arrival of the terrible two. Bets had been placed the day before to see which one could make Chirrs blow his top first.
“Hello?” Vin responded groggily, expecting Chris and not understanding why he reached Buck instead.
“Vin?” Buck said a little confused himself. “Ya’ll already out at Chris’?” he asked. He was going to get even with JD for this.
“Buck?” Vin questioned as he started making his way down the side of the jeep, Ezra being his target.
Buck stopped in his tracks; instincts began yelling at him that something was wrong. “Yeah, Vin, it’s me. What’s wrong?” he urged. JD heard the tone changed and stopped walking and turned to face his friend.
“Accident,” Vin stated non-to-clearly, as he struggled to keep his concentration on both the conversation and keeping his feet moving.
JD knew instantly something was wrong and backtracked to Buck’s side. “Where are you, Vin?” Buck asked, his voice rising in concern.
“Ravine,” Vin stated tiredly, making his way along the back of the jeep. The simple trip was sapping his energy. “Think Ezra’s dead,” Vin said whispered.
JD thought for a split second that Buck, whose face was turning deathly white, was going to go down. Buck had only heard ‘ravine’ and the last two words of Vin’s message. Regaining his composure, Buck snapped into professionalism. “Okay, you’ve been in an accident and you think you’re in a ravine!” Buck restated for JD’s benefit. Lowering his voice considerably, Buck said, fighting the tears and searing pain in his heart. “Ezra’s dead?!”
JD turned his head sharp enough to cause whiplash. “Ezra’s dead?” he asked in stupefied shock. He had already been dialing his phone at this latest comment and stopped and stared at his best friend. Shaking, he continued to dial the number. It couldn’t be. Ezra couldn’t be dead. They were a team. More than that they were family and they had all lost too much family.
Buck began running towards his truck as he talked to Vin. “Vin, listen to me! I need you to tell me what was the last landmark you saw.” JD was right on his heels.
The Texan stopped where he was so he could think. After a long pause, he said, “I remember seeing the milk billboard, but I don’t remember the truck stop.”
“So you’re between the milk billboard and the truck stop? That right, Vin?” Buck and JD were in the truck and had it cranked and headed down the street. Nodding into the phone, Buck kept encouraging Vin to remember as many details as he could. Buck’s heart was pounding hard; he couldn’t lose his family. He couldn’t go through that again.
JD hesitantly called Josiah. There was no way he was going to call Chris and give him this news.
Josiah picked up his ringing phone and answered, “Hello.”
“Josiah, listen to me. Vin and Ezra have been in a wreck and as far we can gather they went off the side of the road somewhere between the milk billboard and the truck stop. Buck is trying to get more out of Vin, but it doesn’t sound like he’s having much luck. We’re headed out of town now,” JD rushed out in one breath. “Hurry Josiah!” JD said urgently, knowing time was of the essence. He purposely left out the fact that Ezra was probably dead. They didn’t need to learn that kind of information over the phone.
Josiah sudden stillness had garnered attention from the two other friends and knew by the facial features something was wrong. “Alright, JD, we’ll start from this end and meet up with ya.” Hanging up the phone, Josiah was faced with a very bad position of telling his boss and friend that their two wayward friends were now hurt and their location was unknown. The fact that JD had said Buck was talking to Vin and hadn’t mentioned Ezra other than to say he was in the wreck bothered the profiler. He had the sinking feeling JD had left something important out.
Chris took the news relatively calmly. He had had a sinking feeling all morning and now he knew why. Running for the truck, the three men climbed in as Josiah got back on the phone dialing 911. He quickly identified himself to the dispatcher and then related that they needed a chopper in the air to begin searching for the injured agents. Nathan tightened his hold on his medical bag and prayed that when they found the two they would be all right enough to rip into for scaring the rest of them.
Vin had finally managed to shuffle his way to the passenger side and slide down to the ground, he realized, hazily, that Buck was still on the line. Not really functioning to the best of his abilities, the sharpshooter abruptly said, “I gotta go, Buck. Gotta be with Ezra.” With that he ended the call and leaned against the dented frame to catch his breath.
Buck listened to the dead line noise, his heart thumping with ache. He tried to push away the thought of burying more family and concentrate on his driving. He wanted to get to his friends as quickly as possible without causing another accident. His mind refused to obey and began flashing through various scenes that dealt with his undercover brother. All the antics, pranks and mind-boggling stunts, the man had pulled over the years. Buck didn’t feel the tears running down his cheeks. He repeated the same prayer he had chanted three years before when he and Chris had come upon the burned-out ranch. ‘Please let them be okay.’
Vin didn’t track time too well, but he knew he had been sitting there in the dirt for some time before he was able to control the functions of his limbs again. Rolling onto his knees, he pushed himself up onto all fours and using the frame, he pulled himself to a standing position. Drawing in a deep breath he stumbled the few steps to where Ezra was still hanging upside down, unconscious. Trying to decide whether or not to remove Ezra from the mangled wreckage provoked his headache to increase even further. Fighting down the bile that threatened to erupt, his decision was made for him as his other senses subconsciously kicked in and he became aware of the strong odor of gasoline. Leaning down cautiously in order to keep his own conscious, Vin wrapped one arm around his friend as he strained to stretch over and unbuckle the restraint. Ignoring the searing pain in various parts of his body, Vin did his best to lower his friend to the ground. Ezra fell, but it was more controlled thanks to Vin’s determination not let any more harm come to his friend than had already befallen the man. The almost undetectable moan that escaped from the unconscious man was better than any sound Vin could remember ever hearing in his life. Shaking from relief and joy the sharpshooter crumpled to the ground.
Letting his friend rest on the ground and regaining his own strength, Vin collected his breath before making the arduous effort of removing the helpless passenger from his position. Once out of the jeep, Vin dragged Ezra a good distance for fear of being caught too near in case the jeep exploded. Lowering himself and Ezra to the ground, Vin wrapped his arms around his friend’s torso and pulled the limp body down between his outstretched legs. Whispering, “Don’t worry, Ez. I got ya.” Vin laid back against a fallen log, keeping his arms tightly wrapped around his wounded unconscious friend and fell into the darkness wishing for the expedience of the Calvary he knew was coming.
Chris steered the truck over the overpass to the opposite side of the highway and then drove the wrong way down the one-way up ramp. No one mentioned what he was doing, was not only illegal, but also very dangerous. Once down on the opposite side, the blond started driving in the opposite direction of the traffic along the shoulder. The blue light blinking in the windshield and the flashers turned on was all the warning the other drivers received. The three men kept their eyes peeled for any signs of an accident or skid marks leaving the road.
Josiah had kept in touch with JD, coming from the other direction, and neither Buck nor JD had been able to reach Vin again on the cell phone. It had been discarded and never given a second thought once Vin determined he had to move Ezra away from the danger. All five searchers felt like they had cement in their gut as they kept their worst fears at bay for the time being.
It was JD that first saw the fresh skid marks and let out a holler that nearly caused another wreck. Buck slid to a sudden stop and both men jumped out and ran to the edge of the precipice. Looking down, they could make out two back wheels sticking up like some crazed amusement ride. JD was the first to start sliding his way down the embankment as Buck pulled out his phone and hit the one button. Upon hearing a terse reply, all Buck could get out was, “We found them!” Shutting off the phone after telling Chris about where they had pulled over, Buck felt better knowing Nathan was close at hand.
Ezra heard voices far away and wondered briefly at them. As the voices began getting distinctly clearer and closer, he first struggled and then jolted awake and out of the security of the arms holding him. The sudden movement caused a chain reaction and had Vin bolting upright from the sudden pain shooting up his arm and exploding violently in his head. Coming upright so quickly made the world turn on its axis for a moment and Vin was pretty sure everything he had eaten in the last three days were going to come rushing back on him. Clenching his stomach, he looked to see what Ezra was staring at out in the trees before them. The look was something between that of a bewildered dog and a madman ready to attack
It was then that JD came running into the small clearing screaming their names. Before anyone could react, Ezra was on feet running headlong towards the younger agent, but instead of encouraging his welcome, he took a wild swing at a very shocked JD and, only through some miracle, managed to actually hit the agent with enough force to send the young man to the ground and began screaming incoherently.
“Stay away from me! You hear me! Go away! I hate you! I won’t let you hurt me!” Ezra screamed at the top of his voice at a startled JD.
Buck appeared at that moment, froze in his tracks and tried to process what he was seeing. Ezra wasn’t dead! He was very much alive. Reality snapped back into focus for the older agent and he realized that for all intents and purposes, Ezra had gone nuts. Casting a quick glance down at JD as he stepped around his downed friend, he mentally catalogued that the young agent was all right. Buck turned his attention back to the screaming man. Buck held his hands out to the side and carefully approached the irate agent. “Easy there, Ez. No one here is going to hurt you,” the older agent cooed like one does to a small, frightened child, very much relieved to see his brother alive. His emotions already worn to a frazzle, he dug deeper for the calmness needed to appease Ezra
Vin managed to sit up a little and did what he could from his position. Holding out his arms, he said softly, “Come here, Ez. Come back over here and I’ll protect ya.”
Ezra looked from Vin to JD and back before deciding to move closer to the longhaired man on the ground. Confusion reigned within his world. Nothing made sense, but the danger he felt from this young black-haired man was real and the instinctive need to protect himself from harm was intense. Sensing a movement from the one on the ground, as JD struggled to sit up, Ezra turned back to JD had begun his tirade once again. “Stay away! I hate you! It’s your fault! You can’t have my food!” JD froze in his position, instinctively knowing it was the thing to do.
Buck stepped in front of Ezra, effectively blocking his view from JD and kept slowly approaching the man. Ezra would take a step back for every step forward Buck would make until Ezra stepped back and hit Vin’s leg. Looking down, Ezra saw the kind blue eyes looking up at him and the soft accent beckoning him to sit down where it was safe. Ezra felt like he knew this person, but couldn’t for the life of him put a name to the person. He slowly sat down and immediately felt safer when the man’s arms wrapped themselves around him. The frowning, black-haired man squatting down in front of them seemed familiar, too, but once again no name came to mind. Ezra wanted nothing more than the fear that was consuming him to disappear. His racing heart was hurting his brain considerably.
Chris stepped on the brakes rather hard, bringing the black Ram to a neck-jarring stop. Before the motor was completely killed Nathan was pushing Josiah out of his way as the medic ran around the front of the truck and started down to the wreck. Halting at the bottom, he wondered why JD was staying so far away from the pair on the ground. Buck was hovering over the duo and Vin seemed to have Ezra cradled against his chest talking softly. Approaching the scene unaware of potential harm, Nathan called out, “So how bad are you two this time?” He was trying to sound more agitated than he was in order to cover up the fear he had been harboring ever since Josiah received the first call.
Ezra was backing away from the tall black man coming at him, straining against the arms trying to hold him and ignoring the soft pleas to stay where he was. Before Nathan could get a hold of him, Ezra was off on another tangent. “Stop it! You’re going to make me late for work! Don’t come near me! Get out of my way!” He cried, as he scooted out of the safety of Vin’s arms and began crab crawling backwards.
Nathan stopped in his tracks and looked inquisitively at the Vin and Buck. The mustached agent shook his head in confusion. “Don’t ask me? He attacked JD when we first arrived. Just got him calmed down,” he said sadly.
Nathan tried approaching the man scuttling away from him. “Ezra, stop where you are! I need to check you out,” he said in a commanding voice that usually got results.
“NO! I’m late for work. I have to get the horse down to the warehouse. Get away!” Ezra screamed unintelligibly.
By this time Chris and Josiah had arrived and had simply stared in a frozen state for a minute at the wild antics of the normally cool and reserved friend. Chris could see Nathan wasn’t getting anywhere with the obviously confused southerner.
Stepping forward, Chris ordered, “Ezra, stay put!”
Though no one could explain the reasons, Ezra did as he was told and froze. Watching with intense green eyes as the blond man came ever closer, Ezra felt none of the fear he had felt earlier with the young man standing over by the trees. Ezra watched the blond lower himself down into a kneeling position in front of him and felt like he was outside of his body watching the proceedings. Chris slowly put his hands out and grasped each side of the smooth face and spoke softly but sternly, “Ezra, Nathan is going to come over here and take a look at ya and you are going to let him. Do you understand me?”
“Yes,” Ezra answered meekly.
The sudden capitulation had Chris on his guard and moved his grip down to the other’s arms, then motioned with his head for Nathan to move forward. Nathan moved in slowly, squatted down and noticed immediately that one pupil was completely dilated and the other one was contracted. The eye movements were erratic and not coordinated. Taking his miniature flashlight out, he said, “Follow the light with your eyes, Ezra.” Moving the flashlight from side to side and up and down, Nathan noted that only one eye seemed to halfway track the light.
Putting the flashlight up, the medic gradually ran his hands over Ezra’s body seeking out other injuries. When he touched the chest, Ezra cried out and shrunk back from the pain and the hands causing it. Chris slowly lifted up the shirt gently as possible, and both Chris and Nathan could make out the ugly bruises already developing from the sudden tightening of the seat belt. There was no need for Nathan to check the troublesome shoulder; anyone paying any attention could see it was dislocated. Nathan made to check for bumps in the brown hair, but Ezra instinctively jerked away. “NO!” he yelled. Nathan held up his hands in peace and awkwardly shuffled backwards a couple of spaces.
Chris had never quite let his hand wander off Ezra’s good arm. For some reason it seemed to keep the irritated man calm and set in place. The team leader looked back at the healer and waited for the obvious to be stated.
“Definitely dislocated shoulder, possible internal bruising and though I can’t confirm specifically, he’s suffered some kind of head trauma,” Nathan listed off his findings. “How serious, I don’t know, but do your best to keep him still and calm.”
Chris simply nodded and turned his attention back to his undercover agent who had begun rocking back and forth and muttering incomprehensible things to himself. The blond looked back over to where Buck and Josiah had converged on the sharpshooter and knew Vin was in good hands. Nathan had just as slowly approached the other injured member, but quickly scooted in closer telling Chris that Vin was not in the same mental shape as Ezra was in.
Buck had stayed with Vin when Ezra had tried to make his escape. Just the short time he had to observe the situation, his trained eyes could see that the sharpshooter was hurt and was in serious pain. Buck also knew, that like all of them, when more than just themselves were hurt, Vin’s concern laid with the other injured. Once Josiah joined him, the older agent glanced about a moment before landing on the one he searched for. JD was still lurking a ways back from the huddled group. Buck knew it must have been a great shock to the young agent when Ezra had gone after the man and hit him. It had shocked Buck. The older agent only hoped JD realized that whatever was wrong with Ezra, it was effecting his behavior and that was the cause for the assault.
JD caught Buck looking at him and knew Buck was concerned about his reaction. Yes, he had been blindsided by the force of the hit and the nonsense words, but any idiot who halfway knew Ezra could assess that he was not acting in his right frame of mind. Nodding at his roommate he called out, “Going topside and wait for Aero Care.” After getting a short nod of understanding from Buck, JD began climbing back up the steep incline.
Nathan squatted down in front of Vin and smiled hesitantly. One with a brain injury was bad; he hoped he wasn’t going to be dealing with two. Vin could read Nathan like a book and quickly set about easing the medic’s mind. “Ain’t that bad, Nate.”
Nathan smiled despite the situation. “Yeah, sure and that nasty looking bump on your forehead is extra brains poking out,” he shot back jokingly.
Vin ran a finger over the bump tentatively. “Must have got it when I unbuckled. It was kind of a hard landing,” he explained shrugging his shoulder.
Looking over at the crushed jeep, Nathan nodded. “I bet. Let’s see what other bumps and bruises you managed to acquire,” the medic said as he began running his hands gently over the limbs. He winced in sympathy when he came across a broke wrist and again when he found the right knee swelled to the size of a grapefruit. “I bet that hurts,” Nate said, just to make conversation.
“Hadn’t really had time to notice to tell the truth. Knew it burnt like fire when I walked on it and the arm really ached when I pulled Ezra out of the jeep, but never really took time to do any major inventory,” Vin tried to explain.
Josiah spoke up, “Your willpower amazes me my friend.” Patting Vin on his good shoulder as he spoke, trying to take Vin’s attention off of Nathan’s attempt to splint the wrist.
Vin looked at Josiah with childlike disbelief. “Didn’t have a choice Josiah. Had to get Ezra out in case the gasoline tank exploded. Couldn’t just leave him there,” he said tersely.
Josiah patted the arm in a gentling motion. “Never thought you would, Vin,” he said gently.
Chris kept his emotions in check as he did his best to keep Ezra sitting still and calm. The first was easier than the second. The undercover agent would mutter quietly to himself for a few minutes and then burst out with a screaming tirade, nothing he shouted making sense. Whenever one of the others would attempt to approach, the irritation increased, so they stayed back and offered their loyalty from afar. Chris had mentally noted that the fancy elongated words that his friend usually wielded expertly had disappeared and only simple words were used. Chris figured this was just another factor of the brain injury. It seemed like countless hours to the team leader before he heard the humming noises of rotating blades signifying the medical helicopter. Not far behind it came the blissful sounds of the sirens of the rescue trucks.
The blond kept his eyes on his friend and his keen hearing on the sounds behind him. He heard the scrabbling of feet sliding down the rocky embankment and Nathan rattling off the diagnosis of each patient. Chris was wondering with morbid fascination just how these paramedics thought they were going to get Ezra strapped to the inevitable backboard. Keeping his voice low and steady, Chris figured whether or not Ezra understood, he should at least try to prepare his friend for what was coming.
“It’s not going to be much longer, Ez and then we’ll get you out of here and get ya some help,” Chris explained casually. The unfocused eyes and swiveling head from side-to-side confirmed Chris notion, Ezra didn’t understand a thing said to him.
Hearing men approach from behind, Chris tightened his grip on the good arm and kept up a steady litany of demands. “Ezra, you’re going to behave and let these men help you. You understand me. Trust me, Ez. I won’t let them hurt you.” He wanted to catch the wondering eyes and force his promise silently, but had no such luck.
Josiah and Nathan, moving in from either side, to help Chris contain Ezra, heard the sharp voice, but took no notice of it. It was just the leader’s way of doing what he could to control Ezra and get him to let the others help. As the two approached from their flank positions, each kept their gait steady and their hands out to the side in a no danger gesture. The paramedics had already been informed of the possible head trauma and knew what to expect. They let the harsh and cursory words flow off of them.
Moving in, the paramedics quickly ensconced the angry agent onto the backboard with the help of the other three agents. Ezra’s unhappiness at the situation was clearly heard and thoroughly ignored. Though the words in some fashion wounded them, the three friends knew it was for his best interest.
The undercover agent wasn’t mentally capable of recognizing the imploding headache erupting inside his skull. He had very little understanding of what was happening around him, except that he felt endangered and threatened. The man in black holding onto him and talking to him did, on some level, calm him. It was the other men on either side coming near him that exacerbated the feelings of wariness. He did what any threatened person would do in such a position; he tried to escape and warn off the poachers.
“I hate you! You can’t have me! NO!” he repeatedly cried out.
His warnings went unheeded, as the man in black tightened his grip and the other two large men came in from the sides, effectively halting his intended retreat. He tried to fight the hands away, but his coordination seemed to be working against him. He soon found himself strapped to a board and being carried topside. His only defense against the injustice was his voice, which he was using to its full extent.
Ezra was finally lifted into the waiting chopper and secured into place. Nathan was allowed on board only because of the reputation this particular team had required and because the particular agent had a qualified paramedic license. Nathan hated seeing his friend so out of control and knew if Ezra ever found out about his atypical behavior he would be mortified and humiliated. Nathan made a mental note to speak to the guys about keeping as much of Ezra’s behavior to themselves as possible.
The chopper lifted off and for the first few minutes, Nathan was educated in just how extensive Ezra’s cursing vocabulary really was. After that the other signs of the brain injury began showing, as Ezra kept trying to grab onto him without consciously knowing he was doing so and repeatedly asking who he was and where they were. It was all signs of a moderate brain injury, but Nathan, being only a paramedic, couldn’t make that assessment out loud even though everyone on board knew that was what they were dealing with. They were just minutes from the hospital when unconsciousness took Ezra back into a quiet fearless world.
Chris walked over to where Vin was a being loaded up into the ambulance. His injuries, while serious, had been assessed as non-life threatening. The blue-eyed Texan looked up into the storm-ridden green eyes of his boss and comrade. Chris stuck out his hand and clasped the other’s. “Meet ya at the hospital,” he said quietly.
Vin nodded and asked, “Ezra?”
Chris hung his head for a moment before looking back into Vin’s face. “Don’t know. Nathan’s guessing head trauma. We’ll just have to wait. Chris explained. “Maybe he just got his marbles scrambled,” he added, attempting and failing at relieving some of the tension and worry.
Vin nodded at the implied reassurance, but felt the guilt anyway. Ezra’ injuries, whatever they were, were because of him. Ezra had trusted in him to get them safely to the ranch and he had failed in that mission. Feeling Chris’ hand squeeze his, the sharpshooter was bought out his guilt-induced reverie and smiled at the scathing rebuke held in the green eyes. Vin understood the message loud and clear; there was no blame for this on his part.
Chris Larabee was prowling the floor of the emergency waiting room like a male lion stalking his prey before attacking it. The other four men in the room were waiting for the next explosive eruption with dreaded anticipation. Chris was about as reliable on his eruptions as ‘Old Faithful’. He would pace exactly fifteen steps, do an about face, and pace another fifteen steps. He would do this routine exactly twelve-and-a half times, then turn on Nathan and yell, “What’s taking them so long?”
Nathan would calmly say, “Chris, they’re having to run extensive tests to see exactly what they are dealing with.”
This would be followed by JD nervously twitching in his chair and Buck plaintively putting his hands up and quietly repeating, “Come on, Chris, yelling at Nathan isn’t going to help anything.”
Chris would nod his head in acceptance and mutter an apology at the medic before resuming his pacing. Everyone knew the routine and knew how it would be played out. None of them would stop worrying until they were all back together safe in the knowledge they would remain that way.
Some time later, a nurse appeared and informed them that Vin was back in his holding room. The five men followed her into the emergency room. Passing by the trauma rooms, each one made a mental note that their missing friend and co-worker had surpassed those rooms and had been taken straight to the imaging room. Several CTs would be done to see what kind of damage Ezra had exactly received.
Stepping through the curtained partition, JD’s first thought was that Vin would make for a good model in one of those commercials for plastics. His right wrist was encased with a soft cast. After the swelling went down he would be getting permanent casts. White spandex type material was wrapped tightly around his torso. The ribs had been badly bruised and only one suffered a hairline fracture. His forehead was now sporting a golf ball size bump and the beginnings of a brilliant bruise was forming over his right eye and a brace surrounded his knee. There had been no major damage to it, but would be painful as everything for awhile The sharpshooter looked like he was in a world of pain and had been used as a crash dummy for a seat belt ad.
“Hey, cowboy,” Vin said weakly. The pain medication flowing through his system was creating an I-don’t-care state of mind.
“Hey, yourself,” Chris replied. “You at least look better than the last time I saw ya.”
Vin meekly smiled and felt his eyelids closing. Most of the times he hated the sleep induced feeling of the medication feeding into him, but today it seemed to be quite welcomed. “Ezra?” he asked slurred.
“Still waiting,” Chris replied, watching Vin drift off into another world. “They’ll get you into a room of your own here in a minute,” the leader went on to explain needlessly as Vin fell asleep.
A half muttered sound slipped through lips that seemed too hard to move in order to form coherent words was the only reply Chris got back. Chris gently squeezed the good hand and turned his attention back to Nathan.
Without having to ask what Chris wanted, the medic said, “Let me go check on Ezra.”
Ezra had regained consciousness for the second time after leaving the accident site and wasn’t having any of what the doctors wanted. Due to not knowing exactly how extensive his brain injuries were, the doctors were unable to sedate the patient, causing stressed nerves for all. It is thought that just because the staff worked with cases like this they would be immune to its effects and to some degree it was true, but when they knew and liked the particular patient it was hard to become detached from the situation.
The southerner had always been one of their favorite visitors, though not their favorite patient. As a visitor, Ezra was always calm, polite and seemed to understand they, the staff, were people too, trying their best to perform their duties as humanly as possible. As a patient, he wasn’t so welcomed. They had named him Houdini behind his back and hated being in charge of him because no matter how careful they were the man always seemed to be able to slip through their fingers. Luckily, another team member seemed to be standing in just the right spot to end his escape. It was the same game every time and sometimes it occurred more than once a visit.
This time the man wasn’t going anywhere because between the confusion and the memory lapses he suffered from he didn’t have the capabilities to functionally plan out an escape. Instead, like with the paramedics, he used his words. After running off three nurses and two orderlies, the technician behind the scanner called down to ER to see which remaining members of the team where available. After a brief moment of conferencing he was informed the big jovial agent would be coming to the rescue.
Buck hated being the chosen one for assignment, but knew Chris would want to ‘talk’ to the doctor; JD wasn’t going anywhere near Ezra alone, Nathan would be needed to translate and Josiah would be needed as a calm head in case Chris didn’t like the news he received. Buck shook his head at that thought. It was funny how so many people saw his long-time friend as a blustering bully. Buck, and the rest of the team, knew the real Chris- a guy that cared about his team and wanted the best for them, whether it was out in the field, medically or just in life. Chris was the type of guy that stuck with you until the end. There had been a time when Chris had lost sight of that man, but no one could blame him after losing his family the way he had. Now the old Chris, Buck knew so well, was coming back and five other men got to know just how loyal the team leader really was.
Buck entered the lab room and put on the heavy radiation apron that was handed to him. He wasn’t sure how calming he could be to Ezra. Out at the crash site, the undercover agent hadn’t been overly welcoming of his presence; on the other hand he hadn’t been decked like JD either. That boy had a bruise that would be a while in disappearing. The tall man walked into the sterile looking room where Ezra had been strapped to the sliding bed. Walking over to the agitated man, Buck kept his voice low and steady.
Stopping beside the bed, Buck took hold of Ezra’s hand and finally garnered the man’s attention. “Hey, Pal, heard you were given these people a hard time. That’s not like you,” he said conversationally while his brain worked on something else to say.
“Help me! They’re after me,” Ezra pleaded with the strange but familiar looking man.
Buck’s heart cracked a little. Of all of team members, Ezra was the most suspicious of people. Trust was had been pretty much a dirty word to the man, who had been burned to many times by people, he should have been able to trust. It had taken them a long time to gain just a bit of Ezra’s trust. Out in the field, Buck knew Ezra trusted them because, in his eyes, he had no choice, but there were still times outside of the office when Ezra would scoot back behind his reinforced walls and watch them with mistrust. Though lately, it was mostly due to how strenuous a job had been. Now, Ezra was looking at him for help and Buck was caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. To not give aide would reinforce, in whatever part of Ezra’s brain that still functioned correctly, the idea that he was alone in this world and had no one on his side, but to give aide would be just plain unthinkable. Ezra needed medical attention plain and simple. “I’m sorry, pal, I can’t,” Buck said remorsefully. One single tear slid out of the left green eye as Ezra turned his head upward and slid back into his own frightened world feeling very much alone. Buck gripped the hand tighter and whispered, “It’s okay Ezra. I’ve got your back. No one is going to get you while I’m around.”
Buck stayed with the man until all the tests were complete. Ezra had continued to ignore him at times. At others, he was called every name in the book and then some. The jovial man understood it was because of the wreck. That somehow when the jeep was doing cartwheels down the slope, Ezra managed to get his head banged up pretty good on the inside and therefore causing his brain to swell, pressing against the jagged edges of the inside of the skull. The pressure against points in his brain was causing his personality to be altered. Many people believed that the inside of the skull was round and smooth, but due to extensive hospital visits Buck had learned differently. The skull was ragged and had sharp points and could cause serious damage to the brain when it swelled. He could only hope that the injury was temporary and that there was some kind of medication that could reverse the effects, but he wasn’t a stupid man either. Rationally he understood that some brain injured people never recovered, while others only recovered partially. The tests seemed to take forever until he was finally informed Ezra would be taken to his ICU room. Buck said a silent prayer of relief knowing the others would be there to help carry this new burden.
Dr. Massou wasn’t looking forward to this encounter. While being employed as chief neurologists at the Four Corners Memorial Hospital, he had had to break some very bad news to a lot of decent people. He had also had to deal with various combinations of the members that made of the infamous Team Seven. It never went well. No matter how much he rehearsed, no matter what speeches he prepared; it always wound up the same. First; they would surround him like carnivores who hadn’t eaten in days, then the leader would get in his face and demand he put the prognosis into the simplest form and then storm past him to get to the injured member, leaving him surrounded by the remaining men. In the end, Dr. Massou usually wound up dealing with only sane member of the team; Mr. Jackson and sometimes he wasn’t too sane himself.
Dr. Massou walked through the curtained partition and found one member lying on a gurney surrounded by the remaining four men, all of them coming to attention at his presence. Sometimes this made him feel like a general about to address his troops. The man in the white coat and blue tie took one look at the sleeping patient and nodded his head for the rest to step outside.
“Forget it, Doc. I want to hear, too,” Vin said sluggishly.
Dr. Massou hung his head and began getting to the crux of the matter. “Mr. Standish has sustained moderate injury to the cranial structure. There is some swelling around the frontal lobe that is putting pressure on the brain. At this time we are hopefully that it will reduce on its own and for now we are just going to watch and wait. With any luck the swelling will refrain from growing and subsequently start going down. We won’t know how much damage, if any, Mr. Standish will have suffered until a later date.”
Chris stepped forward and the doctor automatically stepped back, it was the same thing every time. “How soon till we see a difference?” Chris asked bluntly. By now the hospital thing had become old hat and he was beginning to get the gist of what doctors looked for and the timetable.
“Hopefully within twenty-four hours,” the doctor replied.
With that, Chris gave a short nod and headed to where he knew Ezra would be kept. Without turning around he barked out, “Nathan, make sure Vin is placed in the same room.”
Nathan nodded as if this was not a common order or that the staff didn’t already know for the sake of their sanity that this was going happen. In times past when two or more were injured, it was better on everyone if all were placed in the same room, even if one’s injuries didn’t warrant such treatment. There had been one time when JD had only a slight concussion and a sprained wrist, but because Vin had been placed in the ICU, JD had been moved there also. This time Vin would be going to ICU on the head trauma floor. He didn’t mind where he was put as long as it was next to Ezra and he could get some sleep. The first would happen, the second wouldn’t.
Ezra had finally slipped back into unconsciousness. The man seemed to have two stages of mind, unconscious or awake and irritated and confused. None of the men could rationalize in their minds, which was better. Unconsciousness meant quietness and peace for Vin, but it also meant that Ezra could slip into a coma. On the other hand, the intermediate screaming and constant repetitive questioning Ezra wasn’t very fun to be around either.
When they had first entered the room, Ezra had been resting. Vin was placed on the other side of the room and both men were quiet. Not long after each man found a landing spot, Ezra woke up. The tirade began and it seemed none of them had the magical touch that time. JD had gotten up to let Josiah in closer and things really heated up.
Ezra spotted the enemy again. He had snuck in unnoticed and now no one in the room of strangers, that weren’t strangers, seemed to be aware of the danger. He watched the man slip from his hiding spot and stalk his way toward the blond haired man from the other place. He should warn the man of the impending danger, his mind thought.
“Watch out behind you! He’s going to kill you! Get him! Get him!” Ezra began screaming.
All five men turned on one another instinctively to find the intruder. Only finding each other, it soon became apparent just whom Ezra was naming as the enemy. JD slinked out of the room hoping his disappearance would settle the irate man down.
Buck hung his head and winced. If Ezra had any idea of what he was doing, Buck wouldn’t have hesitated a moment in knocking some sense into the man, but then again if Ezra was in his right mind he wouldn’t have targeted JD to begin with. As it was, the tall agent knew unconditionally that Ezra had no mental faculties to help him determine who the real enemy was. The mustached man was torn between going and checking on JD and staying put to give the man room to breath and deal with his feelings on his own. As he watched Chris try and settle Ezra back down, the blue-eyed agent made his way to the door.
Chris leaned over Ezra and tried to figure where he could put his hands on Ezra that wasn’t bruised or busted. He settled for the right forearm and upper torso. Looking down into the wild, bewildered green-eyes, Chris felt all his anger and frustration at the situation melt away and could only feel sadness, fear and love for his brother. Ezra had been a thorn in his side from day one, but it had been his choosing to let Ezra be that thorn. He had looked past the attire, appearance and attitude and saw what Ezra really was; a good man with pure talent. The kind that many undercover agents worked years trying to cultivate, trying to attain what Ezra was naturally.
Chris would be the first to admit Ezra was a terror on the playing field. He had the gray hairs to prove it. More than once the two had locked horns; battling for complete domination. For Chris it was domination over the team. To assert his right to lead and direct his men where he saw fit. For Ezra it was a need to control his life. He didn’t trust anyone with it in the beginning. There had been fewer fights lately, but the ones they did have were still whoppers. It was the way of nature with those two. To fight against the one thing both hated to lose; to let some else control one’s life. Chris and Ezra had not exactly settled on an agreement, more like a silent understanding. Ezra could control the playing field as long as no weapons or immediate dangers were around. Once this stopped being the case, Chris stepped in and called the shots. Neither was completely happy, but they accepted it. Now Chris feared there would be no more fights because there would be no more operations involving Ezra.
Vin watched Chris stare Ezra down. It had been too easy. They were used to seeing Ezra and Chris go head-to head--each one battling the other. Ezra’s sudden capitulations to Chris’ every demand were unsettling to say the least. Ezra had never been the type of guy that just threw in the towel and gave in to demands. Ezra was the type that would stand there and debate the merits and the reasons, no matter if it was ten men surrounding him with guns to his head. Ezra simply didn’t do what he was told just because he was told. Vin turned his head and stared at the ceiling. He hated the driver of that red Firebird.
Ezra wasn’t sure what was going on with him. Everything around him felt…wrong. He would start to question himself on something and then forget why he was questioning himself and what he was thinking. He knew one thing now; he definitely knew his head hurt. They had talked to him earlier but he couldn’t seem to remember what was said. He started to ask again, but it seemed too much of a bother. Besides, the fact that he couldn’t remember who these people were half the time really scared him more than anything else.
Josiah looked at his watch. It was almost midnight and the rest of the team that weren’t patients was spread out through the room. Vin had finally accepted some pain relievers and was out to the rest of the world. Ezra hadn’t gone into a raging tirade for some time now. He still asked the same questions repeatedly, which was frustrating the heck out of Buck and Chris. They could only explain what happened and where they were at so many times before nerves began tensing and headaches of another kind formed. Josiah had seen Chris use a lot of restraint in the past, but these last few hours had really showed the profiler just how much patience the team leader hid underneath his blustery exterior.
Josiah readjusted his position and tried to go back to sleep when he accidentally nudged the youngest member with the toe of his shoe. JD didn’t even move. It hadn’t been long after their earlier departure before Buck returned with JD right behind him. No one had any doubts JD wouldn’t return. He was young, but not stupid like some believed, when he first arrived on the team, but he had toughened up a lot since then and when he stumbled he always had Buck to yank him back up and shove him in the right direction.
The profiler smiled to himself. The doctor hadn’t been overly optimistic this morning about Ezra’s prognosis, but then again that was his job. Prepare the families for the worst and hope for the best. But what other families didn’t have going for them was this team’s bullheaded, ferocious tenacity to move each member back from the fatalist lists to the living side. It might take a while and there would surely be some very ugly scenes but, they would get Ezra back and he would be his same old acerbic, loquacious, stylish self and that’s just how the team preferred him.
Ezra lay looking up at the ceiling, tears streamed down his face uncaringly. These men had turned on him. They had become the enemy, especially that young black-haired one. He hated these men. He had told them, too, but they hadn’t left like he had ordered. Instead they seemed to close in tighter to him. Flashes of images he didn’t understand came to mind, scenes of men at a bar, outside in an open land, these men laughing, people bursting into a building, firefights and wounded bodies. The images at first eased him, the later one scared him and the last images disturbed him, but they also gave him ideas of what he could do these men who had turned on him and scared him so. All he wanted to do was leave, to go…someplace. He just couldn’t remember where that place was at the moment. Now, he wouldn’t be going anywhere. Now he was tied to the bed.
Chris leaned against the wall near the head of the bed and glanced at his watch for the third time in as many minutes. He couldn’t believe it was only five in he morning. Not even twenty-fours had past since the accident and yet it seemed to have been a lifetime. The leader looked down at his friend staring at the ceiling silently crying and couldn’t keep his eyes diverted from the restraints holding him to that bed. Ezra had woken up in a terror around two. Chris had sincerely thought he was going to have to cold-cock the man in order to get through to him. Ezra’s screams bought in the whole floor of nurses. This in turn had only fueled Ezra’s fear and the undercover agent had managed to get out of bed. He had been cornered and that seemed to deflate the life right out of him. Slinking to the floor in the corner, the undercover agent who kept all his emotions under tight reins drew his legs up to his chest and wrapped his good arm around them and began quietly whimpering. The mutterings began again and the five agents looked at one another for a moment before Buck took the lead and after lowering himself to the floor also, and crawled over to where Ezra sat rocking.
“I can’t get the shoes back in the box,” Ezra whispered pitifully, so low none of the ones standing could hear the actual words.
Buck could hear the soft repeating words and shook his head. Nothing Ezra had said since this ordeal had begun made any sense, this included. He tentatively reached out and began rubbing the hand not encased in the sling. Seeing that this was being accepted, whether or not Ezra did it deliberately wasn’t an issue, Buck ran his hand gently up the arm. When no negative response was shown, the bigger agent moved in beside his friend and gathered the cowed man into his arms. “It’s okay, Ezra. I’ll get the shoes back into the box,” he whispered.
After a few tense minutes, Buck was able, with Josiah’s help, to secure Ezra back into bed. The nurse had wanted to restrain Ezra then but, they wouldn’t hear of it. Restraints for Ezra meant different things to him than they did for Vin but, they caused the same irrational response. For Vin, they were a symbol of having his freedom taken away. For Ezra, it meant taking away control and Ezra had to be in control, even if it was just being in control of turning over in bed when he wanted to.
They finally got Ezra calmed down and back to sleep. JD had offered to take the next watch. Everyone knew his thinking; he wanted to do his share in watching over his friend, but figured it would be best to do it while the man was asleep. No one had yet figured out why JD had become Ezra’s target for hate. JD had always been accepted by Ezra and even been included in some of Ezra’s pranks. The rest of the team thought a lot more of JD for taking Ezra’s hate and casting it aside. Nathan had explained to them that there was specific reason Ezra saw the young agent as the enemy. It was just another side effect of brain injuries. No two victims reacted exactly the same.
It was only a couple of hours later when Ezra had awoken again. This time he had not made a noise; he had simply rose up and attempted to extract himself from the bed. JD had been at his side in an instant and had tried to persuade Ezra back into bed.
Ezra seemed liked he didn’t even recognize JD was in the same room as he struggled to figure out what was keeping him tethered to the bed. Upon finding the long tubing running from the bag overhead to his arm, he simply ripped the tubing apart at the juncture with the shunt. By then JD’s voice had woken up the others and everyone had rushed the patient. It was their error that wound Ezra up even tighter. Ezra lost his sense of being; he was simply a caged animal fighting to get free. He never knew whom he hit and kicked or the damage he imparted on his friends. He just knew he needed to escape.
Since none wanted to inflict any more damage than what had already befallen Ezra, they had, without any words, agreed to take him on one at a time. They would rethink that calculation in the future. Buck had taken him on first. Trying to placate the man, he held his arms out to the side as he approached. The blow he took, which was a right cross to the bridge of his nose, hit solidly. His looks wouldn’t be the same for a while. Chris stepped in, and while he was concentrating on not hurting the dislocated shoulder and gripping the good arm, he received a kick to an area that was dangerously close to ending any thoughts on being a parent again. Josiah sighed deeply as he watched his little brother rage like some lunatic strung out on drugs. Brain injuries caused so many different things to happen, for Ezra it seemed to make him believe they were a danger to him. He called out soothingly to his friend as Ezra rampantly tried to escape their little fight club area. For his generous maneuver, Josiah had claw marks down the length of his arm and face. Ezra was truly fighting for his life. Nathan shook his head as he approached Ezra warily. The medic knew this time they would not be so fortunate in talking the nurses out of the restraints. While he hated what was inevitably going to happen, he couldn’t let Ezra out of the room. He managed to pin Ezra to the wall for a short amount of time before Ezra threw his head back and collided with Nathan’s chin. Nathan saw stars for a while but, his thoughts were more on what kind of extra damage that could have caused the already fragile brain. No one was sure how Ezra did it but, he managed to escape into the hall.
Chris had looked over at Buck and they both knew what they had to do. They had to stop Ezra before one of the nurses became his next target. Ezra, the refined southern gentleman who would never dream of hurting one of the nurses, wasn’t the same Ezra as the hurt and confused undercover agent with years of defensive training. It could become a problem if Ezra perceived them as a threat. As one, the two longtime friends rushed the tired and off balanced man, taking him to the ground and pinning him. Josiah and Nathan stepped forward and the four men hauled the fighting and screaming friend back into his bed and held him down while padded restraints were placed on each ankle and one wrist. An extra long restraint was looped over his chest and remaining arm, effectively trapping Ezra.
So now, Chris watched tiredly as the tears streamed down his friend’s face. There would be no placating the man. No words of comfort and solidarity; Ezra believed he was in this, whatever this was, alone and he had no idea what to do about it. The tears stopped flowing and Ezra slid into what appeared to be a peaceful looking sleep. Chris only hoped it would be a healing sleep. They all needed time to regroup and face the next challenge.
The team leader readjusted his sitting position and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and resting his forehead on his templed fingers. He couldn’t keep his sight from the restraints. There had many times when Chris himself had thought of using a similar devise on the agent in order to gain his attention while he was reaming the man out about putting his life in unnecessary jeopardy. The blond smiled as he thought about this last case. Ezra had gone above and beyond his extraordinary skills to bring in the villain, then again he had also dived into the middle of a fray narrowly missing being shot. Chris had thought he was going to have a coronary right then and there. Ezra had merely listened to his shouting, and then shrugged his shoulder as he walked away from the furious leader. Chris wondered why they couldn’t make him understand why such acts scared them.
Chris sat watching the right hand through tunnel vision when he noticed it twitch. Thinking Ezra was about to wake up and go for round three, Chris straightened up in his chair, muscles tensing, and watched closely. The hand twitched once again before the whole body arched and stiffened and then went into one of the most severe convulsions any of them had ever seen.
“Nathan!” Chris called out as he stood and tried to wake Ezra. For some unknown reason Chris believed if he could get the patient awake he would stop seizing.
Nathan and the rest came to instantly and Josiah went to grab a nurse. None of them could do anything but watch their friend convulse, twisting his body and arching off the bed as best he could. Ezra’s head repeatedly banging against the soft pillow, his eyes rolled back. The sight was one none would forget for a long time. The body losing control over the kidneys and fluid being released into the cath bag went unnoticed. Nathan gave thanks that Ezra had been restrained, the damage he could have inflicted upon himself if not could have caused further problems. In his mind’s eye Nathan could easily imagine Ezra repeatedly thumping his head against the railing on the bed if not for the restraints.
Josiah returned with help and the others were ushered out of the room. Two minutes, then five passed without the doctor coming out. The five men knew it was bad. Seizures usually only lasted a minute or two. The longer the seizure the worst it bode for the patient. Finally after seven minutes the doctor appeared from the room. Without preamble he said, “We’re taking him back down for another CT scan.”
At that time the door opened and Ezra’s bed was manhandled out into the hall. Before they could get the bed onto the elevator, Ezra went into another convulsion. Five hearts dropped to the pit of their stomach. Chris turned to JD and simply ordered, “With me.”
JD followed Chris back into the room where a very disturbed and anxious Vin was fighting a nurse on his own. Chris gently pushed the nurse away and grabbed hold of the sharpshooter’s shoulders. “Stop it, Vin!” Chris said in a hushed tone
JD knew it happened to all of them when Chris spoke, but it always surprised him how quickly they almost all acquiesced to the leader’s command. Vin stilled and asked without words what had happened to his friend. Chris, understanding that Vin wasn’t asking what had happened, so much as he was asking why it happened, made it brief. “Don’t know. Taking him back to radiology for more CT’s,” Chris said, wanting to erase the pain in his friend’s eyes. Taking Vin’s hand in his, Chris wanted to say it would be all right, but knew Vin would easily read the lie.
Vin nodded after a moment and declared softly, “Go with him.”
Chris knew what Vin was saying without thinking twice. Vin couldn’t go himself so he was asking Chris to go in his place and be with Ezra. It didn’t matter that the other three were already down there with him, Vin needed him down there in his place. With one nod Chris agreed for the sake of his friend’s mental well-being. Turning to JD, Chris ordered, “Stay here. Keep him in bed and don’t let them be giving him any more drugs if he doesn’t want them.” Chris chose to ignore the small snort at being ordered to stay in bed.
JD nodded and moved to stand by the occupied bed. Looking down at Vin, JD reflectively took the free hand in his and assured his co-worker and friend that everything would be all right. Before Chris left the room, he called back over his shoulder, “Call me if they give you problems.”
Vin looked up at JD and they both snickered. They knew Chris was talking about the nursing staff. JD felt he had to reassure Vin in some way. Trying to lighten the suppressing situation, he said, “Knowing Ezra, when he comes out of this he’ll milk it for everything he can.” Vin could only attempt a smile at JD’s observation; his mind was downstairs with his friend.
Ezra and him had hit it off from the start. It was hard to say why exactly. Anyone looking at them would think they came from opposite ends of the spectrum. But it wasn’t their likings, or disliking for the mundane things in life. It was a similar past they shared and the desire to overcome it and make something more of their lives that drew the two men together. They understood what few of the others did, the despair and loneliness of growing up completely unwanted and not given much of a chance at a good life. They had each overcome the obstacles placed in their way and had striven for a life they had wanted individually. It was that shared knowledge that made the two so tight.
Vin let out a soft sigh and tried to close his eyes in an attempt to make the pain he was in both emotionally and physically disappear. He unknowingly squeezed the hand holding his and felt the tightening of hands return and not loosen. He took another deep breath as the weariness completely surrounded his body and mind and pulled him back into a much-needed sleep. JD would keep guard and let him know if something happened, in that much he did know.
Dr. Massou turned away from the lighted x-ray films and rubbed his forehead. He had planned on coming in early but, not this early. From the time the hospital called to tell him his patient was convulsing to the time he walked through the door, Ezra had been seizing for more than fifteen minutes. It had been his third one since he had started only an hour earlier. The films had confirmed his fear, the swelling in the brain had increased and there was no other solution than to go in a do surgery.
With forced bravado, Dr. Massou walked out of the room and into the waiting room to face what anxious men might be there waiting for him. With a no-nonsense attitude, he got to the point. “The swelling has increased. There is no other alternative than to go in and do surgery.”
Chris felt like he had been gut punched. Taking a deep breath, the blond plunged into unknown territory. “What exactly are we talking here?” Chris asked straightforwardly.
Without even blinking the doctor went into a more detailed explanation. “What has occurred essentially is the brain has been, for the lack of a better description, bruised and bled. The bleeding has caused a contusion of sorts on the brain. This contusion has progressively swelled and has begun pushing the fluid that usually acts as a barrier between the brain and the skull out of the system. We will go in and drill a small hole in the side of Mr. Standish’s skull and reduce the contusion. Hopefully this will allow the swelling to stop and begin to recede.”
Chris turned to Nathan for confirmation as to whether this would be the best approach. Nathan silently nodded and Chris turned back to the doctor at hand. “Do everything you can for him,” he said firmly. After the doctor had left the room, he whispered, “There’s no one else like him.”
After signing the release papers for the operation, Chris went back to the office-type chairs in the waiting room and sat down heavily. Signing his signature had been the hardest thing he had down since signing papers for the mortuary to pick up Sarah and Adam at the morgue. He knew without a doubt he would never be strong enough to do that again and he prayed he wouldn’t be asked to.
Buck sat down by his friend and simply offered his strength through silence. They had been down a lot of rough roads together and together they had always come out on the other side, maybe a little bit tougher and thicker skinned, but always in one piece. This time would be no different. They would ride this one out together, combining their strength and willpower to turn the tide in their favor.
Vin had only taken a short nap and now sat watching his young friend, calculating how best to get rid of him so he could make his escape. He hated doing such a thing but, JD took orders from Chris much too seriously. The black-haired agent had been told to keep the Texan in bed and resting and JD was taking that order far to seriously. Vin wanted to be where the rest were, downstairs waiting for word on Ezra’s surgery. Finally, Vin raised the head of the bed into almost a full upright position, licked his lips a couple of times and cleared his throat. “Hey, JD?” he said questioningly and waited until the other looked up from his magazine.
“Yeah, Vin?” JD answered as he rose from his chair and stood next to the bed.
“Could I ask ya for a favor?” Vin said nicely, putting just a touch of pain into the words.
“Sure, Vin, anything,” JD exclaimed, grateful to be of use and hopefully have something to do to get out that chair.
“I would really appreciate it if you went around the corner and got me a cup of Coke,” Vin said, licking his lips again. “I’ve had about as much water as I can stand. I feel like I’m going to float away,” he said.
The hospital, in its way to make things comfortable for the patients and easy on the nurses, had installed small drink dispensers in each nurse’s area. The choices were quite limited but, it beat the nurses having to go down the hall to get bedridden patients requested drinks from the vending machines.
“Sure, Vin, be glad to,” JD answered. He had briefly considered this a trap so that Vin could escape but after looking over the injuries Vin had acquired, JD negated that thought. Without further thinking, JD turned and left the room in such of refreshment for Vin.
Vin counted to twenty after JD had left and then eased his legs over the edge of the bed and pushed himself upright with his good hand. Waiting to see what ill effects he might suffer form such a move, he was quite relieved when his body didn’t rebel on him. Sliding off the bed, he hopped on his good leg over to the wheelchair JD had been using to entertain himself with earlier and gingerly sat down. Pushing the brake levers off, he pushed himself to the doorway, looked for JD to be returning and then headed for the elevators. He had just backed himself into the open crate when he heard JD’s bellowing, “VIN!” The sharpshooter felt a twinge of guilt but it didn’t last long. He knew JD would be downstairs in a matter of moments. Then they would all be together like it was suppose to be.
Chris looked up and groaned as Vin wheeled himself into the waiting room using his good hand and foot. Josiah pushed himself out of the chair he had been glued to for the past hour and went over to the younger man. Getting behind Vin, he pushed the wheelchair up to one of the cushioned chairs and helped the man change positions before lifting up the weighted leg and resting it in the seat of the wheelchair. “Your persistence continues, I see,” Josiah said with a touch of humor.
Buck looked over at Vin and simply asked, “Is JD okay or do I need to go rescue him?”
“Nah, he should be here in…” the rest of Vin’s sentence died as JD came running through the doorway panting.
Glaring at Vin, JD asked irritably, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to run down six flights of stairs and through two hallways?” Without waiting for an answer, the youngest plopped down in a chair and said angrily, “All you had to do was ask. I would have pushed you over here.”
“No, you wouldn’t have. You would have tried to talk me out of it because Chris gave you explicit instructions and you felt honor bound to follow through with them,” Vin rebuffed. Everyone knew JD had a hard time going against strict commands given by his fellow outranking teammates. It was to ingrained in him to do otherwise.
JD crossed his arms and tried to glare at Vin but cracked when Vin flashed him his trademark grin. JD could never stay mad very long and grinned back. JD was just as anxious to be here as the rest of them. This was how it was supposed to be, not split up and divided. The old adage ‘Together we stand, Divided we fall’ held some merit to JD’s way of thinking.
The six men didn’t have to wait for the words to come out of Dr. Massou’s mouth, his grin said it all. They still had a hard road ahead, but at least now there was a road. The nurses down the hall smiled as they heard the cheers coming from the waiting room. Chris felt like the weight of the world had suddenly moved off his shoulders as he stood there watching his friends and teammates do a miniature celebration. He took one look back at the doctor and became all business again, bringing, with his simple words, the others back to the real world. “Now what?” Chris asked.
“Now we continue to monitor him and wait for the swelling to start going down. He’s not out the woods yet. The swelling could have caused some damage as well as the seizures. We are just going to have to wait,” Dr. Massou explained. Chris nodded in acceptance. It wasn’t great news but it was better than the alternative.
It had been over twenty-four hours and Ezra was still sedated. The way his head was swathed in bandages made JD conjure of images of swami’s or men from India. The tubing coming out of the side of his head behind his left ear made him look like a cyborg that had been unconnected from his life force. The doctor had explained that in some situations a shunt would have been surgically implanted into the stem of Ezra’s brain attached to long length of tubing that would have been threaded through his system and stitched into his stomach, draining the fluid off the brain. In Ezra’s case, though, the shunt had been put behind the ear and the tubing led out of the skull and attached to a bag. In this way the medical staff could monitor precisely how much fluid was being drained off Ezra’s brain. It had not been an easy sight to adjust to at first glance but, this was a family and they adapted quickly.
The rest of the equipment they were familiar with, the incubation tube down the throat and all the monitors. These no longer were given a second thought to as each one had at least once been hooked up at various times during their union. The respirator would come out eventually when the doctors were sure Ezra was strong enough to breath on his own and one by one they would be divested of the monitors that blinked and beeped continuously.
Nathan had assured them that the Ezra’s vitals were continuing to improve. Buck sat on one side of the hospital bed and Josiah sat on the other. Buck stared down at the hand he was holding. The fact that it was so limp and lifeless scared the otherwise gutsy agent. He considered himself pretty close to the agent. Tanner, was the one Ezra pulled pranks with and laughed at other’s reactions but, it was he, to whom Ezra came to when Maude was making trouble for him. The first time Ezra had opened up to him, they had been at Inez’s. Buck couldn’t recall why it happened they were alone but, it was just the two of them. Ezra had been pretty quiet and Buck had finally come straight out and asked him what could he do to help. It had been risky at the time because Ezra was still fighting the trust issue but to Buck’s surprise Ezra had told him Maude was him for money. There hadn’t been much Buck could do at that point but listen. That had seemed to be enough for the undercover agent and after that Ezra had started coming to him when the pressure began building up on him. Ezra had appreciated the fact that, though Buck seemed to always be loud and talkative, he could keep secrets.
Buck squeezed the unresponsive hand. “Come on, Ez. You’re stronger than this, you can beat it,” he whispered pleadingly.
Josiah chose to ignore his friend’s pleadings coming from the other side of the bed. He knew it was Buck to whom Ezra chose as a confidante and at first it had pained him. Deeper inflection though had made him realize it was no one else’s fault by his own. Ezra had come to him once and of all times to chose, Ezra had chosen a time when Josiah himself was battling his own demons. Instead of helping Ezra and ensuring a stronger bond, he had had lashed out at him. Ezra had simply left. Ezra had later accepted Josiah’s repeated apologies; the profiler knew he had changed the course of their friendship with that one misstep.
Vin had caught up on a lot of missed rest and the others had taken turns going home and getting showers and a fresh change of clothes. Chris had been quite stubborn about leaving his men behind. To him, it was a personal thing as well as combat ingrained. Buck had understood and the others had left Chris’ departure in his hands, like always. So many things with the seven of these men were so much a routine that no one bothered to think about or analyze them. It was just the way they had evolved during their time together and no one thought about changing because it worked for them and you know what they say about things that aren’t broke.
After four days the doctor had finally decided it was time to start reducing Ezra’s sedation meds. They wanted him to come out of it slowly and with as little movement as possible. The six knew better. Once Ezra realized he was of free power to come back to the living it would be with fright and fighting power. If it had been a less dramatic or even less serious wound, they wouldn’t have been so concerned, but these men knew their seventh and knew what caused him the most stress and this had the qualifications of causing a heck of panic attack.
At the first signs on the monitor that Ezra’s consciousness was raising the six men gathered around the bed. Vin had been relegated to the head of the bed, where he could rest against it with his hip and have his leg up on the bottom of the railing. Chris was on the other side at the head, Ezra seemed to calm faster if Chris was barking orders in his face. They doubted it was the orders that Ezra responded to rather the voice. Buck and Nathan were strategically placed at waist side, and Josiah and JD at the end where they could hold down kicking feet.
Ezra’s hearing came back long before his ability to open his eyes did. This worked in the guy’s favor because it gave them a chance to talk to Ezra and let him know he was secured in a safe place with people he trusted watching his back. The undercover agent lay still for a while, listening to the voices float in and around him. He knew those voices and knew instinctively he was safe. He struggled with the physical act of getting his eyes opened; it felt like someone had put weights on his eyelids. As he struggled to get them open and then to focus, he continually heard one voice near his ear giving him the all-clear signal. Ezra felt his muscles relax further knowing Chris had the placed secured.
Once he got his eyes opened, the reality that he was in the hospital hit and a small panic attack hit. Ezra found himself trapped under the strong muscled arms pressing down on equally strong hands. Wild green eyes darted everywhere at once searching for the most probable danger. Eyes flitted from side to side and around before landing on equally wide green eyes, set to a face that mouthed the words for him calm down and look at him. Slowly Ezra regained his breath and control of his jerking muscles. He continued to stare at the lips forming words and concentrated on the meaning of the words being said to him.
Chris lowered his voice once he had garnered Ezra’s attention. Lifting one hand off, he placed his rough hand along the smooth, colorless cheek. “Right here, Ez. We’re right here and you’re okay,” Chris reiterated repeatedly.
Ezra became aware of things more cognizantly. He recognized several of the men surrounding him, though names would not immediately come to him. He realized the fear in him was dissipating and he could breath easier but, at the same time he realized his head was pounding with an excruciating headache. The kind that automatically made one roll up in an effort to get away from said pain and bought tears to the eyes. The blond man beside him asked what was wrong and all the undercover agent could do was lift a hand tentatively to his swathed head. A man in white coat appeared causing another brief struggle. Ezra knew the man in the white coat wanted something from him. What, he didn’t know, but he could do little other than try to rub the bandaged head. A hand reached up and took his away from his and held it. Soon the pain stopped and sleep came blissfully to take him away.
Chris stared at the beige walls and rolled his neck for relief. He hated this place; what it stood for, what it did or didn’t do for his men but most of all he hated how helpless the waiting made him feel. There was absolutely nothing he could do to speed up the injured one’s recovery, or take away the pain. Chris looked over at Vin. His friend was sleeping blissfully and he smiled. The sharpshooter was a wonderful array of colors and that wasn’t counting what atrocious color he might pick out for his cast. There were times when Chris had questioned whether or not Vin was colorblind. The worry and tension the had sharpshooter kept bottled up over Ezra had finally taken its toll.
Chris remembered his and Vin’s first real chat after getting him settled into the room. The sharpshooter had already given as many details about the other car as he could remember to Buck and JD, who had immediately called the highway patrol with the information, but, it didn’t seem to be enough for Vin. He had retold every moment he could remember to Chris, no less than five times. The blond had promised his friend they were doing everything possible to find the car but, having only a partial plate and no physical evidence that he had caused the wreck, it would be hard to do anything about it. They only had Vin as a witness and the defending attorney could tear that testimony to shreds in minutes. The windows had been shaded so there would be no identification of the driver.
Vin had of course realized all this and had spiraled into a case of depression. When JD came in later and told Vin that the driver had tried a similar move and hadn’t been quite so lucky, Chris thought Vin was going to leap out of bed and go charging down the hall. The IV, drugs and the team leader had ended that game plan so, Vin had settled on Josiah and JD going to the nearby town and checking out the situation. The driver had been badly hurt and the passenger in the other car had been killed; the driver wouldn’t be putting anybody’s life in jeopardy for a very long time.
Vin stirred and Chris watched as Buck placed a hand over the younger agent’s. Buck’s soft “Easy, Junior,” sounded a little loud in the morgue-quiet room. The blond knew as leader and friend he should make the token move to go talk to Vin but, it had been a very long five days and he simply didn’t have the energy to uncross his legs, let alone stand up and walk. If Vin had been in distress or needed him that would have been a different matter, but Vin was awake and semi-joking with Buck, as the caretaker was fetching him a glass of soda. Nathan didn’t like them drinking the stuff but, had compromised as long as the patient also drank plenty of water, too.
More than a week had passed. Vin had been sent out to the ranch and had someone, either from the team or Nettie, or Mrs. Potter, with him. The sharpshooter had complained he was being treated like a five-year-old in need of a babysitter. Chris had told him to suck it up and deal with it. Vin had done just that. There were times not even his closest friends had the nerve to go up against him, especially when Chris was at the end of his rope.
Buck and Chris sat in the small room. The only sounds were the beeping of monitors and the nurses going up and down the hall. The tubing had been removed when x-rays showed a significant amount of pressure had been removed and the brain had started shrinking back to size. Ezra had been allowed to come to more frequently in the last couple of days and he was finally taken off the ventilator. The effects of the accident were slowly making themselves known. Ezra had problems with names and short-term memory. His memory of his past seemed to have large gaping holes and at times he seemed to portray Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. One minute he seemed content and willing to participate in conversation. The next moment, he would get down right ugly and tell whoever was in the room to get lost in not such pleasant language. Nathan had explained that it was, unfortunately, typical of victims of brain injuries and that with time and patience most of the symptoms would fade away. Hopefully.
Chris figured that’s all his team ran on sometimes was hope. Hope each bust wasn’t their last. Hope each time one was hurt, the injured would return to normal. Hope that their luck always held true. The blond shook his head and wondered just how much luck the team really did have and how long would it last.
Josiah shifted, noticing Ezra’s green eyes flickering open. Standing up, he leaned on the side rail and peered down at his friend. It had been a long stay and he was ready for a change. “Hey, Brother,” the big man said with a smile.
The doctors had taken Ezra back inot surgery the previous evening and removed the shunt. Ezra had a large bald spot behind his ear that was covered by an equally large bandage. The doctors had reassured them that everything was looking good and it would just be a slow recovery.
“Hello,” Ezra responded flatly. He wished to high heaven he could remember these men’s names. It irritated the heck out of him. They told him and told him and it just never seemed to stick.
“Can I get you anything?” the older agent asked. Hoping for a short reprieve from the mundane routine they had fallen into.
“I would like some…juice. If you don’t mind,” Ezra asked, faltering on the word juice as his mind forgot the word for a moment. He could mentally see what he wanted but, getting the word out took effort.
“No problem. Be back in a sec,” Josiah said, as he turned to go ask the nurse for some juice.
Chris put down his book and rose from his chair. Walking stiffly over to the bed, he grinned down at the pale friend. “How’re you doing, Ez?” he asked softly.
He hated seeing Ezra look so fragile and vulnerable. It went against type. Yes, some of the men had at first glance thought Ezra to be some puffy little wimp dressed in all that fine clothing. That had changed with the first bust when Ezra took on a madman twice his size and won. Now, the others knew what the team knew, Ezra was just as tough and independent as any of them.
“I’m fine…” Ezra winced at the loss of name. He shouldn’t be having this problem; he was a man with a great extended vocabulary. He hated these memory lapses. It made him feel stupid and took away a large hunk of his self-esteem. Why they bothered to still come around was beyond him. He surely wasn’t worth anything to them in this shape.
“Chris,” the blond added, easily supplying the name. They all had seen the effects these memory losses were taking on their friend. Ezra was one that needed to be in control of everything surrounding his life. He also relied on his words to get him what he needed. Since coming to, Ezra had been trying his hardest to get back to normal and the tide was against him.
Laying his hand on Ezra’s arm, he spoke gently but, firmly, “Don’t get so frustrated, Ezra. It’s only been a little more than a week and your brain took a pretty big hit. Just give it time. It’ll get better. Nathan said there was an excellent chance of you recovering 100%.”
“I hate it,” Ezra replied emphatically, letting off some of the tension and anger that had slowly been building up.
“I know,” the blond leader said. There was nothing else he could say or do to make the situation better and that bothered Chris a great deal.
Ezra wasn’t appeased. He could do nothing but wait and heal.
Ezra’s self-anger was growing every day along with his impatience. He wanted to be well and he wanted it now. He could feel his fibers quivering inside like a string wound too tight on a longbow. There was very little give left. He could feel it boiling up inside of him, the urge to break and he fought it with everything he had. He would not loose complete control.
Two weeks had passed and Ezra could see no difference in himself. The guys around him could. They had all showed up since it was a Saturday and intended to do their best to relieve some of the tension radiating off the patient and bolster up his spirits. The nurses had had a tough week and needed a break. Lunch was bought in and Josiah maneuvered the tray table around to where Ezra could sit up in bed and eat.
Ezra looked at the meal set before him. There were plenty of jokes about hospital food but, surprisingly Memorial strove to make good meals for their patients. As Ezra looked at the cold pasta salad, garlic bread, spinach and Jell-O, he felt the trembling veins increase inside of him. He hated this part. Not necessarily the food but, not having a choice in the matter. Sure they gave him a choice of two different meals but it wasn’t the same thing. As he stared at the red Jell-O he felt his entire body start to shake on the inside. He was a stick of dynamite just waiting for the lighted match.
Josiah sat back and observed the young agent. His heart actually hurt for the man. He understood Ezra was a man that needed to be in control. He had sat back and watched the agent for long periods of time during assignments and out at the ranch. Josiah was beginning to get some clue of what made the man tick and knew for certain this accident was taking a greater toll on the friend than he let on.
Buck could see it coming. He had been around Chris and criminals long enough to know when a person was about at the end of their ropes. With no more options and no more hope, a man was likely to snap, plunging off the edge. He intended to do everything in his power to keep Ezra from falling into that abyss just like he had done everything he could to stop Chris.
Vin watched Ezra poke at his food. Though he had finally come to terms that it wasn’t his fault and the guy responsible would get his just deserts, Vin couldn’t resist feeling guilty for his friend’s predicament. He could empathize with Ezra on what it must be like to be fine one minute and wake up the next with fewer abilities. He had vocally promised Ezra he would be there every step of the way and the six of them would get him back to normal. Even if the meaning of the word was rewritten to fit Ezra’s abilities.
JD watched Ezra poke at the red Jell-O. Everyone knew blue was really his favorite. The young agent hated the fate that decided to shake up his teammate’s world. Ezra didn’t need this. They didn’t need this. Watching the Jell-O quiver under the prodding of the fork as it was poked repeatedly, JD felt helpless. “I can go get you domething else, Ezra,” the young agent offered.
That seemed to be the lit match and became the catalysts for what was to come.
Ezra felt every fiber snap at once. Hating how weak his debilitating limits made him. Ezra pushed at his tray table in an effort to shove it away. Instead he hit the tray itself, resulting in the tray sliding off the table; taking it’s contents with it, to a clattering crash to the floor.
Six men froze for a second before Josiah, standing at the bed already, laid a hand on the quivering uninjured shoulder. The profiler had expected this. One can’t keep everything bottled up and not explode. “Ezra,” he started softly.
“Oh shut up…Jo...Jo…Josiah! I don’t want to be pa…pacified right now!” Ezra snarled, shaking with anger.
Josiah arched one eyebrow and smiled sardonically. “Well, then what do you want?” he asked.
“I want…” frustration getting the better of him from having to be weak enough to depend on these men. “I want out of here!” His voice rising higher than normal.
Six men looked at one another and slow smiles began appearing. This was the Ezra they knew. The one who hated this place with such passion escapes were part of the package. Josiah looked down on his friend and asked innocently, “And if we don’t let that happen?”
“Just try and stop me,” Ezra said. he pushed himself more upright and getting his strength back, fueled by his anger, momentarily. This was feeling right to him; this arguing, demanding and bluffing. Ezra held onto his stern face. “I’ll figure out a way,” he said, keeping up his bravado.
“Well, then I guess we ought to see what we can do about it, if you’re that set on getting out of here,” Buck said with almost a laugh. It felt good to see a glimmer of their old friend returning.
Everyone turned to look at Chris. They would need not only his consent but also, his help. The blond stared back at his men, his brothers, and gave one short nod; knowing his agent too well. “Nathan, check him out and see what instructions we need. Buck, go get the truck and pull it around,” Chris began issuing orders and liking it. Turning to the one on crutches, “Vin, might as well start down to the lobby now. JD, go with him. Josiah, guess we better get him ready to travel,” the blond finished by nodding towards Ezra. With their marching orders the men separated happily.
Dr. Massou should have seen it coming. These men did better when together. As Ezra had progressively recovered, the men had been forced to start going back to work. He had heard that they had actually willingly played second fiddle to the few cases they had worked on during agent Standish’s stay so that one of them could stay with the man most of the time. Now Nathan was standing before him telling him they were taking Ezra home, even if it was against medical advice.
Dr. Massou looked at the serious face before him and knew one way or another the team was going to take Standish home. Well, he wouldn’t raise a fuss. He had seen what happened to other doctors who had tried. It wasn’t a pretty sight and the patient wound up leaving anyway. He reluctantly signed the discharge papers and filled the paramedic in all the prescribed information needed to help the patient. He had recommended speech therapy but, had a distinct feeling that piece of advice fell on deaf ears.
Ezra had been relegated to the ranch for his recovering. The mood swings were not quite so severe and little by little Ezra’s speech and memory abilities were improving. He still had problems with short-term memory, though not as pronounced, but had regained no memories of the previous bust or the subsequent ride out to Chris’. The guys weren’t too worried. The doctors and Nathan had both assured the team that amnesia of this kind was quite expected and there was a good chance Ezra would never remember that time but, it didn’t matter, he was improving. The days went by and the guys dealt with each one individually.
Weekends were by far the best days of the week. The guys took it easy, did their own thing and on Saturday evenings congregated at Chris’ for the next twenty-four hours. It was the ritual they had grown accustomed to and preferred. This Saturday was no different. Everyone was already gathered and a game of football had been started, with Buck and Josiah against Nathan and JD. Chris was tending to the meat on the grill.
Vin, having been released back to work but, only desk duty, stood leaning against a tree, his knee and wrist still encased in paraphernalia to keep them immobile, watching Ezra. The undercover agent was currently laid out in the hammock, he had been unnervingly quiet for the most part of the day. The guys had surreptitiously taken turns of walking by periodically and giving the swing a gentle push. Ezra would always acknowledge them with a quiet ‘thank you’. Vin hobbled back over to where the folding chairs and long picnic table were and attempted to fold one of the chairs.
Chris walked up and quietly asked, “Where do you want it?”
Vin nodded over towards the hammock and the blond quietly walked over to the spot and placed the chair then left. Vin lowered himself awkwardly down into the metal chair, the leg brace hampering his balance. He watched Ezra lying on the swing with his eyes shut, but knew the man wasn’t asleep.
“You blame me for this?” the sharpshooter asked. Vin had battled his own demons and nightmares about this accident. He had accepted the fact he wasn’t in the wrong technically, but the doubts and what ifs seemed to crowd in, especially at night and the fact Ezra had been cool towards him lately didn’t help.
Ezra’s eyes popped open and he started to sit up. A little too quickly because he froze as the world began to swirl and his vision blurred. Lowering himself back down with a tight grimace etched in his face, he tried to hold still and hoped for a fast recovery. His fingers wrapped around the edges of the hammock in a white-knuckle death-grip.
Vin asked worriedly, “You okay?” they all knew Ezra had really been pushing himself towards a faster recovery than the doctor had predicted. They had worried Ezra was overdoing it.
Receiving a minute nod, a relieved Vin smirked. “Smarts when you do that. Wouldn’t try it again.”
Ezra only nodded delicately. He feverously wished the thundering headache would ease up and the black dots behind his closed eyelids would stop exploding in blinding lights.
“Don’t blame you,” Ezra finally managed to expel.
Vin waited until he could his friend’s breathing had returned to normal and the pale face had color back in it before saying, “Talk to me.”
Ezra hesitated, not sure he could put into words the thoughts he had been dwelling on. Opening his eyes slowly, he found himself staring into Vin’s worried visage. The prone man knew he would never be able to carry on a conversation from that position. Carefully he rolled onto his side. Instinctively Vin realized what Ezra was attempting to do and grabbed the hammock with one hand and flexed his muscle. Ezra took hold of the offered arm with his weaker hand and pushed up with the other. Using Vin’s arm, Ezra held on to steady himself.
Once in a sitting position, Ezra wasn’t sure he could continue. Vin could understand that and decided to sit back and give Ezra the time and space he needed to get his thoughts and words in order. He also understood that for Ezra, words were easy to spew out, thoughts were a lot harder. With the hand left unconsciously on the now lax supporting arm, Ezra stared down at the striped pattern of the hammock until his eyes began to cross and his vision blurred. As his eyesight became unfocused his thoughts became clear.
Speaking haltingly and low, Ezra began. “You remember when you were a little kid and it was late and dark. How you’d wake up to find yourself in need of the facilities but scared to get out of bed? After getting out of bed, you’d put your hand on the doorknob but, you just couldn’t make yourself turn the knob because somehow you knew on the other side of that door was something big and awful lurking, just waiting for you to open that door so it could snatch you?”
Vin simply nodded. He remembered that feeling a little too well. He didn’t dare speak though; it was very rare for Ezra to open up like this and he wasn’t about to interrupt, afraid Ezra would stop speaking.
“I remember being undercover…I think,” Ezra added begrudgingly. “And I remember things that happened after surgery but, I don’t remember the accident or the following days.” By now Ezra’s voice had weakened considerably.
Ezra finally looked up at Vin and the sharpshooter took a deep breath at the readable expression his friend was trying so hard to hide. There was so much fear and trepidation in those green eyes.
Ezra continued. “That blank spot is like opening the door. There’s an awful sinking feeling that something dark is lying there…waiting for me to remember.”
Green eyes met blue demanding the truth. Needing to know what monster, imaginable or not, was waiting to come back and bite him when he wasn’t looking. Ezra was silently demanding and imploring his friend not to let him be swallowed by the unknown beast.
Vin knew about waiting for the inevitable and leaned forward to talk. He would never make his friend wait, whether or not Josiah would think it was wise. Waiting only adds fuel to the imagination. He smiled softly, letting Ezra know the truth to come was not as bad as he feared. The six of them had already conferred together and it was agreed certain instances were never to be bought up again.
Slowly he stated, “You remember, too, how when you did finally turn that knob and opened the door the immense relief you felt at not being instantly devoured. How you would reach slowly for the light switch because you weren’t sure you wanted to know what was hidden by the blackness but, once you flipped on the light there would be nothing there and you would chastise yourself for letting your imagination get the better of you?”
Ezra nodded, the apprehension still clearly etched fine lines in his face.
Looking straight into his friend’s face, Vin said, “There’s no monsters lurking there, Ez. Nothing for you to worry about.”
Ezra searched the blue eyes in front of him. Looking for any signs that information might have been deleted or revised and found none. Blowing out a deep breath, he eased his tired body back down to rest. Closing his eyes, he missed Vin looking over the hammock to where JD, who had walked up quietly moments earlier, was standing. Smiling, the two men shared the knowledge that some things were left in the past.
The team returned to normal slowly. Vin finally lost the last of his splints and after a few practice shots, requalified with his sharpshooting. Ezra was put on desk duty until he could prove to the psychologists that he was mentally fit to go back to undercover work. It was proving to be trying time for all of them. Ezra, not being able to do his job to the way he saw fit, was a strain on all of them.
Buck and JD were sitting in their living room enjoying a quiet, relaxing evening watching a TV movie. Upon hearing a knock on the door, they both stared at each other waiting for the other one to get up and answer it. Finally, with a great sigh, Buck heaved himself out of his recliner and moved to open the door. He didn’t quite mask the surprise he felt when he found Ezra on the other side. Ezra rarely ventured to any of their houses and doing it without an invitation was in Ezra’s words ‘unconscionable’.
“Hey, Ez!” Buck said loudly, recovering from his shock and opening the door wider. “Come on in.”
Ezra stepped carefully into the quaint foyer. Buck could read the slight apprehension in his friend and wondered what was wrong. “I… I was wondering if I might speak to Mr. Dunne,” Ezra said formally. He had rehearsed what he wanted to say for the last two days and now the words, like his memory of the accident, was completely gone.
Though the accident was in the past and since the operation Ezra had treated JD like he always had, Buck still felt a big brother responsibility for protecting the younger agent from any more arrows of hurt. He would be the first to admit JD had handled the situation well and had never once backed down from being the injured agent’s friend or threw it back in his face. Buck turned to find JD standing at the edge of the living room giving him a reprimanding look.
“Jeez, Buck where’s your manners? Come on in, Ez,” JD said in his youthful way.
Buck side stepped the two and said, “I’ll go fix us something to drink.”
JD led Ezra into the living room and motioned for the man to take a seat. Sitting down, the younger agent watched his friend pick at his cuffs. They had been around Ezra long enough to know Ezra only did this when he had something serious on his mind.
“So you wanted to talk to me?” JD asked.
“Something wrong?” he questioned when Ezra didn’t say anything.
Ezra paused his movements and looked up into he younger eyes. “I don’t know,” he said lowly. He was getting frustrated with himself; this was not what he rehearsed at all. Ezra got up and began pacing the floor, after the third repetition he turned and found himself face-to-face with JD.
After a few long moments, Ezra took a deep breath and said, “I don’t know why but, I have a deep sense that I owe you an apology.”
“I don’t want your apology,” JD answered back quickly.
“Oh,” Ezra said, his voice sounding deflated. He turned to leave but was stopped by JD’s hand grasping his arm and turning him back around.
“I don’t want it because I don’t need it,” the younger agent said straightforward. “ You haven’t done anything you need to apologize for,” JD said.
He believed the words, too. His friend Ezra, the one standing before him now, hadn’t done anything to him to warrant an apology. Whatever strange behavior Ezra had exhibited after the accident wasn’t performed by the same man he called friend. During those first twenty-four hours, the young agent would be the first to admit that it stung for Ezra to see him as the enemy but, he had come to realize that with brain injuries there was no ‘knowing why’. Things were they way they were, just because. Nathan had to explain it as the brain being the most complex computer ever invented and not even the greatest neurologists could explain certain phenomenons. Like why some coma patients woke up after years of being in one and others never did. Why some patients were right handed before the injury and afterwards became left handed. There just to many unknowns to answer all the ‘whys’. So JD had just accepted it and tried to prepare himself for it to continue being that way. He was never so thankful for anything as when, after Ezra came to after surgery that, he was no longer seen as a threat
“I’ll let you know if you owe me an apology or whup ya until ya do,” JD said with a chuckle. Seeing Ezra’s arched eyebrow and puzzled look, JD said, “Look who I live with. You don’t live with Buck and not learn a thing or two,” he stated. “Now come on and sit down and let the poor old man come out of the kitchen. He’s probably dying of curiosity by now,” he said with a laugh.
Buck entered into the living room with refreshments and had never felt so proud of their younger brother than he did right now. Maybe he was teaching the kid a thing or two about life and friendship after all. “Who you calling old?” he said loudly.
“You,” JD shot back with a wide smile, as he took the proffered drink from his roommates hand.
Settling back against the couch with his drink, Ezra looked at the two men from his vantage point. He recalled all the times he had woken up during his last incarceration at the hospital. One of the guys had always been there. He laid his head back against the couch and listened to the two men wrangle back and forth. A small smile crept onto his face as a new concept flittered through his mind. It wouldn’t be so bad to live out the rest of his live with a job he liked and these men by side.
JD quit his arguing and nodded over to the couch. Buck turned and let out a quiet laugh. Getting up, he removed the glass, resting on Ezra’s leg, from the lax hand. The two men maneuvered the sleeping agent into a prone position, Ezra never even rousing. A testament to how much trust the man had grown to have in them. JD took the throw off the back of the couch and laid it carefully over his friend. Buck and JD returned to their seats and talked quietly on for a long time. This was what being part of a family was all about.