Ezra pulled up outside Vin's apartment block. He sat in his Jag and waited for the sharpshooter to come down. He certainly wasn't going to leave his pride and joy unattended in this part of town. He'd probably return to find just the steering wheel left. He didn't understand how Vin could live here.
Vin emerged from the doorway, threading his arms into the sleeves of his coat as he walked towards the car. He had been keeping an eye out for Ezra's arrival. He knew the undercover agent wouldn't come up to collect him. Vin smiled at a group of women who stood talking outside the building as he passed by.
"Hey Ez," he said as he lowered himself into the front seat. He always enjoyed riding in Ezra's car. It was nice to have a bit of luxury sometimes.
"Mr. Tanner," Ezra said in greeting.
"Thanks for giving me a lift. Much obliged."
"Think nothing of it. I need to see Mr. Larabee about something anyway." Ezra looked over his left shoulder and pulled out into the traffic when it was safe and headed out of town. They were going out to Chris's ranch. Ezra parked at the front of the ranch house. Chris had heard them arrive and came out of the barn to meet them. He wiped his hands on a cloth as he wandered over to them. He was dressed in jeans and sweatshirt. Both items were liberally sprinkled with straw.
"Boys," he said when he was near enough for them to hear.
"Mr Larabee have you been rolling in the haystack with some lucky lady? You look like a scarecrow that's losing its stuffing," Ezra told him disgustedly.
Chris smiled at the look on Ezra's face. "Sorry Ez. If I'd known you were going to be offended by a bit of dirt I'd have had a shower and put my best suit on. Vin, I've got the horse in the barn for you when you're ready."
"Okay, I'll just go and look him over."
Ezra caught Chris's eye before he could walk off with Vin. "Mr. Larabee, could I have a word?"
"Sure, Ezra. What's up?"
"I just wondered if it would be agreeable to you if I took some time off work this week?"
"It's a bit short notice, Ezra. Is anything wrong?" Chris frowned with concern. Ezra usually arranged time off well in advance.
"No. I just had a call from my mother. It seems she's got herself into a bit of bother, nothing serious, but she could do with my help."
"Well, it should be okay. How long do you need?"
"A couple of days should suffice."
Vin came out of the barn leading the horse by a rope. It was not saddled and was a beautiful looking creature. Chris walked over to him.
"Everything alright?" he asked.
"Yeah, he's a beauty, ain't he?"
"Sure is. I just need you to do a bit of work with him. He's been broken but it's a long time since he's been ridden. The previous owners couldn't handle him and just left him in a field for ages before deciding to get rid of him. They didn't do a very good job in breaking him in anyway. Think you can handle it?"
"I'll give it a go."
"Come, come, Mr. Tanner," Ezra snorted derisively. "Don't try to pretend that you couldn't ride a wild buffalo if you were so minded. You are an excellent rider."
"Gee Ez. You don't often give compliments. Are you feeling alright?" Vin laughed.
"Very funny. You certainly won't be getting anymore," Ezra retorted haughtily.
The three friends moved to the corral. Vin took the horse inside while Ezra and Chris leant against the rail to watch. Vin put a lunge rein on the horse and started work. He wanted to see if the horse had remembered what it had been taught and if it had any quirks in its nature. When he was satisfied, he decided to try it with a saddle. Chris entered the corral and held the horse's head while Vin lifted the saddle onto its back and gently put it in place. The horse
stood quietly and Vin tightened the cinch. Chris and Vin then left the corral to see what the horse would do. It immediately started running at top speed round and round the corral kicking and bucking to try to get the unfamiliar contraption off its back. The horse eventually stopped, resigned to the fact that the saddle was there to stay.
Vin reentered the corral and caught it. He reattached the lunge rein and started work again. The horse settled nicely and Vin was happy with the way it was progressing. He called Chris and asked for a leg up. Ezra also entered the corral and took hold of the horse's head while Chris lifted Vin into the saddle by his left leg. Vin settled softly onto the horse's back. Chris then left and Ezra waited until he was safely out before releasing the horse's head. He then made a hasty retreat as the horse again set off round the corral trying to dislodge Vin. After a few circuits Vin managed to get it under control and brought it back to a walk. He patted its neck and spoke softly to calm it down. Vin kicked it into a trot again and started working the horse in earnest. The animal obviously remembered what it had been taught before. Vin had it going beautifully at all paces. He slowed it to a walk to cool down before he put it back in the barn. He thought he had done enough work for one day. He was very pleased with the way the horse had worked. He lengthened the reins so the horse could stretch and relax.
Chris went back to the ranch house and left Ezra to watch. The horse walked round the corral, occasionally spooking at shadows and once when it passed Ezra.
"God Ezra, stop giving off bad vibes will ya? He's anxious enough as it is," Vin protested teasingly. He shortened the reins again to control the horse.
"Mr. Tanner. You must be communicating your mistrust of me to him unconsciously. Horses have sixth sense you know."
"I don't always mistrust you Ez. Only where money's concerned. Yer a scrooge, you know that don't ya?"
At that moment Chris's dog, Arnie, came haring out of the ranch house, barking excitedly. He had been lying inside the front door which Chris had left open. He had spied a bird on the ground and decided to chase it. With a great flapping of wings the bird flew off squawking. Arnie lost interest and headed towards the corral after spotting Vin and Ezra. The horse startled by the sudden noise snorted and started fiddle footing about. Ezra made a grab for the dog but he evaded capture thinking it was all a game. Vin nearly had the horse back under control when Arnie ducked under the bottom rail and started running round under the horse's hooves barking and jumping up. The horse reared suddenly flailing its front legs out at the dog. Vin leant forward trying to get his weight up front to stop the horse going over backwards. The horse had reared with such force that nothing Vin did could stop the backward motion. Ezra looked on in horror knowing he should have prevented the dog getting in the corral in the first place. There was nothing he could do to help now. If he tried to catch Arnie he could be trampled by the horse in the mayhem and would probably cause more trouble in the process anyway. The horse was very close to the rails of the corral fence and it fell against them. Vin tried desperately to get out of the saddle but his leg was trapped against the top rail. He hit the rails heavily and the horse crashed down taking Vin with it. It fell on top of him. Vin's head hit the bottom rail hard and he lost consciousness.
"Chris, get out here now!" Ezra yelled at the top of his voice. He looked back towards Vin as the horse got up treading on him in the process.
Chris came out of the house. He had heard Arnie barking, but had not thought anything of it. He had forgotten that Vin was still on the horse. When he saw Vin's motionless body, he sprinted as fast as he could towards him. Ezra meanwhile had ducked under the railings and had managed to catch the horse before it could hurt Vin anymore. Chris dived under the top rail and dropped to his knees next to Vin. Ezra took the horse back to the barn and called the dog so it went with him too. After unsaddling the horse in a loose box and locking Arnie in another, he ran back to help Chris.
"Vin, can you hear me?" Chris asked urgently. Vin's eyes were closed and he had an angry bruise forming on his forehead. He stirred and groaned.
"Don't move, Vin," Chris instructed, placing a hand on his chest. Ezra knelt down opposite Chris.
"Shall I get an ambulance?" he asked anxiously.
While Ezra was doing that, Vin opened his eyes.
"Just lay still. An ambulance is on its way," Chris told him. That Vin didn't say he didn't need one was a worry. Chris started checking Vin over for other injuries. He found his left arm was broken.
"How do you feel?"
"Like half a ton of horse fell on me," Vin replied.
Chris smiled despite his concern. "I meant can you feel if anything else is broken?"
"My neck aches a bit," Vin admitted quietly. He wouldn't meet Chris's eyes as he spoke.
Chris and Ezra exchanged worried glances. Vin always said he was fine, for him to actually admit he hurt meant that he really was in pain. Ezra felt sick. He had a feeling something was terribly wrong with his companion. He smiled at Vin trying to comfort him as he knew he must be in turmoil. He reached out and put a hand on Vin's arm and gave it a rub. Vin looked at him and returned the smile although he had never felt less like smiling in his life. He was worried. He could feel pins and needles in his legs, but he wasn't going to tell Chris about it. He didn't want to get him even more up tight, or start him fussing.
Chris wiped a hand over his face. He then looked down at Vin and saw the emotions that were flicking across his face. He must keep strong for Vin. God knows what injuries he had. They heard the ambulance coming in the distance and shortly afterwards it pulled up next to the corral. The paramedics got out and made their way over to the three men.
One started checking on Vin's condition, while the other asked Chris what had happened.
"I didn't see. Ezra was there. He'll tell you." He put a hand out and pulled Ezra over.
"The dog upset the horse, which reared and fell over backwards. Vin had his leg caught against the top rail and couldn't get free. The horse fell on top of him and then kicked him when it got back up."
"Did he lose consciousness at all?"
"For a minute or two max. He said his neck hurt as well," Chris interjected.
The two paramedics decided to put Vin on a back board and then loaded him into the back of the ambulance.
Chris was appalled when he heard what Ezra had to say about the incident. He chastised himself for not keeping the dog locked in the house. He was responsible for his friend's injuries. Would Vin forgive him? He hoped so. He valued their special relationship.
"You go with him Chris. I'll follow in the car and let the others know what has happened. We were going to meet them later today if you remember." Chris hadn't. All thoughts had gone from his mind, the minute he had seen Vin's prone body on the ground. He turned and nodded at Ezra before getting in with Vin.
Ezra ran to his car and set off after them. He phoned Buck and asked him to relay the message to the other men. Ezra couldn't handle repeating the same story over and over to each member of the team. His mind was full of images of the accident. He wondered if his actions should have been different. These thoughts occupied his mind all the way to the hospital. He parked and was just in time to see Vin disappear inside the door on a trolley. He ran to catch up with Chris.
"How is he?" he asked as he drew alongside.
"Not good. He lost consciousness again on the way here. He must have banged his head pretty hard. He looks awful." Chris sounded upset. Ezra put a hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. His own stomach was doing somersaults and he felt a wave of coldness creep through his body. He shivered involuntarily and Chris felt it. He looked at Ezra understanding what he was feeling. Chris had been feeling hot then cold all the way to the hospital. He had a lump in the pit of his stomach which he couldn't shake off.
The other members of the team arrived in dribs and drabs. Nathan was the only one who wouldn't come. He was on a course in Washington and wouldn't be back until Friday. They quizzed Ezra and Chris about the accident. The men should have realised they were treading on dodgy ground when Ezra's answers got shorter and shorter.
JD said to Ezra accusingly, "Couldn't you have caught Arnie? He usually comes if you call him."
Ezra couldn't take any more and startled the other men by shouting back at JD, "Why don't you shut the fuck up?" before storming out of the room. His friends were taken back by the outburst. Ezra never swore. He was always telling them that abusive language was an abuse of language. He very rarely lost his temper. The men were used to his happy though cynical character and knew they had pushed him too far.
Chris turned angrily towards JD. "Haven't you got anything to say to me as well? Like if I'd shut the door none of this would have happened? Don't you think we feel guilty enough as it is? God JD, you never know when to keep your mouth shut. It wasn't Ezra's fault."
Buck opened his mouth to leap to JD's defence but Chris stalled him. "Not this time Buck. He needs to take the consequences of his words." He turned back to JD. "You weren't there JD. You don't know what happened. Just think before you open your mouth in future." Chris was furious with him. JD looked suitably ashamed and went and sat down. Buck as usual went to comfort him. Josiah stood up as if to go after Ezra but Chris caught his arm.
"I'll go. I think he blames himself for what happened. He also saw it happen which makes it worse." Chris walked out of the waiting room to look for Ezra. He wasn't to be found in the hospital. Chris went down to the entrance and found him outside leaning against the wall. He looked pale and close to tears. Chris had never seen him react so badly before. He walked up to him and leant against the wall beside him.
"Are you okay? JD was very tactless. I've put him straight. It wasn't your fault you know. It was mine. I should have locked the dog in. I thought Vin had finished and didn't shut the door after me." Chris looked down at the ground as he thought back over the incident.
Ezra sighed deeply and when he spoke Chris could hardly hear him.
"Thank you for trying to take the guilt from my shoulders, but I must take some of the blame. JD hit a raw nerve. I did try to catch Arnie but only succeeded in sending him into the corral. I should have acted more expeditiously." Chris couldn't help but smile. Ezra still used long words no matter how upset he was.
"What's so amusing, Mr. Larabee?" I don't find recent events in the least bit amusing," Ezra replied angrily.
Chris was going to have to tread carefully. He hadn't seen Ezra so close to the edge before. "Sorry Ezra. I was just laughing at your use of language. I've never understood how you could keep up with those fancy words of yours. I didn't mean to upset you." Chris put an arm round Ezra's shoulders and gave him a hug.
"Mr. Larabee, please," Ezra said struggling free from the embrace. "Someone might see us. Whatever would they think? I have my reputation to consider." He paused and looked into Chris's eyes. "Thank you, anyway. I know I'm not always your favourite person, but I do appreciate your concern, believe me. Shall we go back inside? There may be some news of our injured colleague."
Chris smiled and put his arm back round Ezra's shoulders. Ezra threw him a dirty look and then laughed out loud.
"You really are the limit. Don't make a habit of this touchy feely business," Ezra said as they walked back up to the waiting room.
Chris dropped his arm just before entering the room and luckily none of the others noticed. Ezra took a seat away from the others, and the rest of the team had the sense to leave him alone. JD certainly wasn't going to approach him. He didn't want his head bitten off again. Chris was just about to ask if there was any news when a doctor entered the room.
"Yes. How is he?"
"He's got several broken ribs and severe bruising to his left side. He's also broken his left arm and has a concussion."
"What about his neck?"
"There's just some soft tissue damage. He'll have to have some physiotherapy on it."
Chris let out a sigh and looked over at Ezra who smiled faintly back at him. "Can we see him?"
"Yes, but only a couple of you."
Chris looked at Ezra again and inclined his head indicating for him to follow. "Ezra and I will go," he said. The rest of the team did not argue.
They entered Vin's room. Vin moved his eyes to see who had entered and smiled when he saw who it was. His neck still hurt too much to move.
"Hey Vin. How are you?"
"Oh just dandy thanks. I feel like I've been run over by a steam roller." Vin looked over at Ezra and saw how uneasy he looked. "Hey Ez. What's up?"
Ezra raised his head and looked into Vin's eyes. He was not usually lost for words but he really didn't know what to say. He moved his gaze to the floor and studied his shoes. He knew he should say something, but the words stuck in his throat. He should be comforting Vin not adding to his problems. Chris turned to him and put a hand on his shoulder.
"It's okay Ezra. I don't think Vin's in a fit state to hit you."
"You don't blame yourself do ya, Ez? It was just an accident," Vin replied quietly. Ezra raised his eyes again and smiled softly.
"You may tell me that, but I still feel somewhat guilty. I thought.....well I don't know what I thought when the horse fell on you."
"The only thing I hold ya responsible for is telling me that I was an excellent rider. Ya lied," Vin said smiling.
"There's no such thing as a horse that can't be rode or a cowboy that can't be throwed. Is that what you're saying? You have at least proved half of that saying," Ezra said smiling.
Vin laughed and regretted it immediately. His ribs sent up an instant protest and his laugh ended in a loud groan. "God Ezra. Don't make me laugh." He held his side until the pain passed. His head was also pounding and the room seemed to be swirling. He closed his eyes against the rising nausea and took a shallow breath.
Chris dropped his hand from Ezra's shoulder and looked at Vin with concern. "Are you alright? Can I get you anything?"
"No. Just don't make me laugh. They say I can leave tomorrow. Can I come an' stay with you Chris?"
"Sure you can, but I think it might be easier if you were in town. Ezra can you accommodate him?"
"With pleasure. I can turn one of the downstairs rooms into a bedroom to save you going up and down the stairs. I will phone my mother and tell her I can't meet her. I can give her some advice over the phone instead."
"Sorry Ez. I'd forgotten you were going to see her. Are you sure it's alright?" Chris enquired.
"Yes. She can manage without me, I'm sure."
"Thanks. I 'preciate it," Vin said gratefully.
"That's settled then. I'll come and collect you tomorrow. We'd better leave you to get some rest and update the rest of the gang," Ezra said. Both visitors turned and left the room. Outside the room Chris put a hand on Ezra's arm and pulled him to a halt.
"Are you really okay? We're all so used to you coping with everything that's thrown at you we sometimes take things too far. You hide your feelings so well we don't know when we've overstepped the mark. You need to develop a temper like mine. Everyone pussy foots around you then," Chris told him conspiratorially.
"I'll take your recommendation under advisement," Ezra said smiling. "Thank you again for your concern. I'm more angry with myself than anything for letting things get to me and using such foul language. My mother would be appalled at such behaviour. I can only apologise. I will try to refrain from such outbursts in future."
"Well it won't do you any good to keep things inside. Let rip whenever you feel like it." Chris patted Ezra's back and they continued on their way to the waiting room. Ezra again went and sat apart from the others while Chris gave them the latest news about Vin. Ezra eventually stood up and tapped JD on the arm and crooked a finger at him to get him to step aside from the rest of the men.
"I must apologise to you JD. I am sorry I swore at you. It was unforgivable."
"It's okay Ezra. I'm sorry I upset you. I'll be more careful what I say next time."
The group of men left together. Chris would return later with Ezra. He went back to Ezra's house to help get a room ready for Vin, while the rest of the men returned to work.
Buck still couldn't get over Ezra's reaction to events. He caught Josiah and took him into Chris's office.
"What do you think we can do to make things up with Ezra? I've never seen him like this before."
"Buck. Ezra is a complex man. He doesn't let his real feelings show. He's still unsure of his place in the team. We'll just have to give him space at the moment. We saw what pushing him did. Chris seems to be dealing with him well, so I think we let things ride for the time being. Just be there for him if he needs us," Josiah advised.
"Okay. He certainly surprised me today though," Buck said, shaking his head. He knew he was partly responsible for Ezra's outburst. Both men left the office and returned to their desks.
Chris and Ezra were moving furniture to accommodate Vin. It took a couple of hours until they were satisfied with the results. They hoped they had thought of every need for the patient.
Ezra looked up at Chris and asked, "Do you want to stay as well? I have another spare room upstairs if you want to."
"Yeah, that'd be good. We can take it in turns to watch Vin then. You know what a bad patient he can be."
"You can say that again," Ezra replied laughing. He would be glad of the company.
Both men returned to the hospital in the evening to see how Vin was. They entered his room to find him still asleep. His arm was in plaster and in a sling. Ezra and Chris sat down on either side of the bed to wait for him to wake up.
Vin woke a couple of hours later to find both of his friends snoring quietly by his bedside. "Lot of company you two are," he whispered. He smiled and went back to sleep.
Chris stretched and looked over to the bed at around midnight. Vin was awake and staring at the ceiling.
"Oh, finally awake are ya? I thought you were here to keep me amused. Every time I've woken up you two have been snoring like a distant thunder storm," Vin teased.
"Well, we were fair tuckered out with all the worry. We're not as young as we used to be," Chris said smiling.
"Speak for yourself Mr. Larabee," Ezra interrupted from where he sat, woken by their conversation.
"Well now yer awake. I could do with a drink." Chris rose and held a glass of water with a straw for Vin to drink his fill. All three men then settled down for another nap.
In the morning Vin was released and Ezra drove them all back to his house. Vin found getting in and out of the car awkward. Ezra parked and helped Vin out and then led the way to the house, while Chris escorted Vin to make sure he didn't fall. Ezra opened the door of Vin's room with a flourish and stood back to allow him to enter first. Vin looked around in appreciation. He could see how much work they had done to make things easier for him.
"Thanks guys. This is great."
"If you find anything lacking, please let me know," Ezra instructed.
The three men settled into a routine. Ezra and Chris taking it in turns to take care of Vin and keep him company. Vin was still finding his neck troublesome but he didn't say anything to his friends. Both men noticed that he moved with care and seemed ill at ease. Vin found first thing in the morning the most painful after laying in bed all night. Ezra and Chris knew Vin was not telling them everything about how he felt. They knew that pushing him would not get any answers. They would just have to watch him to gauge his health.
On the second morning after his release from hospital Vin lay in bed feeling decidedly ill. His neck was killing him and he felt sick. He lay still hoping it would pass. He could only lay on his back because of his neck. It didn't give him much chance to move about and he found his whole body ached. Chris and Ezra were in the kitchen talking. Chris looked at his watch and saw time was getting on. He decided to go and see if Vin was alright, he was usually up by now. Chris knocked on Vin's door and walked in. He sat down on the bed and looked at its occupant.
"Everything okay?" he asked. He couldn't read the emotions on Vin's face which was unusual. "What's the matter Vin? Do you feel alright?"
"I feel sick. My neck hurts like hell too. I've been laying here hoping it would pass but it hasn't."
Chris hadn't been prepared for such a detailed answer. Vin usually smiled and said he was fine. Things must be bad to get such a response. "Are you gonna be sick?" he asked growing anxious. His heart was doing backflips in his chest with the worry.
"I think so," came the quiet reply.
Chris helped him up. Vin couldn't help the cry that escaped his lips. His neck was really beginning to worry him. He sat on the edge of the bed and couldn't move any further. He took shallow breaths to stave off the nausea, although they weren't having the desired effect. He couldn't breathe deeply because of the pain it caused in the left side of his body. He also found it was getting increasingly difficult to swallow. He eventually moved and Chris supported him to his feet, taking care of his broken arm. They walked slowly to the bathroom. Vin made it just in time before he threw up violently. Chris rubbed his back comfortingly. He had a feeling things were going downhill fast.
"Vin?" he asked. He couldn't keep the worry from sounding in his voice.
"Sorry. I'll be alright in a minute." Vin felt shaky, cold and sweaty. He could feel goose bumps all over his body.
"How's your neck feel?" Chris asked, interrupting Vin's thoughts.
"Still hurts. My throat feels funny too." Chris noticed Vin was wheezing slightly. Vin tightened the grip he had on Chris's arm and threw up again. Chris became increasingly concerned when he realised that Vin was having great difficulty in breathing. Chris looked into Vin's face and didn't like the panicked look he saw there.
"Ezra?" Chris shouted urgently.
Ezra appeared in the doorway fast. "Yes?" he asked puzzled. He had heard the worry in Chris's call.
Chris turned a frightened look on him and said, "Get an ambulance will you? He seems to be having trouble breathing." Chris didn't want to upset Vin and he didn't want to let Vin know that he was panicking, so he tried to keep his voice calm. Ezra looked into Chris's eyes and then turned and hurried to the phone. Chris could hear Ezra's frantic voice on the phone. Vin was terribly pale and wheezing alarmingly. Chris kept rubbing his back and Vin still threw up periodically. Ezra returned and reported an ambulance was on its way. He looked towards Vin and saw how desperately ill he looked. Ezra had never truly shaken off the feeling of foreboding he had since the day Vin fell.
The ambulance arrived and Chris gave as much detail as he could including the details of the cause of Vin's injuries. Chris again went with Vin while Ezra followed behind in his car. Ezra's thoughts churned around in his head. How many more times were the team going to gather at one of their companions' bedsides. It seemed a never-ending procession to the hospital with one or other of them. When the ambulance reached the hospital Chris was not allowed to accompany Vin. He was sent to the waiting room where Ezra joined him. Ezra sat down next to his boss who had his head in his hands and he was shivering slightly. Ezra put his arm round Chris's shoulders after a while and gave him a hug. Chris rose suddenly and started prowling round the room unable to keep still any longer.
A doctor came and took a seat next to Ezra. Chris stalked across and stood in front of him. The doctor looked intimidated by the man towering over him. Chris had a severe look on his face which did little to calm the doctor's nerves.
He eventually found his voice and said, "I'm afraid I have some bad news. We have x-rayed Mr Tanner's neck again and found a fracture."
Chris stared at him in astonishment. The colour draining from his face. The look he turned on the doctor caused the unfortunate medic to try to disappear into the upholstery of the chair he occupied.
"How can that be right? He was x-rayed before and told it was just soft tissue damage. How can someone make such a dangerous mistake? How is he? Why was he having trouble breathing?" Chris couldn't get his head around what he had just been told. He looked towards Ezra who was sitting still, looking totally shocked.
The doctor held up his hands to stop the tirade of questions from Chris. "His throat was swelling because of the fracture. It's what is called hangman's fracture. We are going to do a tracheotomy because his throat is so swollen he is in danger of suffocating. His breathing should then improve. We will be taking him into surgery to do that now and to put some screws in to support his neck. He was very lucky. Any small knock could have resulted in paralysis."
Chris's alarm had turned to anger. "I thought you were experts. You could have ruined his life permanently."
"I can only apologise. I cannot say why it was not spotted before," the doctor apologised. He rose and walked rapidly towards the door saying, "I'll let you know when he's out of surgery."
Ezra pulled out his mobile and phoned Josiah. "Josiah can you phone the others. We're back at the hospital with Vin. It seems he has broken his neck but it was missed when he was brought in originally." Ezra's voice shook as he relayed the details. When he disconnected the call, he sat staring into space. He looked towards Chris who was again pacing up and down and looking angrier by the minute. Ezra hoped he would be able to keep his temper under control until the others arrived. He didn't think he would be able to control Chris on his own. Ezra knew better that to speak to Chris at the moment so he resumed staring into space. His mind went back to the accident and his guilt returned with the memories. He ran his fingers though his hair as the true seriousness of the situation hit him. He felt a hand on his shoulder and turned his head to see Josiah looking at him in concern. He looked around the room and saw that the rest of the team were there too including Nathan, who was talking to Chris.
"Are you okay Ezra?" Josiah enquired kindly.
"Yes. Sorry I didn't see you come in," Ezra replied quietly. He had still not gathered his thoughts together properly. He sounded distant as if he was just answering automatically.
"You were on a different planet. Josiah's been talking to you for a few minutes. Didn't you hear him?" Buck asked from he sat next to Josiah.
"No. My thoughts were elsewhere." Ezra looked at the ceiling and let out a long sigh. He shook his head to clear his mind and then gave Josiah a small smile. Josiah patted his shoulder and settled back in his chair.
Ezra looked over at Chris and Nathan who were still engaged in an animated conversation. Nathan was doing his best to calm Chris down, without much success it seemed. Chris was eventually persuaded to sit down although he fidgeted constantly.
After several nervous hours the doctor returned. He was met by a barrage of questions.
"The operation was successful," he shouted over the din. "We will keep him sedated for the time being so he doesn't move around too much. The hole in his neck will remain until the swelling in his throat goes down."
"Can I see him?" Chris asked.
"Yes, but only you," the doctor agreed.
He led the way to Vin's room. Chris entered and sat down beside Vin. He had a neck brace on still but his breathing had improved tenfold since Chris had last seen him. Chris took one of Vin's hands in his. He stroked his thumb over the back of it. Chris thought back over the whole episode. He was thankful that he had insisted Vin stay in town with Ezra. What would have happened if they had been out at Chris's ranch? Chris couldn't bear to think of it. He wiped his free hand over his face and sighed loudly. Vin was going to need a long time to recover from this and Chris would have to start thinking about what to do while Vin was off. He shook his head. He would think about that later, for the moment he was just grateful his friend was still alive. Anger returned with the remembrance of the thin line Vin had been treading between life and death, all because of someone's incompetence. He stayed with Vin for a while and then made his way back to the waiting room to update the rest of the team.
Vin was off work for a long time. He had physiotherapy regularly on his neck when it had fully healed. He stayed with Ezra throughout his recovery. The rest of the team took turns to help out as they noticed that Ezra's patience was wearing thin. Vin was not the easiest of patients at the best of times and with him being incapacitated for so long he was becoming impossible. After one particularly difficult session with Ezra, Vin spoke up. He knew what a strain it had been for all his friends.
"Ezra?" he asked tentatively. He was sitting in his room while Ezra was tidying up.
"Yes, Mr Tanner?" Ezra said a bit abruptly. "What can I do for you?"
"I just wanted to say how much I appreciate ya looking after me and letting me stay here. I know I haven't made it easy for ya. I don't like to be indoors for too long. It wears on my nerves. I don't mean to take it out on ya. I wouldn't blame ya if ya wanted me to leave."
Ezra looked at Vin and regretted the earlier harshness of his tone. "Vin. You know I would never ask you to leave. It's inevitable that we are going to grate on each others nerves occasionally. I admit my temper hasn't been at its best either. I still feel in some way responsible for what happened to you. It's certainly not you that I get angry at. It's me. I look at you and wish it had happened to me instead. I bitterly regret what happened. We know how hard it has been for you. You are perfectly entitled to get frustrated and angry at the world every so often. You wouldn't be human if you didn't" Ezra looked down at his hands as he spoke. For once he hadn't used any long words.
Vin smiled. "How many times do we all have to tell ya it wasn't yer fault? I certainly don't blame you. I'm very grateful to you for all you've done." He paused, grinning and said, "I aim to prove the first half of that saying ya told me. You know the one that goes there's no such thing as a horse that can't be rode or a cowboy that can't be throwed. I know I've covered the second half but I aim to ride that horse again."
Ezra looked into Vin's face and saw the determined look in his eye. His heart quivered at the thought. He knew he wouldn't be able to dissuade Vin now his mind was set.
"I don't know what Mr. Larabee would have to say about that. I'm not sure I could bear to watch," Ezra confessed.
"I'll talk him round, don't you worry about that," Vin said with a laugh.
Vin got his way and several weeks later all the men met at Chris's ranch to watch. Vin led the horse out of the barn again and into the corral. He looked over his shoulder after he had mounted and said to Chris, "Arnie is locked in, ain't he?"
Chris smiled. "Yes. He's safely in the kitchen." He was not sure Vin was doing the right thing, but he had to let him decide for himself.
Vin then started to ride the horse around the corral quietly. JD had been riding the horse in his absence and the horse had calmed considerably. Vin took things easy and was pleased with the way things were going. He finished riding and dismounted to a round of applause from his audience. He bowed to them and rose smiling. He hadn't lost his nerve.