by Hombre

Tuesday: back where the story began
Ezra was roused from his memories when he heard someone coming in his direction. He looked over the tree trunk and saw Ronnie lumbering towards him. Ezra wondered how he had managed to get in front of the man. He saw that Ronnie had a mobile phone hung on his belt and thought that it would be a useful thing to have. He looked around him on the ground to see if there was anything to use as a weapon. He found a fairly heavy branch and waited for Ronnie to get a bit closer. He was sure that the man didn't know he was there and that was proved when Ronnie actually sat down on the tree trunk for a rest and wiped his brow. Ezra stood up silently behind him and hit him on the back of the head with the branch. He collected the phone off the man's body and started walking again. Once he was a fair distance away, he tapped in Chris's number.


"Oh, thank God Chris," Ezra said quietly.

"Ezra! Is that you? Where are you? Are you alright?" Chris hadn't been prepared for Ezra to phone him direct, but thinking about it that would be exactly what he would have done.

"Well, I'm not sure where I am. I managed to escape but both Paul and Ronnie are around looking for me, although Ronnie's out of commission for the moment. It's his phone I'm using. Let's just say I'm mobile and leave it at that for the moment. Where are you?"

Chris thought Ezra sounded out of breath and tired. "We're near Shawnee. We had a sighting of Paul Simmons hiring a jeep in Castle Rock. He dumped your car near Fort Lupton, but forensics found traces of a certain type of soil on it that could only be found near Shawnee."

"Well I've seen the jeep outside the cabin where I was, so I guess I must be in the same area then. What shall I do?"

"Can you see any significant landmark near you?"

"Let me have a look. I'm still fairly high up a mountain. I can see a rock outcrop that's shaped like a pyramid. Is that any use?"

"Wait a minute while I look at the map." Chris studied his map carefully and found what he thought Ezra was talking about. "Right, I think I've got it. If you make your way there and phone again when you get there, we'll start in that direction too. It'll probably take us about an hour though."

"One more hour won't hurt. I'll see you soon." Ezra turned off the phone and started towards the meeting place. Ezra should really take care of what he was saying, he was going to live to regret that casual remark.

Chris felt a hand on his shoulder and found Buck almost jumping up and down in agitation to find out what had been said.

"Was that Ezra? Is he alright?"

"Well he only said that he was mobile although I get the feeling that's not the whole story, but I was so relieved to hear his voice I didn't ask him for more detail. We're going to meet up here." Chris pointed to the map. "I'll let Josiah and the others know."

Chris pulled out his phone again. "Nathan? Ezra just called. We're going to meet up at the following grid reference. Can you tell the police while I phone Vin?"

"Yeah sure. Is he alright?" The medic was certainly relieved that Ezra had called.

"I don't know exactly. He didn't say he was hurt, but I think we should assume he's a bit banged up."

"Okay. I've got all my stuff anyway. Speak to you later." Nathan rang off and called the rest of the policemen together and started for the map reference Chris had given him.

Chris phoned Vin and gave him the news. Vin and JD had arrested Cody Bates and were in the process of interviewing and charging him. They hadn't got anything vital to pass onto Chris from their questioning of him so far. Chris stowed the phone in his pocket and then Buck and he began the climb up the mountain.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra resumed his journey and reached the rendezvous area after half an hour. He found a fairly comfortable place to sit where he was hidden from view and settled down to wait for Chris. He pulled out the phone and rang Chris to let him know he had arrived. He had been unaware that during his previous conversation with Chris, Paul had been nearby and surmised where the men would be meeting up. He left as soon as he knew where Ezra was going and planned on getting there first to surprise the undercover agent. Paul figured his prey would be feeling more relaxed knowing help was on the way and might not be so alert. So when Ezra arrived Paul saw where he was hiding and circled round behind him.

"Hey loser. Thought you'd escaped me did you?" Paul said. Ezra stood quickly and regretted it immediately as the blood rushed from his head making him stagger slightly from lightheadedness. He turned slowly to face Paul.

"My colleagues will be here soon. You'd be better off trying to get away than wasting time with me," Ezra said.

"Oh, your friends won't be here for another half an hour at least. Plenty of time for us to sort matters out once and for all."

Ezra moved out into the open to give himself room to move. Paul emerged from the trees and walked over to join him. Ezra noticed Paul now had a gun. That was unusual because after the initial abduction his captors had not been seen with firearms. When he looked more closely, he saw it was actually his own weapon that had been taken from him in the car. Great, get killed with your own gun, good one Ezra, he thought to himself. Paul raised the gun so it was lined with Ezra's chest at point blank range. Ezra knew he had to fight for his life, so tried to wrest the gun from Paul's hand or at least move it away from him. He was not successful and the gun fired twice throwing him off his feet with the force of the shots. He landed on the ground unable to move and with what felt like a heavy weight on his chest. He couldn't breathe and he felt sick and cold. Darkness tugged at the edges of his vision and he tried not to succumb to it, frightened that he wouldn't wake again. He knew his injuries must be serious and he could almost feel his life ebbing away. His vision dimmed and he felt as if he was floating. A sudden calm came over him sending him willing into the arms of darkness.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Buck were making good progress up to the meeting point. Buck suddenly put a hand on Chris's arm and pulled him to a halt. He pointed ahead and Chris saw what Buck had noticed. Next to a fallen tree someone was lying on the ground. They could only see their legs so they approached carefully with weapons drawn. Buck approached from one side and Chris from the other. They needn't have worried as the man was out cold. Buck leant down and turned him over.

"It's Ronnie."

"Good. One down, one to go. Cuff him and get someone to pick him up will you? I want to get to Ezra as soon as possible."

Buck phoned in and relayed the man's exact location. He cuffed him by attaching one wrist to one ankle to ensure he wouldn't be able to get away if he woke before the police arrived. Chris then indicated for them to move on. They couldn't be too far away from Ezra now. Chris quickened his pace and Buck jogged to catch up. Suddenly a couple of gun shots were heard from above them.

"Shit. Come on, get a move on Buck." Chris had come out in a cold sweat. Don't let them be so close only to lose him now.

Buck and Chris started running towards the sound. They ran in single file as the undergrowth was so dense. Chris came out into the clearing and stopped dead when he saw something he had hoped he could have prevented. Buck cannoned into the back of him, making him stumble on a few steps before he regained his balance.

"Oh, Jesus," Chris said in a strangled voice. He could see the blood on his agent's clothes even though he was not close to him. He finally moved and walked uncertainly over to Ezra, knelt down beside his fallen agent's body and lifted him gently into his lap. His heart turned to stone as he saw the blood flowing from a bad chest wound and another smaller one in his abdomen. He immediately put his palm over one opening to stop the blood and felt for a pulse with a shaky hand, before putting that hand over the other wound. He heard Buck on the phone calling for Nathan to hurry up. Although Chris was keeping pressure on the chest wound, he couldn't stop the bleeding. Ezra stirred in his lap and his eyes flickered open.

"Hey Ez. Stay with me buddy. How far away is Nathan?" Chris shouted over his shoulder.

"Not far. About five minutes. How is he?" Buck asked as he knelt down next to Chris and took one of Ezra's hands in his.

"Bad. I can't stop the bleeding. Can you get something to put over the chest wound to try to staunch the blood?" Chris was worried, how could someone survive after losing so much blood? His hands were covered in it and it was pooling on the ground by his knees. Ezra's face was a mess suggesting the ordeal he had suffered over the past few days. God, when Chris got his hands on the two kidnappers he was gonna kill them.

Buck handed him a pad from his first aid kit. Chris put it over the wound and increased the pressure again. Ezra was very pale and sweaty and Chris knew he was losing him. Ezra suddenly coughed and blood appeared at the corner of his mouth. Buck wiped it away gently, fearing the worst.

"Come on Ezra. Don't give up now. We've worked our butts off trying to find you. Don't you dare die on me!" Chris shouted. Ezra coughed again with more serious consequences. Buck stood up unable to watch as his friend suffered. Chris looked up at him with fear in his eyes as Ezra lost consciousness.

"Chris, where are you?" Nathan shouted from nearby.

"Over here. Hurry up for God's sake," Chris yelled frantically. Nathan and Josiah appeared and ran over to them.

"What happened?" Nathan asked.

"He's been shot point blank in the upper chest and abdomen. I can't stop the bleeding from the chest wound. Do something Nathan. Help him. He's coughing up blood." Nathan had never heard Chris so desperate. He was usually fairly calm in these sorts of situations, but he had heard from Vin and Josiah about Chris's earlier state of mind concerning finding Ezra alive.

"Josiah, get the oxygen and phone for a chopper. We need to get him out of here as soon as possible. Let's lay him flat. Buck can you help? Keep up the pressure while I check him over, will ya Chris?" Nathan felt Ezra's pulse and wasn't pleased. He could see Ezra was also going into shock from the trauma and blood loss and his pulse was weak and thready. Nathan lifted him gently to check if there were exit wounds. There was only one. Nathan wiped a hand over his face, knowing he was going to have to do something to stop the bleeding that wasn't easy and not always recommended.

"I'm going to have to find the subclavian artery pressure point to try to stop the bleeding. It's the only way to save him. It's not something that's advisable to do and I've only ever done it once before." He took the oxygen from Josiah and started Ezra on that before he did anything else.

"Do it. We've got to do something or he'll die for sure. Come on Nate, hurry up," Buck said urgently.

Nathan took a deep breath and said, "Okay. Keep your hand over the wound Chris, if I get this right the flow should slow down soon and hopefully stop." Nathan put a hand on Ezra's right collar bone about half way along and tried to find the pressure point in that area. It was the most difficult to use and some medics thought it only of use during surgery. After a bit of probing he thought he had it. He looked down at the wound and after a while he could see that the flow of blood had lessened. Chris looked up at him in expectation and Nathan gave a slight nod.

"He's not out of danger yet, but as long as we've slowed the flow he stands a better chance, but he's in shock and has lost a lot of blood already. The sooner we get him to hospital the better. How long before the chopper gets here?"

"About five minutes."

"Good. How's the flow Chris?"

"It's nearly stopped. Well-done Nate. What are his chances?" Chris didn't ever want to face losing one of his team.

"Don't get your hopes up. There could be other problems that crop up and in his present state he's not in the best condition to fight infection or anything of that nature. He's very weak. He's been beaten pretty badly as well over the last few days by the look of him." Nathan didn't want the men to believe Ezra was saved only for something devastating to happen to him later on. The medic looked heavenward as he heard the approach of the chopper. Luckily there was room for it to land in the clearing.

The paramedics took over from Chris, but Nathan didn't dare let go of the pressure point so he stayed where he was. Ezra was strapped to a stretcher and lifted carefully into the chopper. Nathan went with him. There was no room for anyone else. The chopper took off and headed back to the hospital leaving three very worried men behind. Buck put a hand on Chris's shoulder and steered him away from the pool of blood that was the only indication of the events that had just unfolded. Buck felt terrible, he was very fond of Ezra and hated seeing him so badly hurt. Josiah didn't quite know who to comfort first, his boss or the man who felt responsible for losing Ezra in the first place. He decided to kill two birds with one stone.

"I've never known Ezra to give up on anything. He's a stubborn cuss. Give him half a chance and he'll take it. Come on, the sooner we get back to Denver the better. Ezra needs us with him. Shall I phone Vin and get him to go to the hospital so there's someone there when he arrives?" Josiah asked Chris.

"Yeah. Thanks Josiah." Chris answered quietly. He looked down at his hands and clothes which were covered in blood and shivered. Josiah saw him pale noticeably and put out a hand when he swayed.

"Chris, are you okay?" Buck asked in concern.

"God. Look at all the blood Buck." Chris tried wiping it from his hands feverishly, but he only succeeded in smearing it over more of his body. The sight of the blood was the last straw. All the anxiety of Ezra's disappearance and his discovery in his present condition had taken its toll on Chris. He took personally any injury or slight against any of his men. He was very protective of them. Okay, Ezra and he didn't always see eye to eye, but that was more of a clash of personalities. He hated to see any of his team hurt, especially as badly as Ezra was.

Buck looked into Chris's face and saw the frantic look there. Chris was breathing rapidly and sweat beaded on his forehead. Buck reached into his rucksack and pulled out his water bottle and some bandages. He soaked them in the water and started wiping as much blood as he could from his friends hands and clothes. He thought Chris might be suffering from slight shock so treated him with care. He sat him down on a nearby rock when he had finished and made him drink something. The ladies' man knelt down in front of his boss and put a hand on his knee to get his attention.

"Chris? Are you alright to go back down or do you want to stay here a while longer?" Buck hadn't anticipated such an extreme reaction from Chris. It was only to be expected in the circumstances though, he thought in retrospect. He was feeling pretty shaky himself.

"I'm okay." Chris stood shaking his head and hurriedly picked up his rucksack before starting off down the mountain. He couldn't let things get to him now. He needed to be strong for Ezra and the rest of his team. Things looked bleak for their colleague and he would need to keep them all on the right road. Buck ran to catch up with him and walked alongside to keep an eye on him. Josiah followed along behind while he phoned Vin and JD.

"Vin? It's Josiah. Look things have turned bad at this end. Can you get to the hospital to meet up with Nathan and Ezra? Ezra's been shot twice and it's touch and go whether he makes it." Josiah rubbed the back of his neck as he walked thinking back over the last half an hour.

"Yeah sure. I'll leave now. Is everyone else alright?" Vin felt as though time was standing still. He couldn't take in what he had just been told.

"Yeah, just a bit shocked. Chris is taking it badly. We'll get there as soon as we can."

+ + + + + + +

Vin and JD arrived at the hospital just as the chopper landed. They went and found Nathan in the waiting room. He was sitting dejectedly by himself and looked absolutely shattered and Vin blanched at the blood on his clothing. He sat down beside the medic and patted his shoulder.

"How is he?" he asked in trepidation.

"They called a code blue when we landed. They're doing their best, but I don't hold out much hope. He'd lost so much blood and was in deep shock. I couldn't do any more for him."

"Hey, you did your best. Don't give up hope. Ezra's as stubborn as a mule, he'll fight all the way." He leaned back in his chair and JD took a seat next to him, no- one spoke, each occupied with their own thoughts.

Chris and the others arrived a couple of hours later after checking with the desk nurse on their friend's condition. Vin saw that Chris's clothes were in a worse state than Nathan's and finally realised how badly Ezra must be hurt.

Buck turned to Chris and said, "Why don't I take you back to the flat for a shower and a change of clothes? Ezra's not going to be out of surgery for a while."

"No, I want to wait."

Josiah stepped in. "Go on Chris. We'll phone you if anything happens. Nate, why don't you go too?"

"Yeah, I could do with a change of clothes. Come on, it won't take long," Nathan said persuasively. Chris rose reluctantly and left with the other two men. While he was at Buck's however, he received some good news. The police from Castle Rock phoned to say that Paul had been caught at one of the roadblocks and was now under arrest. That was one less thing for Chris to worry about at least.

The three men returned to the hospital within an hour and all sat down to wait for news of their colleague. They had to wait for twelve hours. Finally a doctor walked into the room looking very tired.

Chris leapt to his feet and asked, "Is he alright?"

"He's on life support and the next forty eight hours will be critical. He was bleeding internally as well and suffered quite a bit of damage to his stomach, chest wall and lung. One bullet was deflected by his ribs and perforated his intestines. His knee sustained ligament damage and will take a while to mend. I'm afraid he's in a coma and is in a very bad way."

The men looked at the doctor in silence, digesting the news. Buck took Chris's elbow and led him back to the seats to sit down before he fell down.

"Can we see him?" Josiah asked.

"Only two of you. We're just getting him settled into ICU. I'll come and get you when he's ready."

When the doctor returned Josiah looked over at Buck and Chris and nodded to them. They both rose and walked silently out to sit with their friend. When they entered Ezra's room, they split up and went to different sides of the bed. Chris reached out a hand and then withdrew it before touching Ezra. He was scared to touch him because he looked so ill and vulnerable. Buck looked over at his boss and reached out his own hand to pick up one of Ezra's. It felt warm and he curled his fingers tight around it in the hope Ezra could feel the contact. Ezra's body was a mass of tubes and wiring connected to machines that were keeping him alive and monitoring his condition.

"We're here Ez. Just you don't give up. We need you........I need you. Who else am I going to pull pranks with." Buck's voice shook with emotion at he looked down at the man in the bed. Chris finally reached out again and cupped his left hand around the side of Ezra's face, holding it there and then took Ezra's other hand in his right hand.

"Hang in there. You hear me? We caught the bastards that did this to you. Don't let them win by giving in now." Chris had never felt so close to losing one of his men. He removed his hand from Ezra's face and sat down while still keeping a grip on his hand. Buck stayed standing and held Ezra's hand in both of his hoping his life force would pass into his friend.

They stayed all night with him until they were relieved by Vin and Josiah. Neither man really wanted to leave but they both needed rest. It had been a bad week for all of them.

+ + + + + + +

The men kept up a constant vigil twenty four hours a day. As time went by Chris became more hopeful that Ezra would pull through. If he had hung on this long surely he wouldn't give up now. At the end of three days the doctors decided that his condition had improved sufficiently for him to be removed from the life support machine although he remained unconscious. They didn't think it was anything to worry about. His body had after all been through a major trauma and it was probably just taking the time it needed to heal itself and get rested.

None of Ezra's colleagues were getting much rest as they juggled work, hospital and home. They were too worried to sleep much anyway.

The tubes from Ezra's stomach were removed as the week went by and Ezra's internal injuries healed. Chris and Buck were again with Ezra exactly six days after his admission. Ezra had stirred on several occasions during the day and the doctors hoped he would regain consciousness soon. Buck sat on one side of the bed reading a newspaper and Chris was dozing in his chair on the other side. Buck suddenly had a feeling he was being watched and he turned his head thinking it was Chris. He saw he was still asleep and moved his gaze to the bed. Ezra was awake and staring at him in confusion. How long he had been like it Buck didn't know. He stood up quickly and called to Chris as he moved over to the bed, putting a hand on Ezra's arm.

"Hey buddy. Good to see ya. Don't you fret, everything's going to be alright," Buck assured him, smiling broadly. God, it was good to see him. Chris went out to find a nurse and returned a few minutes later accompanied by one.

The nurse checked Ezra over and ticked off a few things on his chart before leaving. Chris walked up to the bed and smiled down at Ezra. "Don't ever give us scare like that again. We really thought we'd lost you this time."

Ezra just smiled at him and went back to sleep too tired to talk. Chris phoned Vin and asked him to pass on the good news. The rest of the team arrived within an hour eager to see their friend. Ezra awoke to find a room full of people sitting on chairs or on the floor. Vin stood when he saw Ezra's eyes open and went to stand by the bed. Ezra turned his eyes to the figure hovering by his side and smiled when he saw who it was.

Vin patted his shoulder and said, "Late as usual, I see. We've been waiting all week for you to grace us with your presence. I know you oversleep a lot but this is a bit excessive don't you think?"

Ezra laughed, then winced and coughed as the pain in his chest doubled. Tears came to his eyes and Vin wiped one away as it escaped the corner of his eye.

"Hey, take it easy. Sorry, I won't make you laugh again. Everything's gonna been alright. Just relax and breathe evenly, the pain'll go in a minute." Vin wiped Ezra's hair from his brow as he spoke and took hold of one of his hands. Chris joined Vin at the bedside, but the other men hung back not wanting to overwhelm their friend.

"Are you okay, Ez? Can I get you anything?" Chris asked in concern. He could see how much pain he was in. Ezra shook his head and tried to speak. He ended up croaking painfully, his voice being out of practice.

"What happened?"

"You were shot twice, but don't you worry about that. You're alive and that's all that matters for the moment. You just concentrate on getting better. When they let you out of here you're coming to stay with me," Chris said. Ezra opened his mouth to protest and Chris put a hand on his shoulder.

"No arguments. I need you where I can keep an eye on you." Chris was pleased to see that Ezra at least seemed more lucid even if he was still in a lot of pain.

Ezra sighed and closed his eyes again. He felt dreadful and certainly not in the mood for arguing with Chris. He drifted off to sleep to the sounds of his friends talking quietly and with the feeling of his hand still being held by Vin.

Ezra's condition improved over the next few days and he stayed awake for longer periods. He was kept to a diet of liquids, or baby foods as he called them, because of the damage to his stomach. Chris was told that he could take him home at the end of the next week for which Ezra was grateful. He couldn't wait to get back out into civilization and away from the same four walls he had been staring at for the last week.

+ + + + + + +

On the morning of Ezra's release Chris was given a list of what Ezra could eat and also a prescription for strong painkillers. Chris went and bought the supplies first before making his way up to Ezra's room. He found his agent dressed and champing at the bit ready to leave. He was equipped with a crutch to support him walking. His knee still would not support his weight. Chris took him down to the car where Buck was waiting for them. Ezra took a deep breath of air as he exited the building and let it out with a sigh of contentment. It was good to be out.

"Leave enough oxygen for the rest of us, Ez will ya? You just hoovered up more than your fair share there," Buck teased.

"I've been lacking in fresh air for weeks, Mr Wilmington. It's time I caught up with the rest of you," Ezra said as Chris helped him into the back seat and then got in beside him. Buck drove out to the ranch. The jostling movement of the car did little to help Ezra's condition. He shifted uncomfortably and Chris looked at him questioningly.

"Are you okay?" he asked.

"Yes fine," Ezra replied, although Chris saw him flinch in pain as he answered. Chris could imagine the discomfort that Ezra was experiencing and he was glad when they arrived at the ranch.

He helped Ezra out of the car and heard him suck in a quick breath as he moved too quickly. They made their way carefully into the kitchen. "Sit down there Ezra. Is there anything I can get you?" Chris asked.

"No. Just being out of the hospital is enough for the moment. I'll just sit here for a while if that's agreeable." Ezra added the following thought in his own mind, 'what I mean is I'll sit here until I can get the energy to move, period.'

"Course. Just say when you want some sleep and I'll take you upstairs."

The men took it in turns to take care of Ezra and keep him company. He got stronger every day but still tired easily and was in some discomfort. He was sitting on the porch one day with Josiah when the subject came up of returning to work.

"You okay Ezra?" Josiah asked.

"Yes. I'm just fed up with being tired and in pain all the time."

"Well, your body's a precision instrument. You had a spanner in the works good and proper. You can't expect to get better overnight. When they reduce your pain meds and you get back to work you'll soon perk up."

"That's just it, Mr Sanchez. I'm not sure if I want to go back to work. At least not in my present employ," Ezra replied quietly.

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know whether I want to spend my life wondering whether the next bullet will be my last. I'd be a liability to the rest of you and I don't want to go through this again."

"Ezra, don't make any hasty decisions. You've been through a rough time I know, but you've come through bad times before."

"A cat only has nine lives. How many have I got left?" Ezra rubbed a hand over his face and sighed. Josiah was worried. He had never known Ezra to give up on anything before. Vin had heard the conversation from inside the house and he walked out to join the two men.

"Come on, Ez. It wouldn't be the same without you. We're a team and we support each other through the bad times, we're all here for you."

"Why do you want me around? I know I annoy the hell out of you all."

"If we didn't want you around, we wouldn't have bothered finding you. We knew who had abducted you and we knew their reputation. We could just have left you to your fate but we didn't. We worked out butts off to find you. Chris was out of his mind with worry. Buck was blaming himself for leaving you on your own. We care about you Ezra. Yes, you can be a self-serving bastard, but that's part of who you are. It's got to be your decision in the end, but I'm asking you to reconsider." Vin looked at Ezra, hoping he'd got his point across.

Ezra was dumbstruck for a moment. He had never heard Vin make such a long and impassioned speech before.

"I had a letter from my mother yesterday. She suggested I go and stay with her for a while. Perhaps I will take her up on her offer. It will give me space to think away from you all. I appreciate your sentiments Mr Tanner. I shall certainly take them on board in my musings." Ezra smiled at the two men and rose to go back inside.

"I'd offer to accompany you Ezra. Your mother is a tasty lady," Josiah said, trying to lighten the atmosphere that had descended.

"Mr Sanchez, will you refrain from referring to my mother in those terms. It is unsettling for a colleague to be smitten with one's mother," Ezra said.

Vin laughed and then said with a serious look on his face, "You realise if Josiah marries Maude he'd be your father."

Ezra turned a look of pure scorn on the sharpshooter. "Stepfather," he corrected. "I try not to dwell on the idea although it has inevitably crossed my mind. As it's never likely to happen I shan't lose sleep over it."

"Josiah's a persuasive fellow. Don't feel too secure," Vin teased as he followed Ezra into the house.

+ + + + + + +

Chris returned from work an hour later and Vin caught him before he entered the house.

"Chris, I'm worried about Ezra."

"Why? Doesn't he feel well?" Chris asked in concern.

"He's okay but he's thinking of giving up his job. He thinks he's lost his nerve and would be a liability to the rest of us. He's also worried about getting hurt again. Maude's asked him to stay with her and he says he'll go, but I'm wondering if he intends to come back."

"Where is he now?"

"He went upstairs to have a lie down, I think."

"I'll go and have a word with him." Chris turned and went inside. He could understand Ezra's point of view. It took a special person to be an undercover agent. You had to be able to cope with anything that was thrown at you and to think on your feet. You never knew what was going to happen with each assignment. Ezra wouldn't be able to function in that role if what Vin said was true. Chris went up to Ezra's room and knocked on the door. "Ez, you awake?"

"I am now."

Chris entered the room to find Ezra stretched out on the bed. He looked troubled.

"Vin just told me you might go and stay with your mother for a bit."

"I bet that's not all he said," Ezra said sighing.

"No, he told me about your fears about coming back to work. You could get some counselling if you want. It might help to make your mind up."

"Thank you, but this is a decision I need to make for myself. I've never put much faith in talking your problems through with someone else. It's still you at the end of the day who needs to decide. I'll leave tomorrow if that's alright."

"Yeah, whatever. Let me know what you decide. Take as long as you need." Chris rose after patting Ezra's arm and left the room.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was packing a bag to take with him to his mothers. His mind was in turmoil regarding his future. He really didn't know what to do. He had never been in a position of such uncertainty before. He had always known what he wanted from life and his present situation had thrown him into chaos. He liked working with Chris and the others and he enjoyed the work. Was he going soft? He sure hoped not. He made his way downstairs and sat outside on the porch again to wait for Chris to take him to the station. Buck and Vin were already there and tried to engage him in conversation, but stopped when they realised Ezra had other things on his mind. After about half an hour Ezra got up and wandered into the kitchen and sat at the table, wanting to be alone. He could still hear the two men talking outside.

Buck turned to Vin and said, " I sure hope Ezra starts getting better soon. I'm not used to him being so quiet."

"It's the pain meds. When he's off those he'll be back to his old talkative self," Vin replied. Both men looked at one another and laughed.

"No, let's keep him dosed up and silent," Buck said loudly, knowing Ezra could hear them from where he sat.

"I heard that, Mr Wilmington. Consider yourself thumped," Ezra retorted.

"Ow Vin, that hurt," Buck said, rubbing his upper arm briskly.

"Only following orders," Vin said.

"Thank you Mr Tanner, most considerate." This was the sort of thing he would miss if he did leave Ezra realised. The camaraderie between the men was something special. He sighed, depression descending again and he went back upstairs for a rest before his journey.

Chris turned up from work an hour later and Ezra came downstairs to meet him. The sooner he left the sooner he could make his decision.

"Are you sure you want to go?" Chris asked. He received a silent nod in reply. He picked up Ezra's bag and put it in the trunk. Vin and Buck shook Ezra's hand and gave him a hug before he got in the car.

"Come back soon," Vin said. Ezra smiled in reply not committing himself one way or the other. Would they see him again? They really hoped so.

+ + + + + + +

Two months later Chris had still not heard from Ezra. He decided to phone Maude and find out what was going on.

"Maude, it's Chris. Is Ezra there?"

"No. I thought he'd returned to Denver. He left about two weeks ago. God, where the hell is he?"

"How did he seem when he left?"

"He said he'd made a decision. He seemed happier, not so depressed."

"Okay. We'll do some investigations at this end. If he gets in contact let me know will you?"

"Yeah, you do the same."

Chris put the phone down and wiped his face with a hand. Vin walked in and sat down at his desk.

"What's up? What did she say?"

"He left her two weeks ago saying he'd made a decision. I hope he hasn't done anything stupid. Ring round a few of his friends will you and see if they've heard anything."

After a fruitless round of phone calls, Chris gave up for the day. There was only so much you could do to trace someone who didn't want to be found. The men made their way to Inez's saloon for an after work drink and to plan their next course of action. Chris walked in through the saloon door and stopped dead. There at the team's usual table sat Ezra. Chris wandered over to him.

"Couldn't bear to be parted from us?"

"Something like that. Is there still room for an undercover agent in your team?"

"You bet. I never did believe you'd take the coward's way out. It's good to have to have you back," Chris said smiling broadly.

"I hope you don't live to regret saying that."

"Not a chance."

The End

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