Ezra watched the sharpshooter closely as he sat by his bed. Six hours had passed and Ezra's mind was beginning to drift. The undercover agent knew all about drowning. When he'd been six years old he'd fallen in a river and nearly lost his life. He'd been rescued by a stranger who had been walking near the isolated river. He'd been scared of water ever since and he knew what Vin would experience when he did wake up.
Vin was dreaming about the accident. I don't wanna die! He could feel the water rise up to cover his face. He opened his mouth and swallowed some before he started to choke. His vision faded and he began to panic as he realized he was drowning. Chris, get me out. Please get me out.
The sharpshooter stirred and his eyelids flickered. Ezra stood up and was leaning over the bed when Vin suddenly opened his eyes and gasped loudly. He started thrashing about and hyperventilating and Ezra put out a hand and placed it on Vin's shoulder.
"It's alright Vin. You're safe. You need to calm down. You've on a ventilator. Let it do its work," Ezra said calmly. He watched as Vin slowly relaxed and focused his eyes on the undercover agent. "That's better. You mustn't upset yourself. Go back to sleep Vin. You need to rest." Ezra stroked Vin's arm and the sharpshooter closed his eyes and went back to sleep. Ezra sighed and sat down to wait for Vin to wake again.
The doctor came in and checked Vin over after another hour had passed although a nurse was on hand in the room should anything happen.
"He woke up a while ago. He was a bit upset," Ezra told the medic.
"I think we can take him off the ventilator but I'll put an oxygen mask on instead. He seems to be improving quite well but we need to watch carefully in case he develops pneumonia. As he was in poor health to begin with he's quite likely to develop it, I'm afraid. We're feeding him intravenously to try and build his strength up and he was quite dehydrated and weak due to his earlier sickness."
Ezra nodded and continued with his vigil. The other members of the team updated him on the condition of the two other injured men but Ezra remained with Vin the whole time. After several hours, Vin woke again and found he was free of the machine that had been breathing for him. He could feel the weight of the oxygen mask on his face but at least now he felt able to speak.
Ezra could hear congestion in Vin's chest as he breathed deeply and he looked at the nurse in concern. She smiled and nodded before going in search of the doctor.
Vin looked up at the undercover agent and smiled faintly. "Well, I can't have died and gone to Heaven 'cause you're here, Ez."
"So kind, Mr. Tanner. What makes you think St. Peter wouldn't welcome me with open arms?" Ezra asked.
"You just seem to fit in with the Devil more."
"All I can say is, better the Devil you know, my friend." Ezra could tell Vin was being falsely cheerful.
The sharpshooter sighed despairingly. "How did I get here?" Vin croaked, his breath bubbling. He lifted the mask from his face when he realized his voice was muffled.
"Chris got you out of the jeep."
"Where is he?"
"He's here in another room. He was hypothermic but he's recovered now." Ezra saw the relief on Vin's face at the news. "How do you feel?" Ezra asked tentatively.
Vin was quiet for a while before replying, "I died, Ez. I couldn't help breathing in the water........" Vin stopped talking as he remembered the terrible feeling of knowing he was dying and not being able to do anything to stop it.
Ezra reached out as he heard Vin start to hyperventilate again. He knew he needed to calm the man down and he said, "I know, Vin. You get to a point where your body takes over your actions. It's frightening being trapped below water and knowing you're so close to the surface and fresh air. It's a feeling of total panic and helplessness."
"You sound as if you've been there too, Ez," Vin observed quietly.
"I suffered a similar experience when I was a child," Ezra admitted. The agent turned round as he heard the door shut. He saw Josiah standing just inside the room looking at him understandingly. Ezra smiled as he realized Josiah had heard the conversation and now knew why Ezra had been upset earlier.
"Another visitor for you, Vin. How is Chris?" Ezra asked as Josiah walked toward him.
"He's okay. Still quiet but he's better than he was. Hey Vin. Good to see ya," the big man said.
"Is JD alright?" Vin asked.
"Just shocked and bruised. You concentrate on getting better and let us worry about them," Josiah said.
The doctor walked in with the nurse following behind and Ezra said, "His chest sounds congested."
"Yes, I know. The nurse came to find me. I'll check it out," the doctor replied as he walked over to the bed. He put his stethoscope to Vin's chest and listened to both lungs for a minute.
"Can you breathe alright, Mr Tanner? How does your chest feel?" the medic asked.
"Feels like someone's sitting on it and like I'm still underwater."
"Okay. Does it hurt when you breathe?"
"Yeah and I feel hot."
The doctor reached out a hand and felt his brow, "We'll run some tests, but it's probably pneumonia."
Vin coughed at that point and proved just how congested he was. He breath rattled and he gasped in pain. The doctor took a blood sample and also some of the sputum that Vin had coughed up for testing. The medic then put the oxygen mask back over Vin's nose and mouth to help him breathe and asked the nurse to keep an eye on the sharpshooter's condition.
Ezra patted Vin's arm and Josiah decided to stay for extra moral support. He thought he'd try and get Ezra talking about his own drowning episode. It might help Vin deal with the feelings he had experienced too, knowing that someone else had suffered a similar accident.
"What happened when you nearly drowned, Ezra? How did you end up in the water?" Josiah asked.
The undercover agent flicked him a glance and looked down at his hands. He looked up again as he heard the door open and saw Buck enter. Ezra felt embarrassed and really didn't want to talk about it in front of such a big audience.
"Come on, Ez. Don't mind Buck," Josiah said as he saw Ezra's reaction.
"What's going on?" Buck asked sensing the awkward atmosphere.
"Ezra nearly drowned once. He was going to tell us about it."
Ezra looked up apprehensively but did begin to relate his tale. "I was six," he paused and took a deep breath. "I was with a friend and he bet that I couldn't cross a river by walking across a tree trunk that had fallen over it."
"Might have guessed betting would have come in there somewhere. I reckon you were born with a deck of cards in yer hand," Buck said tactlessly.
Josiah turned to him angrily, knowing how hard it was for Ezra to talk at all. "Shut up Buck. If you can't say anything worthwhile, keep yer mouth shut, will ya?" he snapped.
"Sorry, pard. I was just trying to lighten things up."
"Well, you're not helping," Josiah said before turning back to Ezra. "Go on, Ez."
"Needless to say, I didn't make it to the other side. We both climbed along it at the same time but the trunk was rotten and it broke under us. We fell in the river and were swept away. My friend didn't survive. They found his body three days later about five miles downstream." He stopped talking and stayed silent for a while. "I got caught up in some weeds and couldn't get free. I could see the sun shining on the surface of the river. It was surreal. It had been a lovely day, blue sky and no clouds. I could see the outline of the trees on the bank through the water and I knew I was so close to safety but I couldn't do anything to get there. I had to breathe in the end and it's the most dreadful feeling in the world. Your body is trying to keep you alive by breathing but you can't stop it from taking in water. Anyway, I lost consciousness and woke up the next day in the hospital."
"I'm sorry, Ez. It must have been awful," Josiah said as he patted the undercover agent's knee.
Ezra just sighed and stayed silent. He looked over at Vin and the sharpshooter sent him a sad smile before closing his eyes and drifting off to sleep. Vin thought to himself as he dozed off, at least there will be someone who understands what I went through.
Buck walked over to the bed and looked down at the young man lying there. He reached out a hand and stoked his hair and then looked at Ezra.
"I'm sorry, Ez. I didn't mean to upset you."
"It was a long time ago, Bucklin, but this just brought it all back. I lost one friend that day and I thought I was losing another today to the same fate. I've never had that many friends in my life and they're too precious to lose in such an awful way. I hadn't thought about my accident for years. I've never been in the water since that day, you know?" Ezra said sadly.
Buck smiled at him in sympathy and then turned to go back to see the other patients. Josiah stayed with Ezra for another couple of hours and then also left to see Chris.
+ + + + + + +
Nathan was still sitting with Chris when morning came. The blond man shifted in bed as he woke from a good night's rest. He ran a hand through his hair and then saw the medic sat beside him.
"You been here all night?"
"Yeah. Thought you might want some company. You can go home today. I've booked us into a hotel until Vin's fit to leave, although God knows how long that will be. He's got pneumonia now. He's really quite sick. It didn't help that he was already ill when it happened. It's made him very susceptible to infection," Nathan said.
"Shit." Chris sighed and then said, "Nate? I'm sorry about my behavior at the lake. I just couldn't stand there and do nothing."
"I know, Chris. Forget about it. I didn't really expect you to do as you were told. Anyway I was wrong, wasn't I? You pulled him out and you're both still alive." Nathan rose and said, "I'll go and get things moving about your release. Do you want to see Vin before you leave?"
Nathan went to sign the appropriate forms to allow Chris to leave. He returned half an hour later and helped the blond get washed and dressed. He then pushed him along in a wheelchair to Vin's room in ICU. The two men entered quietly and saw Ezra fast asleep in a chair. The agent stirred as he felt their presence and he woke with a yawn.
"Ezra? Why don't you go and get some proper rest? You look shattered," Nathan said.
"I've had some sleep. I'm alright. How are you, Mr. Larabee?"
"I'm okay. Thanks for staying with Vin, Ez. I appreciate it." Chris indicted for Nathan to take him up to the bed and he put a hand on Vin's arm.
The sharpshooter opened his eyes at the touch and smiled when he saw who it was. He took a breath to speak to his friend and it turned into a coughing fit. Chris winced as he heard the rattling in his friend's chest. Vin was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe easily and he seemed to cough with more regularity. It was like he was drowning all over again. He curled up in a ball on his side and put a hand to his chest as the pain kicked in. He managed to pull out the IV from his arm in the process and Ezra pushed the button to call a nurse. Nathan would have put the drip back in but he didn't want to interfere with the hospitals' staff. A nurse hurried in and sorted the sharpshooter out and checked him over while she was there. Vin continued to cough painfully and actually vomited because he was nearly choking. Tears ran from his eyes as he tried to stop coughing.
The doctor had started Vin on decongestants and antibiotics to try and combat the illness he had been suffering from before he'd arrived in the hospital and the infection he had picked up now. He'd also given the sharpshooter an expectorant that meant Vin coughed up sputum as his body tried to rid itself of the congestion. Ezra was on hand with a bowl every time he coughed, knowing what to expect. He'd got so used to the action, the undercover agent thought he could do what was necessary in his sleep.
Vin finally stopped coughing and Ezra gave him a drink and then wiped his mouth. The sharpshooter collapsed back on his pillow totally exhausted and gasping for breath. He was beginning to look a bit pale and he was wheezing every time he breathed. Chris hated to see his friend so ill and he patted his hand comfortingly.
The doctor happened to come in at that point to see how Vin was and Chris spoke to him. "Doctor? How long is he gonna be like this? Isn't there anything else you can do?" Chris asked.
"He's on antibiotics and expectorants. He needs to clear the congestion from his chest. It isn't nice but it is necessary. The type of pneumonia he's got is typical for a near-drowning victim. It's called aspiration pneumonia. If it gets too bad, we'll have to put him back on the ventilator. We're trying to clear up the illness he had to start with as well. It's not helping his recovery, although that was the first time he's been physically sick since he's been here."
"Thanks," Chris said.
The doctor left when Vin had recovered and Ezra sat back down and laid his head back on the chair and closed his eyes. Nathan looked over at him and smiled. The medic decided to take Chris back to the hotel and then come and try to persuade Ezra to get some sleep.
"Come on, Chris. Let's leave these two to get some sleep."
"I'll come back later to see you, Vin," Chris said as he patted his friend's arm. He really wanted to stay but he was tired and knew he wouldn't be much help in his condition. He waved as Nathan wheeled him back out of the room and out to the Explorer.
Nathan transferred him to the front seat and took the wheelchair back inside. When the medic reappeared he had Buck and JD with him as well. The two men got in the back and Nathan went to the driver's side and climbed in.
"Hey JD. Are you okay, kid?" Chris asked. The boy looked pale and tired and was leaning against Buck as he sat behind Nathan's seat.
"Yeah. I'm fine."
"I've just been to see Vin. He's coughing quite a lot, but he asked after you. I'm sure he'd be glad to see you," Chris said.
"Maybe," JD said.
"You don't think you're responsible, do ya?" Chris asked frowning.
"I shoulda got him out," JD said quietly.
"You did what you could, JD. You couldn't help the deer hitting the jeep. Vin don't blame you," Buck said and he hugged the youngster closer to him.
"Yeah, well it wasn't enough, was it?"
Chris shook his head as he realized how bad JD was feeling. He knew the boy wouldn't feel any better until he'd seen Vin for himself, but he would have to wait until the following day for that. The kid looked on the verge of falling asleep so the blond turned to Nathan and indicted for him to leave.
Nathan drove them all to the hotel and left the two invalids in Buck's care while he returned to the hospital to see Ezra. He knew Josiah was still around but he wanted to make sure that Ezra got some rest. He walked along the hallway to Vin's room and looked in the door. He saw Josiah sitting in there with the sharpshooter but there was no sign of Ezra.
"Where's Ez?" Nathan asked as he walked into the room.
"He went to get some fresh air."
"Where? He wasn't outside when I parked the Explorer," Nathan queried.
"He may have gone for walk but he said he wouldn't be long," Josiah said placatingly. "Did you know he nearly drowned as a child? This whole episode with Vin has shaken him badly."
"Who? Ezra? When did he tell you that?" Nathan asked.
"I don't suppose he'll want to leave Vin then," the medic said.
"No, I won't."
Nathan turned and looked at the undercover agent who was standing just inside the door. The medic smiled and Ezra wandered over and retook his seat after checking on Vin.
"Are you okay, Ez?"
"I'm fine. I can survive on very little sleep and I'd rather stay here."
"Okay, but one of us will stay with you as well just to make sure you can get some rest," Josiah said.
"That sounds like a good compromise, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra said as he sighed and snuggled down in his chair to get comfortable. He'd just got settled when Vin woke and began coughing again. Ezra was on his feet in an instant, ready with the bowl and a comforting word. The sharpshooter vomited again and Ezra talked to him quietly to try and calm him down. Vin had nothing left to vomit as he was receiving nutrition through his IV and he only threw up bright yellow bile. He then suffered from dry heaves interspersed with choking as he tried to get his breath back. Ezra stroked his hair and rubbed his back continuously.
Nathan shook his head at the undercover agent's gentleness and exchanged a smile with Josiah. The medic patted Josiah on the shoulder and left the two men with their patient. Nathan had two other men to keep an eye on and he suspected Buck might need his help to keep a certain blond man in line.
Ezra didn't see Nathan leave because he was concentrating on Vin. The sharpshooter was propped up on several pillows as he found it easier to breathe in that position. After his coughing fit was over Ezra wiped his mouth again and held a drink for him. He put a hand out and felt Vin's brow. It was still warm.
"I've never been so cold and then so hot before, Ez," the sharpshooter croaked. His throat was becoming sore with all the coughing and it hurt for him to speak.
"I know. It's most unnatural. I'll try and cool you down." Ezra turned away and found Josiah holding out a damp flannel toward him. Ezra took it gratefully and placed it on Vin's forehead.
"How long did it take you to get over your accident?"
"I've never truly recovered. This is the first time in years that I've thought about it though. I'm sorry, Vin. That's probably not what you wanted to hear. The memories fade but you never forget," Ezra said sadly.
"It's okay, Ez. I figured as much."
Ezra smiled and asked, "Do you feel cooler now?"
"Yeah, that's better," Vin sighed as he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. There was a bluish tinge to his complexion and Ezra could still hear him wheezing as he slept. He moved the cloth from Vin's brow and wiped his face and arms with it in an attempt to keep him cool.
"He was right in what he said earlier. First they were trying to save him because he was so cold and now we're trying to save him because he's too hot. Bodies are funny things, aren't they?" Ezra said.
"Yeah, they sure are. You're very lucky in life if you get away without it needing some sort of attention."
The undercover agent sat down as Josiah spoke and put the bowl to one side. "How long do you think he'll be here?"
"Hard to say. He's got it pretty bad and he's weak from his previous illness. Hopefully he'll start responding to all the drugs they're pumping into him. He's got more medicine in him at the moment than I've got in my drugs cabinet at home," Josiah said as he turned his head when he heard the door open.
The doctor walked in again and asked, "How's he been?"
"Still expectorating with regularity. He's slightly blue. Is that normal?" Ezra asked worriedly.
"Yes it is. It's just a symptom of the pneumonia. Don't worry about it. Is he breathing more easily being sat up?"
"Seems to be," Josiah said.
"Has he vomited again?"
"Hopefully the medication he's on will start kicking in soon but he's bound to sick for a while longer though. It may be anything up to ten days before he fully recovers from everything, but even then he's gonna have to take things easy for a while." The doctor checked Vin over while he talked and marked a few things off on his chart before leaving the room again.
+ + + + + + +
Back at the hotel both Chris and JD were asleep when Nathan returned. He checked on both men just to satisfy himself that they were alright before catching up on some of his own. Buck stayed awake in case he was needed but for once Nathan's patients were doing as they were told.
+ + + + + + +
Vin slept for four hours before he started dreaming about the accident. The dream was very vivid and he could see things with absolute clarity as if it was happening all over again.
I'm trapped, he thought. He reached across to open the door but couldn't open it. God I'm so cold, I feel chilled to the bone. He watched the water rising inexorably nearer his mouth. He opened his mouth to shout and it filled with water. Chris! Chris, help me.
He woke up gasping for air and struggling under Ezra and Josiah's restraining hands.
"It's alright. You're safe, Brother Vin. It was just a nightmare," Josiah said in his deep voice.
"Jesus. It was so real," Vin managed to splutter before he started coughing in earnest.
Chris and JD entered and the two men wandered over to the bed and saw Vin curled up on his side.
Chris looked up at Ezra and frowned, "What's wrong?"
"He had a nightmare about what happened. It started him coughing which makes his chest hurt but I think he sounds better, not quite so congested." Ezra reached down and ruffled Vin's hair and patted his back.
"I brought you a visitor, Vin," Chris said as he pushed JD into Vin's line of sight.
The sharpshooter wiped the tears from his eyes and squinted up at the two men standing beside him. He saw JD and smiled. The kid was looking down at the floor and wouldn't meet his eyes.
"Hey, kid. Good to see ya," Vin said, when he'd got his breath back.
JD squirmed and said, "I'm sorry."
"Sorry for what? You undid my seatbelt and woke me up. You did all you could and I sure as hell don't blame ya, kid. I need to thank you for what you did. You couldn't help how it turned out."
"I shoulda done more."
"Come on, son. Vin don't blame ya. We're all still here to tell the tale. Don't fret about it any more," Chris said comfortingly.
"Have my seat, JD. I could do with a break. Why don't you stay and keep Vin company for a while?" Ezra suggested.
"Okay." JD sat down and started talking to the sharpshooter.
Chris took Ezra aside and said, "Thanks for all you've done for Vin. Josiah told me about what happened to you as a child. I'm glad Vin can feel there's someone who understands what he went through."
"It's my pleasure," Ezra said shyly. "I'll just go for some fresh air and leave you with him, shall I?"
"Yeah. Go and get some proper rest Ezra. You've been here non-stop and I don't want to see you here for a few hours alright?" Chris said.
"Okay. I'll return at five if that is agreeable. I could do with something other than hospital food to eat. I think they're trying to drum up business with the nutrition they supply. It's truly appalling."
"Not cordon bleu enough for ya?" Chris laughed.
"Not even close, Mr Larabee," Ezra replied before leaving the room.
Chris took up a position on the other side of the bed from JD and saw that Vin was asleep. He could still hear his tortured breathing but if Ezra thought he was improving that was good enough for him. The undercover agent had spent all his time with the man and must have noticed a difference in his condition. To Chris, though, Vin sounded awful but he knew everything possible was being done to help improve his condition.
+ + + + + + +
Vin did get gradually better over the following week and it was decided he could leave the hospital although he would have to take things easy for a while. Chris signed all the papers and went with Ezra to collect Vin.
"Mr. Tanner. Your chariot awaits," Ezra said with a flourish as he held open the door to reveal Chris pushing a wheelchair.
"Aw, hell. I don't have to go in that, do I?" Vin whispered. His voice gruff from all the coughing he'd done since he'd been in hospital.
"You do, even if I have to tie you in it. It's hospital policy Vin, you know that," Chris said as he saw the look of disgust on his friend's face.
Vin got up off the bed slowly and lowered himself into it resignedly, knowing Chris would do as he threatened if he didn't comply. In his own mind he knew he didn't have the energy to walk out to the Ram but he wasn't going to let Chris know that. He sighed loudly as if he was doing as he was told under duress and Chris laughed at him. He wheeled his friend out to the Ram and Ezra held out a hand to help him up. Vin took his hand but resisted the pull and Ezra narrowed his eyes as he studied the man he was trying to help.
He squatted down in front of the sharpshooter and said, "Lighting doesn't strike twice, Vin."
Chris didn't understand what Ezra meant but waited to see what Vin would say.
The sharpshooter looked at Ezra and said, "I know it's stupid not to want to get in the Ram but it frightens me."
"Sorry, Vin. I should have thought of that, but it's the only way to take you to the hotel," Chris said as he joined Ezra on the ground. Chris didn't know what to do to persuade the sharpshooter to get in the vehicle and that he would be safe.
"If you get in the Ram I promise to get in water again," Ezra said. He held his breath as he waited for an answer. He would be scared stiff he knew to feel water round his face but he would do anything to try to help Vin get over his fears. Anyway it couldn't be worse than wallowing in the bath, can it? he thought to himself.
Chris looked over at the undercover agent sharply as heard his proposal. He saw Ezra bite his lip as he waited for Vin's reply. Would you really do that for me, Ez?" Vin asked quietly.
"I said I would, but I think my mouth spurted it out before my mind had prepared me for it. I won't back out though if you do your part."
"Okay. I'll go in the water with you. I can't expect you to do that on yer own." Vin tightened his grip on Ezra's hand and pulled himself to his feet when he was ready. Chris took hold of his elbow and helped him into the front seat and fastened the seatbelt. He felt Vin shaking and he patted his shoulder before shutting the door. Ezra returned from taking the wheelchair back inside and Chris caught his arm before he got in the Ram.
"Thanks, Ez. I didn't know how we were going to get him in. You're not gonna back out, are ya?" Chris asked as he studied Ezra closely.
"I told Vin I wouldn't. Do you doubt my word, Mr. Larabee?"
"No, of course not, Ez. I just know how hard it will be for both of you. Could you actually swim when you fell in the river?" Chris asked.
Ezra was silent as he met the blond's eyes. He sighed and said, "No. I couldn't. That's why my friend bet me. He knew I'd never learnt and we were daring each other to do things that frightened us. He could swim and he was the one who drowned. I never forgave myself and neither did his family."
Chris rubbed his back and opened the door for him to get in before he walked round to the driver's side. "Okay, Vin?" he asked as he got in.
Chris started the motor and drove to the hotel. Vin seemed slightly happier when they arrived in one piece and the three men went up to their room. The other men were all there to welcome Vin back into the outside world but they were careful not to tire him out.
+ + + + + + +
The next day they drove back to Denver and Vin coped well with the journey. Chris stopped frequently to give the man a rest and let him get some fresh air outside the vehicle.
Vin stayed off work for a couple of weeks to recover completely and the rest of the team took it in turns to look after him. Eventually the subject of Ezra's promise raised its ugly head and Vin wasn't looking forward to swimming any more than Ezra was. A day was arranged when all the men could go away for a weekend together and it arrived all too quickly.
"Swimming pool or beach? It's your choice," Chris said to Vin when all the men had gathered together outside their hotel.
"Shit. Neither. Why'd you have to promise to go swimming, Ezra?" Vin complained.
"I was doing it as a favor to you. I admit to regretting the haste of my proposal but it is more than my life is worth to back out now. At least you can swim. I'll have to wear those ridiculous orange armbands or so Buck's threatened. Come on Mr. Tanner, make a decision. I feel as if I'm waiting for my execution," Ezra said.
"Aw, hell. Beach," Vin decided quickly.
"Beach it is then," Chris said as he herded the two reluctant men toward the sand opposite the building.
"Make sure there aren't too many people about, Chris. It's embarrassing not being able to swim at my age," Ezra said.
"Don't fret, Ezra. It'll be alright," Buck said as he put a hand on the agent's shoulder to guide him over the road.
Vin felt sick and was getting agitated. Chris looked back and saw him biting his fingernails so he slowed his pace until Vin was beside him. He thought the man looked ready to bolt.
"Look, we're not gonna force you to do this. I'm just asking you to try," the blond said loud enough for both men to hear. He heard Vin let out the breath he had been holding as he realized he was being given a way out if he wanted.
The men walked along the beach until there were fewer people around. They laid their towels out and sat down. Chris thought he'd give his friends an hour to relax before taking them into the water. Ezra laid out flat on his back and put a hat over his face in the hope he would be left alone while Vin sat and stared at the sea as the waves broke on the shore. Chris knew words wouldn't get him to calm down so he kept quiet but watched his friend closely.
Buck opened up the bag he was carrying and pulled out several games to play with. Vin looked over at him disgust.
"You've got more toys than a five year old, Bucklin. How old are you?" Vin asked. "I sometimes think you'll never grown up. Some of the kids who live near me are more mature than you." Vin smiled though. Perhaps playing a game would take his mind off the fact he would have to face going into the water soon. He looked at the rest of the men and saw they were smiling and waiting for Buck to answer him.
"Who wants to grow old. It's much more fun being juvenile. Anyway, I thought the games might keep you occupied before we go into the water. What do you fancy? I've got volleyball or baseball?"
"Well, I'll decline if you don't mind," Ezra said from under his hat.
Vin stood up and said, "Are the rest of you playing? Can we play baseball?"
"Sure. Whatever you want. Are you positive you won't join us, Ez?" Chris said as he stood and brushed the sand off the back of his legs.
"Quite sure, thank you."
The rest of the men moved a short distance away and enjoyed an hour of laughter and fun. Chris looked at his watch and decided it was time to face the water. He walked over to where Ezra was laying and reached down and removed Ezra's hat. "Come on. It's time to have your first swimming lesson."
Ezra sat up and looked across at Vin who looked equally unwilling to head into the water. After a bit of cajoling both men walked to the sea. Josiah and Chris took Vin, while Buck and Nathan went with Ezra. JD followed along behind to help whichever man he could. The group walked up to the edge of the water and both Vin and Ezra dug their heels in. Vin actually turned his back and looked longingly back at the towels if as he was going to head back in their direction.
"Just paddle to start with. We're here and you'll be perfectly safe," Chris said encouragingly.
Ezra poked a toe in the water. That was all he would do to start with but suddenly Buck heard him inhale a lungful of air. The ladies' man watched as Ezra put his head down and walked into the water reluctantly until he was up to his knees. "Well done, Ez," Buck said as he walked up behind his friend and patted his back. He could hear Ezra breathing fast and shaking slightly beneath his hand.
Ezra turned his head and looked back to Vin who had not moved. The undercover agent turned around and headed back. Buck thought he'd given up but was amazed to see Ezra hold out a hand to Vin. Vin grabbed it tightly and slowly followed Ezra into the sea. He got to a depth of his thighs and would go no further.
"You're both doing fine," Josiah said. He dipped both hands in the water and rubbed the liquid over each man's back. He heard Vin gasp and the sharpshooter moved away from him. Ezra shivered at the water's touch and edged nearer to Buck.
The group stayed where their friends felt happiest and didn't force them to do anything further. They thought they'd accomplished quite a lot seeing it was only the first day. Chris had to admit that Ezra had helped a lot in persuading Vin to even set foot in the water. After about quarter of an hour the men returned to shore to sunbathe and play some more baseball. Even Ezra deigned to play and the afternoon passed quickly. Chris looked at his watch again and saw it was getting late. The men packed up all their belongings and headed back to the hotel for a meal.
Over the course of the weekend they managed to get both men into the water again but neither would let the water anywhere near their faces. They were happy to stand as long as the others were close by but that was it.
The weekend came to an end and the men packed to go home. Chris was pleased with the way things had gone and he hoped by gradually encouraging both men to do a little more each time they would get over their phobia.
Vin caught him before they met up with the rest of the team. "Thanks for this Chris. I think I'll be like Ezra and never truly get over what happened, but it was good to get a bit of my confidence back."
Chris put his arm around his friend's shoulders and gave him a hug. "I'm glad you found it helpful. We can keep going to the swimming pool if ya like when we get home. We need to teach Ezra to swim properly anyway and I think he's more likely to go if you go with him."
"Sure, whatever, Chris. I still think he'd get on better if he wore the armbands Buck bought him. I'll have to have a word with him about them," Vin said.
"He's refused even to contemplate wearing them. He's too embarrassed and I don't think he'll wear them in public. He said he had 101 excuses why he shouldn't have to wear them," Chris warned the sharpshooter.
"I'll bet him that if he can't tell me all 101 excuses in a minute he has to wear the armbands. He'll never think up that many in that shorter time and he's never resisted a bet in his life," Vin said smiling.
"I'm happy to let you try, cowboy. I'm not so sure he hasn't got all his reasons written down ready somewhere though. He's usually one step ahead of us when he doesn't wanna do something. If you win the bet though, I'll be there to pick up the pieces when Ezra's knocked yer head off and insulted you in pretty language," Chris laughed.
"I'll win. Just you wait and see," Vin promised.
Chris smiled, knowing Vin would probably succeed in his quest.
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