by Hombre

Buck saw Ezra shift slightly in the bed and heard the groan that escaped the injured man's lips.

"Ezra?" the ladies' man called as he dropped his newspaper on the floor and rose swiftly.

The undercover agent's eyelids flickered and opened briefly to show a pair of green, pain-filled eyes before closing again. Buck reached out a hand quickly and picked up the man's uninjured hand. He wrapped his fingers round it and squeezed it gently and was pleased to receive a small squeeze in return. As he watched, Ezra slowly opened his eyes again and tried to lick his dry lips but they felt like sandpaper against his tongue and he had no moisture in his mouth to soften them. He opened his mouth to speak but no sound emerged so he gave up trying. He narrowed his eyes and tried to focus instead on the figure he saw hovering beside him. At the moment he couldn't tell whether it was one of his friends or Big Bird. Buck had woken late that morning and had just grabbed the first clothes he could find. He had put on a pale yellow shirt and light-colored pants and all Ezra could distinguish was a big yellow blob standing beside him.

"Hold on, Ez. I'll just get you a drink." Buck reached down and picked up the glass on the table next to him. He put the straw to his friend's lips and saw him take a small sip.

Ezra took a shallow breath after his drink and croaked painfully, "Nothing seems to be working, Bucklin."

"Not surprising after the fall you had, pard. Do you remember what happened?" He got no reply and saw that Ezra was asleep again. "God! Is my conversation really so boring?"

"Sure sends me to sleep sometimes," JD laughed.

Buck sat down with a smile and picked up the paper from the floor and tried to put it in order. He resumed reading after he had sorted it out and another couple of hours passed before he noticed Ezra moving again. JD was already on his feet and Buck moved to join him.

Ezra heard movement beside him and he tried to sit up. When he found he couldn't move, he tested each limb separately to find out why. His right arm seemed to be the only one that was in any kind of working order. He discovered that he had no feeling whatsoever in his lower body, which set his heart racing in panic. The injured man raised his hand to his face and rubbed his eyes and scratched the stubble on his chin. He winced as he moved and dropped his arm back on top of the bedclothes with a loud sigh. His ribs began to throb with pain now that he'd moved and he groaned loudly before putting his hand on his side gently.

"Ezra?" the tall, mustached agent said quietly as he watched his friend grimace in pain.

"Bucklin? Is that you?" Ezra opened his eyes and squinted again at the two blobs he could see. Are there two people beside me or am I just seeing double? he wondered. He couldn't make up his mind so in the hope that someone at least would answer his request, he asked vaguely, "Can I have a drink?"

"Sure ya can, pard. JD's here to keep ya company too," Buck said as he put the straw to Ezra's lips again.

"Hey Ezra. How ya feeling?" the kid asked.

"Fine," Ezra said quietly after drinking his fill.

"Liar," Buck said with a smile as he took the straw away from his friend's mouth and put the glass on one side.

"Alright I feel rotten. I'm sore and nauseous if you must know and it hurts to breathe," Ezra said and promptly groaned to prove his point as he took too deep a breath after talking. Buck could hear him start breathing shallowly and fast in an attempt to keep the pain to a minimum.

"Not gonna throw up are ya?" JD asked anxiously as he looked round for a suitable receptacle.

"Fear not, Mr. Dunne. It's just a sensation." Ezra paused and looked at Buck with fear etched on his features.

The ladies' man saw the frightened look on his friend's face and asked worriedly, "Ezra? What's the matter, pard?"

"I can't feel my legs, Bucklin. Why can't I feel them?" the injured man asked desperately.

Buck reached out a hand and raked his fingers through Ezra's hair comfortingly before settling his hand on the side of his friend's face. "You've broken both legs and there's some swelling round yer spine. The doctors can't tell whether there's any permanent damage but once the swelling has gone down you'll probably be fine."

"Only probably?" Ezra asked quietly as he avoided Buck's eyes.

"Don't start fretting about something that may never happen, Ez. I'm sure you'll be okay," Buck said, sincerely hoping he was correct. "Can you remember what happened?"

"Not really, Bucklin. My brain doesn't seem to be functioning properly and I really haven't got the energy to try and jump start it," the undercover agent said wearily.

"Go back to sleep. You've got a fractured skull, pard, so yer bound to be a bit groggy. One of the other guys will be here when you wake up if we've already gone home. We won't leave you on yer own," Buck assured him as he removed his hand from Ezra's face and patted his hand instead.

Ezra closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. The two men at his bedside turned round as they heard the sound of voices getting nearer the room. Chris and Vin entered the room and smiled in greeting as they saw their two friends standing by the bed.

"Is it that time already? Didn't know we'd been here that long. Ezra just woke up for a bit you'll be glad to hear," Buck said with a broad smile.

"How did he seem?" Vin asked. He was certainly glad that the undercover agent had finally regained consciousness.

"Groggy and he felt sick. Said it hurt to breathe too but he seemed lucid enough. I'm a bit worried though 'cause he said he couldn't feel his legs," Buck said with a grimace.

"Jesus Christ. I'll go and tell the doctor in a minute but let's just hope it's nothing to worry about. He did warn us about possible problems but keep yer fingers crossed that there aren't any." Chris really wanted to remain positive but he was finding it hard when all he kept hearing was bad news about Ezra. "We'll take over now but we'll keep you updated about how he is," Chris assured his oldest friend.

Buck studied the blond as the man walked toward him. "Why are you limping Chris?"

"I kicked the wall yesterday after you told me how long Paul had been out. Only felt the damage this morning. Teach me to keep my temper under control, won't it?" Chris said with a slight grin.

"Didn't break anything, did ya?" JD asked anxiously. He could imagine the force that Chris had used. The blond never did anything gently when he was angry.

"Na, kid. Toes are black and blue but I think the wall suffered more than me. Bet I made a hell of a dent in it," Chris laughed as he sat down in one of the vacant chairs and rubbed his stomach hungrily. "You haven't eaten all the fruit I brought in have ya? I'm starving."

"I thought that was for Ezra," Buck said as he slapped Chris's shoulder playfully.

"It was but he won't miss what he didn't know was there, will he?" the blond replied with a grin.

Buck laughed and then said, "He can't eat it anyway. He's on a liquid diet 'cause of his spleen." The ladies' man turned to follow JD out the door but suddenly said, "Better tell you before I go that I've arranged to see the witness today. I don't expect him to tell me anything new but I'll let you know later if I do learn something of value."

"Great. That reminds me as well that I lodged a complaint about us not being told about Paul being out. I think the person I spoke to about it was a quivering wreck when I'd finished with him. I lost my temper well and truly," Chris said with a grim smile.

Buck returned the smile sadly. Larabee in full flow was certainly a sight to behold and the ladies' man could imagine how the person Chris vented his anger on would have felt after the confrontation.

Buck and JD said goodbye and headed to the door again and went home to catch up on some sleep before going to see the witness. Chris left the room at the same time and went to pass on the news about Ezra's lack of feeling to the doctor. The blond returned after his task and watched his injured agent closely and after an hour the man woke once more.

"Mr. Larabee?" he asked as he turned his head to the side and saw a black blob. It could only be Chris dressed in that drab color, Ezra decided.

"Hello Ezra. You okay?"

"I fell from a great height," the undercover agent said as he rubbed his brow gently with the back of his hand.

"Yeah, you sure did. You're lucky to be alive," Chris informed him as he stood up and moved to the bedside.

Ezra finally got his eyes focussed after a great deal of squinting. "What injuries have I suffered apart from a fractured skull and my legs which I've already heard about? The rest of my body feels like an insect that came off second best in a battle with a fly swat. Am I still whole?" he asked quietly.

"Just missing yer spleen but it wouldn't have been much use to you in the condition it was. Your bones will mend but it'll take quite some time. You've got more metal in you than my Ram at the moment but without it you'd likely fall apart," Chris said with a smile. He was pleased that Ezra seemed fairly alert despite his head injury.

"I won't suffer from rust, will I?" the undercover asked as he rubbed his head again.

"Na. We'll keep you well oiled. Can't have you seizing up when you're doing something important."

"No, that would never do. I might get stuck on the john and be stranded there for the rest of my life," Ezra said with a crooked smile on his lips.

"Best place for ya if you ask me," Vin laughed as he stood and moved so he was in his friend's line of vision.

"Very funny, Mr. Tanner." Ezra stopped short and asked anxiously, "Where's Monroe? Is he alright?"

"He's fine, Ez. Don't worry. He had a few cuts on his paws but he'll be okay. He's having a vacation with me and eating me out of house and home. He pined a bit to start with so I collected some of your stuff from yer house. Once he smelt yer scent on those he soon settled down. Chewed one of yer shoes to bits in the process though," Vin said placatingly with a smile.

Chris asked tentatively, "Do you remember what happened, Ez?"

The injured agent frowned and was silent for a while as he went back over in his mind what he recalled. He spoke quietly and told them all he could remember.

"Did you recognise the man who attacked you?" Chris asked apprehensively.

"I was sure it was Paul Simmons at first but that can't possibly be right. He's in jail, isn't he? Must have been his doppelganger."

Chris reached out a comforting hand and laid it on Ezra's forearm before speaking. "No, Ez. Paul's not in jail. He escaped about a month ago. He musta got your address somehow 'cause we found his fingerprints in yer bedroom. Josiah arrived to help you get ready for the meal and found you splattered on the concrete under the bedroom window. Monroe wouldn't let him near you but Vin luckily turned up not soon after and managed to get hold of him."

Chris watched his agent anxiously to see how he took the news. Ezra gave no outward sign of how he was feeling at that point but Chris knew he must be in turmoil.

Ezra sighed and scratched his chin idly as he tried to stay calm but he knew he wouldn't be able to keep his emotions in check for long. "Monroe can be very protective. That can either be a good or bad thing depending on the circumstances, I suppose," Ezra said tiredly as he tried to think of anything other than Paul. "How long am I going to have to stay here?"

"Quite a while. You've broken a lot of bones and it depends how long they take to heal. I know you're upset about your back but I'm sure things will turn out alright. We'll stay with you until Paul's been caught so don't worry about that," Chris said as he tried to ease his friend's fears.

"Thank you. I thought I'd got rid of that man from my life. I was just beginning to come to terms with what happened before too," Ezra said quietly as he felt tears pricking his eyes. He blinked rapidly to try to get rid of them but he only succeeded in making his vision fuzzy. He asked with a shaky voice, "Ronnie's still inside, isn't he?"

"Yeah, he is. Don't upset yerself, Ezra," Chris said as he patted his injured agent's hand comfortingly.

The doctor entered the room as they were talking and began checking Ezra's back and legs for movement and feeling. He left behind three very worried men when he'd finished. Chris could see Ezra clenching his jaw as he tried to keep a hold on his emotions. The blond could see his friend's eyes were shining bright with unshed tears so he asked, "Do ya feel okay, Ez?"

"My head hurts something chronic. I hate headaches. They're so debilitating," Ezra said as he wiped the tears from his eyes with a finger and thumb. He knew Chris was really asking how he felt about his numb legs but the undercover agent didn't want to talk about it.

"Try to get some sleep. You might feel better when you wake again. Just don't start fretting about things 'cause it'll only make you feel worse," the blond said as he stroked his friend's hair comfortingly. He realized Ezra was avoiding answering his question and he certainly wasn't going to force the man to talk about the subject if he didn't want to.

Ezra smiled anxiously and fell asleep again after a few minutes. Chris looked over at Vin with a scowl. "I hope he can handle this situation. As he said himself, he's only just got over the shooting and his captivity. He'd just got his life back in order and then this had to happen. Hasn't had much luck recently, has he?"

"No, he hasn't but he knows he can't deal with things like this on his own any more. He'll come to one of us if he wants to talk things over. He's gonna be a bit emotional about things by the look of him and who can blame him. Don't push him, Chris," the sharpshooter warned.

"I wouldn't but it just seems like it's the same nightmare all over again. He's had more than his fair share of shit and I can't help but worry about how this will affect him."

"I know but all we can do is be there for him when he needs us. He's bound to be worried about Paul being out and we can't stop him fretting. On the injury front we just have to hope for good news 'cause that's out of our hands, except for Josiah putting in a good word with the Almighty. As far as the Paul situation goes, it's like the Black case when Ez first came back after the shooting. We just have to make him feel safe," Vin said firmly.

"I just hope both problems are solved soon and then Ezra can concentrate on getting better. It's gonna affect his recovery if he's anxious all the time." Chris sat back in his chair and sighed loudly.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah and Nathan turned up for the next shift to discover no change in Ezra's condition. Chris and Vin adjourned to Buck and JD's condo to get news on the two agent's visit to the witness.

"Did ya learn anything?" Chris asked anxiously as soon as Buck opened the door to let them in.

The ladies' man led them through to the living room as he spoke. "Not really. He just repeated what we already knew. We tried speaking to a few other people but no one else saw anything of use. Anyway, I've been trying to think about how Paul got hold of your cell number. Do you think he's always had it? Perhaps Cody Bates gave it to him last year. Remember Paul and Ronnie were originally thinking of kidnapping you but changed their minds and took Ezra instead. We'd got no cause to change our numbers then, had we? We assumed Cody was just stealing from busts and passing on information to Paul when we were getting close to finding Ez. We'd have had no idea that he kept personal details like that too."

"Maybe. Don't s'pose it's any good speaking to Cody to find out if that's true."

"It's worth a try, pard. I'll set something up. How was Ezra?"

"Slept most of the time and he's drugged up to the eyeballs with painkillers. He started off in fairly good spirits when he woke and then got a bit upset later on as we talked about what happened but that's only to be expected, I s'pose." Chris sighed and ran his fingers through his hair before saying, "The doctor showed me the x- rays of Ezra's leg today. It musta been like putting a jigsaw back together. Never seen anything like it."

"Yeah, we saw it too. Did the doctor say how his back was?" JD asked.

"He checked it and although Ezra insists he can't feel his legs, it's difficult to be sure seeing as both legs are broken. I admit I'm worried sick and I know the doctor's verdict upset Ez alot."

"Poor Ez. Have you told Maude?" Buck enquired.

"Yeah. Told her last night. She's gonna come down as soon as she can get a flight. Sorry for leaving you to do most of the hard graft on this Buck, I appreciate it. Can I leave questioning Cody to you too? I just feel I need to be with Ezra as much as I can at the moment."

"Sure. Leave it to me and let me know if you want me to do anything else. We'll be at the hospital tonight if you want us. Sorry we haven't had any success in tracking Paul down yet. The grapevine seems to have been well and truly shut down."

"Can't be helped. I know yer doing all ya can, Bucklin. See ya later."

Before Chris could leave though, his cell rang. He stayed in Buck's living room as he answered it and began pacing as soon as he knew who it was.

"Hey sucker. How's Standish? Hope he's not gonna be laid up for too long 'cause we've got unfinished business. He'll be able to rest forever in a nice casket when I'm done with him."

Chris tried to remain calm and not let the man get under his skin. "You'll have to get through me first, you bastard."

"That's suppose to frighten me, is it? You're no competition, Larabee. I'm a patient man and I can wait as long as it takes. When you think I've given up and forgotten all about him I'll be there to kill him. You can't protect him for the rest of his life."

"You piece of shit! Simmons? Simmons? Godammit." Chris threw the cell across the room and looked absolutely furious.

"Chris? What did he say, pard?" Buck asked tentatively.

Chris told them and the men listened worriedly. "He's right, you know. We can't keep Ezra under lock and key. What happens if he does recover fully and gets back to work? He's gonna be awful vulnerable if he goes undercover on his own," Buck commented.

"We'll just have to do all we can to catch Paul before Ezra is given the all clear. God knows how though. Got no idea where the sonofabitch is."

"He'll slip up. He did last time and he will again," Vin drawled calmly.

"Don't tell Ez about this, will you? He's got enough on his plate at the moment without knowing about Paul's threats," Chris pleaded.


The men said their goodbyes once more and Chris and Vin made their way home.

+ + + + + + +

Buck and JD questioned Cody Bates and found that Buck had been correct in his previous assumption. Cody had got all the cell numbers belonging to all the agents the previous year and had passed them onto Paul to use if he wanted. Chris made sure his men changed their numbers immediately. He didn't want anyone other than himself to be contacted by Paul.

Maude came and visited Ezra briefly before hurrying back to take care of her numerous business interests. Chris was annoyed with her that she couldn't, or wouldn't, spare the time to stay for a few weeks. It always seemed that if there was no monetary gain in a visit to her son she didn't want to spend time with him. The blond knew that Ezra was upset by her seemingly uncaring attitude, although the man hadn't said so outright.

At least there was finally some good news on Ezra's back injury. The swelling started to subside and the doctors ascertained that there was no permanent damage. Slowly each cast, except the one on his left leg, was removed from Ezra's broken limbs as they healed. He started having regular visits from the physiotherapist who began getting his newly released limbs and spine back in working order. Once Ezra's arm had healed and was back to full strength he could get out of bed on his own and use crutches to get around. He finally felt that he was making progress although he knew he still faced an uphill struggle to recover completely. After another two weeks Ezra had the cast removed from his left leg and he was glad to see the back of it. He was still going to need a lot of therapy on it but it was hoped that he would be released at the end of the week.

Buck was sitting with the undercover agent after he'd finished the first physio session on his leg.

"Never thought I'd get rid of that damned cast," Ezra said as he studied his leg minutely.

"Sure seemed like a permanent fixture," Buck agreed as he sat opposite his friend.

Ezra sat on the edge of the bed with his legs dangling and said quietly, "Don't think my leg will ever be as good as new."

"Be patient, Ezra. Don't think you can get up and start running straight away."

"Have enough trouble walking," Ezra said sadly as he rubbed a hand up and down the injured limb and grimaced.

"Come on, Ez. I know it's been a long haul but don't get downhearted. Once you get up and about more, you'll improve in no time," Buck said encouragingly as he moved to sit beside the undercover agent.

"I hope you're right, Mr. Wilmington. Don't think I wanna go around like Long John Silver for the rest of my life."

"I'll buy you a parrot to sit on yer shoulder if it comes to that," Buck promised with a smile.

Ezra laughed and punched the ladies' man lightly on the arm before lying on the bed to catch up on some rest. Before he settled down he tapped Buck's arm and asked, "Have they caught Paul yet? No one has mentioned him for ages."

The ladies' man looked at his friend seriously and remembered Chris's instructions not to tell Ezra about Paul's threats. He knew though that he couldn't lie when it came to the fact that Paul was still at large. "No, Ez. He ain't been found yet but I'm sure it won't be long before he's back behind bars. We said we'd stay with ya until he's been caught so there's nothing to worry about. He's probably in Mexico by now anyway so you just relax."

Ezra stared at him and didn't know whether Buck was being entirely truthful with him. He smiled anyway and decided to follow his friend's advice about not worrying. He knew he could trust his colleagues to keep him safe so he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

The weekend finally arrived and Ezra got ready to leave the hospital. Chris had put plans in place for his safe delivery to the ranch. Protecting Ezra while he'd been in the hospital had been easy but it was going to prove much more difficult now he was out. Chris still didn't want to tell the undercover agent about Paul's threats so his men would have to be discreet in their protection duties. Chris had been pleased in a way that Ezra had stayed in the hospital as long as he had. It had given them time to concentrate on tracking Paul down and he had really hoped they would have caught Paul before Ezra was released. That was not to be though and he had been forced to make contingency plans. He'd left Buck and Vin at the ranch to make sure it was safe there and Josiah and JD were at the hospital on guard but well hidden.

Chris collected Ezra from his room and escorted him to the hospital's entrance where Nathan was waiting to help. Ezra hopped to the Ram on his crutches and was greeted by a welcoming bark from Monroe who was bouncing up and down on the back seat. The dog was so excited to see his master that he just couldn't keep still.

"Oh, Monroe. I have missed you," Ezra said with a hitch in his voice.

"Looks like the feeling's mutual, Ezra," Nathan said and laughed when the dog put his front paws on Ezra's chest and smothered the man with doggy kisses. Nathan put a hand on Ezra's back to steady him when he wobbled as the dog leant against him.

Ezra finally pushed the dog away and climbed in beside him and stretched his leg out along the seat. Monroe lay in his lap and wagged his tail happily and Ezra reached out a hand and stroked the dog's head lovingly. Nathan smiled to see the two companions re- united as he climbed in the front of the Ram.

"Thought you'd appreciate having Monroe around, Ez. He's been having a high old time with Arnie out at the ranch. He really appreciated the open space after being cooped up in Vin's apartment for the first week you were in the hospital."

"Thank you Chris. It really is good to see him but I hope he hasn't been too much bother."

"No bother at all. Both dogs are usually off together making mischief somewhere so I don't get to see much of them. It's a case of cupboard love, I think. They only come home when it's feeding time," Chris laughed. The blond was pleased. His ploy of bringing Monroe to the hospital had made sure Ezra concentrated on him and so had missed seeing Josiah and JD.

Nathan turned round to look at the man in the back and asked, "Ready to go, Ez?"

"Yes, Mr. Jackson. I can't wait to get away from this wretched building. If I never come back it'll be too soon. They ought to at least name a room after me with all the time I've spent here recently."

Chris laughed as he started the motor and pulled out onto the road and saw Josiah pull out after him a few vehicles behind. The blond kept an eye on the undercover agent in the rear view mirror and saw him drop off to sleep after they'd travelled a few miles. Part two of the plan slotted into place nicely. Chris had made sure that Ezra had just finished a physio session before they came to collect him. He knew the man would be worn out and he hoped he would sleep all the way home and wouldn't see Josiah following them during the rest of the journey.

Chris smiled as he saw Monroe still lying contentedly in his master's lap. He smiled even more when he remembered the joy on Ezra's face when he'd first been given Monroe as a pet. The blond still found it amusing that Ezra actually liked dogs but the undercover agent and Monroe had become instant buddies. Chris was jolted from his musings when he realized Nathan was talking to him. He turned his attention to the medic and the two men talked quietly throughout the journey.

As they reached the track to Chris's ranch, the blond saw Buck and Vin parked at the side of the track in the trees. As he pulled alongside them Buck waved and gave the thumbs up sign to say all was well. Chris then drove on and pulled up outside his house with a passenger who was totally oblivious to all the frenetic activity from his friends. Chris had planned the whole transfer meticulously and he was certainly pleased with the results. It had gone like clockwork, if only everything else would go as smoothly.

Nathan hopped down from the Ram and opened the rear door and tapped Ezra's shoulder as he called his name. The man opened his eyes and stretched before getting out the Ram with much difficulty. Monroe jumped down after him and ran off to find Arnie. The two dogs returned immediately and Arnie greeted Ezra with loud barks while Monroe ran round the three men excitedly. Chris shouted at the dogs and they ran back toward the barn to see what mischief they could find there. Ezra's two human friends then escorted him safely into the house and took him into the den to let him lay down for a while.

"Nate? Is his leg really gonna be alright? He's still limping badly," Chris said worriedly when they sat down in the living room after seeing to Ezra's comfort.

"I know. The physio will help but it's gonna take some time before he gets back to normal. The fact that he broke his pelvis and hurt his back has just hampered his recovery. He lost a lot of strength in his lower body because of being laid up all that time. He's still gonna need a lot of rest. He's feeling pretty low about everything and they put him on antidepressants. He's very fragile mentally."

"Yeah. He got upset a few times in the hospital when I was there," Chris admitted sadly.

"It's post-operative depression. The fact that he was in the hospital for so long has just made matters worse. I expect you noticed too that he's extremely irritable, so expect a few arguments along the way. Hopefully now he's up and about and in a different environment it'll help. You saw how happy he was to see Monroe again. Animals have an uncanny knack of cheering up even the most depressed people. Don't write him off yet." Nathan changed the subject slightly and asked, "Have you heard from Paul again?"

"Not on my cell since I changed the number but he's started calling here instead. I had JD put a tap on the phone but I just hate not knowing where the bastard is. He hasn't stayed on the phone long enough so far to get a trace on his location. I know everyone is uptight wondering when, or if, he's gonna strike again. Least Ez doesn't know what's going on and he can just concentrate on getting better. God knows what he'd be like if we'd told him about the threats from Paul."

"Well you know I agree with you not telling him. He's had too much emotional upset recently to cope with, without knowing that as well," Nathan said.

"We're doing all we can to keep him safe and I really hope it's enough. The only time he's gonna be vulnerable is going back and forth on the journey to the hospital for the therapy sessions," Chris said worriedly.

"Yeah, I know but he'll have two people with him on the trip plus the two on guard duty at the hospital. You can't do any more, Chris. Don't fret too much or you'll make yerself ill and then you'll be no good to Ezra at all," Nathan said as he patted his friend's back before leaving the room to do a circuit of the house.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra peg-legged into the room a few hours later and sighed with relief when he sat down and stretched his leg out on the sofa.

"Okay, Ez?" Chris asked.

"Yes. Just hurts. Aches all the time you know?" Ezra said as he rubbed his lower leg.

"Does it hurt bad?" Chris asked worriedly.

"No but it's tiring. Do you know what I mean? I can't really describe it," Ezra replied with a shrug.

"Yeah. I know how it feels. You've got enough painkillers, have you?"

"Yes and I take them religiously. Don't you get fed up with always looking after me, Mr. Larabee? This is the third time this year. I'm thoroughly fed up with life in general, I can tell you," Ezra said a bit shortly as he dropped his crutches on the floor loudly in annoyance.

"I want you with me, Ezra. It's no trouble and it's good to have some company. I know the physio sessions you had before you left hospital didn't go to plan but try to be patient."

"My patience ran out long ago and being told things will get better just doesn't help," Ezra said irritably.

"I'm sorry, Ez. I know things have been hard for you." Chris knew an argument was brewing and he didn't quite know how to stop it before Ezra unleashed his anger.

"Do you? Do you really? You don't know anything! You can't possibly know what it's been like this past year!" Ezra yelled tearfully.

"No, you're right, Ezra. I don't know at all. Why don't you tell me?" Chris said calmly.

"Don't go all psychiatrist on me, Chris. I've had enough. Damned do- gooders, always thinking they know best. The crap that spills from their mouths is truly nauseating. Just shut up and keep your good intentions to yourself."

Chris really didn't know how to handle his friend. He wished that Josiah was around to talk to him but as he wasn't, the blond had to do what he could on his own. He stood up and moved to sit down next to Ezra on the couch.

The undercover agent looked at him and said, "I didn't mean to shout but I just get so frustrated because I can't see an end to it all. It's just been one thing after another. I know you had to deal with my tantrums when I first came back to work last year and I don't like acting this way but I can't help it. I yell and then regret it straight away."

Chris could see Ezra's eyes were shining with tears and he put out a hand and squeezed the man's arm. That single touch was the final straw for Ezra and he let the tears fall. Chris put an arm round his shoulders and held him until he stopped crying.

"I'm sorry, Chris. You must think I'm terribly weak, blubbing like a baby," Ezra said softly as he wiped his face on his sleeve and sniffed loudly.

"No, I don't. You've had more things to handle lately than most people have in a lifetime, Ezra. You're allowed to get upset. Why don't you get some more rest?"

"Oh yes. I'll get out of your way. The sooner I'm out of your life the better, isn't that what you're saying?" the agent snapped furiously as he stood up quickly after grabbing his crutches. He swayed slightly until he'd got a firm grip on them.

"Stop putting words in my mouth. That's not what I meant at all, Ezra," Chris replied equally angrily. He chastised himself immediately because of the harsh tone he'd used but Ezra spoke before he could say anything else.

"Just ignore me, Chris. Must be suffering from the male menopause. I'll leave you in peace and I do apologize for my behavior," Ezra sighed and hobbled out of the room with head hung low.

Nathan entered from the kitchen where he had been listening. "You okay, Chris?"

"I am. Can't say about Ezra though. He's so belligerent and I'm gonna find it hard keeping my temper with him. I snapped then before I could stop myself."

"I heard everything and you handled it alright. He's gotta let the anger out of his system somehow. Just try and remember he's not being deliberately nasty when he shouts at you. He can't help what he says and I'm sure he won't hold it against you if you shout back at him."

"I know but I hate seeing him like this and some of what he says does hurt. We're only trying to help him and it's not nice to have it thrown back in yer face."

"You're gonna have to have a cast iron heart not to be upset, Chris. Just try and see it from his perspective. We're all carrying on with our lives as normal, doing what we want, when we want. He's gotta call on us all the time for help and it can't be easy."

"You're right. You always see things so clearly, don't you? Thanks, Nate," Chris said as he stood and patted the medic on the shoulder gratefully.


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