New Ventures

by Hombre

Alternate Universe: The Sporting Seven Partnership - Life changing events

They were well ahead of schedule and Chris knew they could afford a break. The next week Chris decided to give his men a day off from working and let them enjoy themselves by going riding. They'd all stayed overnight in the ranch house so they could leave early the next morning and make a day of it.

"Ezra? Get yer sorry butt outta bed, will ya? We ain't got all day. Go and get yer horse saddled too 'cause I ain't doing it for ya," Chris shouted from outside the attorney's bedroom window.

Ezra pulled the covers up over his head and snuggled down in bed. Another five minutes won't be noticed, he thought to himself but he suddenly felt the duvet ripped away from his body and someone tickled his feet. He pulled them out of reach and picked up a pillow from under his head and threw it down to the bottom of the bed. He was very satisfied to hear a grunt as the soft pillow connected with its target.

"Good shot, Ez. Just think what you can do if you've got yer eyes open," Vin laughed as Buck scowled and straightened his hair where the pillow had hit him.

"Come on, pard. The day's half over," Buck complained as he slapped Ezra's leg to try and get him up.

Ezra squinted at his watch and said, "It's only 8.30, Bucklin. Plenty of time for playing."

He closed his eyes again but felt himself tipped sideways without warning. He rolled over twice before landing with a thump on the floor. He opened his eyes to see Chris standing with the mattress in his hands and a huge grin on his face.

"When I say get up Standish, I mean it," the blond smirked.

"Alright, you win. Doesn't look as though I'm going to get any peace, does it? Hope you've made me some breakfast."

"We had ours an hour ago. Might be a few crumbs left if yer lucky," Chris said as he reached down a hand and pulled his friend to his feet.

Ezra dressed slowly and joined the other men at the barn. He quickly saddled the horse he had been assigned as he studied it in disgust.

"God, what an ugly brute," he said as he looked the creature up and down.

"Chris? Ezra's insulting you again," Buck laughed. "He says you look like the back end of a horse."

"You're a damned liar, Bucklin. I said no such thing, Mr. Larabee. I said this animal is ugly, not you."

"You insult one of my animals and you insult me, Standish," Chris warned as he approached the attorney threateningly. "My horses are the best bred and best looking in this area."

"Well, there's not much competition, is there?" Ezra said disparagingly. "You own the only ranch for miles."

"My statement is true then, ain't it? Anyway what you wanna go on looks for? It's their temperament that counts, not whether they look pretty."

"Would you be seen out with a woman who was as ugly as hell?" Ezra challenged as he stood with hands on hips and a raised eyebrow.

Chris frowned and asked, "What's that gotta do with anything? Horses are for riding."

"So are women. You get your leg over both, don't you?" the attorney asked with a smile.

"God, Ez. I never expected to hear you say something like that. Me, yes but not you," Buck laughed as he slapped the attorney's back.

"It must be your influence that is turning my mind to such disgusting thoughts, Mr. Wilmington. I'm just trying to make a suitable comparison so you heathens can understand what I'm trying to say. Where's the problem with not wanting to ride this pathetic creature that looks like a mixture between an elephant and a camel? It would be as embarrassing to be seen out on him as it would to be seen with a knock-kneed, gap- toothed lady on my arm. I just wanted to point out that the type of woman you choose to love and the breed of horse you like to ride is a very personal thing. There are limits to my good nature and this animal has reached it. No offense horse but you are hideous."

"He's insulting yer horse again, Chris," Buck laughed.

Chris bent down and picked something up as he approached Ezra again. Ezra narrowed his eyes and tried to see what it was. He backed away warily as the blond approached but came up against the wall and could move no further. Chris pounced and wrestled Ezra to the ground and wiped what he'd picked up all over Ezra's clothes.

"There ya go, Ez," Chris said with a smile as he wiped his hands on his pants. "You and the horse can be embarrassed about one another. He's ugly and you stink."

The other men laughed as they saw Ezra had been liberally smeared with manure. The attorney looked down at his once clean clothes and sighed. He stood up and turned to go back to the ranch house but Chris stopped him.

"Ain't got time to change. You go as you are or not at all."

"Can't call him Teflon any more," Vin said a touch sadly. "Shame."

Ezra looked furious and he turned a withering look on the blond and Chris wondered whether he'd gone too far. Ezra said forcefully, "Why did I agree to join your partnership, Mr. Larabee? I hope you're going to treat our paying guests in a more reasonable manner."

"Sure, I will. I know which side my bread's buttered."

"Do you? Do you really? Just remember I, in effect, hold two shares in this venture. I could pull out at any time and then where would you be? So you'd better think of me as the jam to put on your bread as well. Without me it all tastes rather bland and if you drop me on the floor I get doubly covered in fluff and have to be discarded which would be a terrible waste."

"God, Ez. Talk so we can understand what the hell yer goin' on about will ya?" Vin pleaded. "What did all that crap mean?"

"It means treat me with extra care or you may regret your actions."

Chris stared at the man because he sounded deadly serious. "Hey come on, Ez. We were only funnin'."

"All I ask is for a bit of respect or I'm out of the whole affair."

Buck opened his mouth to say something but Chris prodded him in the ribs with a well- placed elbow. The blond studied the man standing in front of him and saw the pair of green eyes staring back at him twinkle in amusement. A slow smile spread across the attorney's face and ended in a loud guffaw.

"You really thought I was serious, didn't you?" Ezra laughed as he poked Chris's shoulder with an outstretched finger.

"You bastard. I could see my dream falling down round my ears," Chris admitted in relief.

"Come on. The sooner we go out the sooner I can get back and rid myself of the shit you saw fit to put on me." Ezra leapt up on his horse and kicked it out of the yard and headed off at a lope into the distance with the others chasing behind yelling at the top of their voices.

+ + + + + + +

JD was with Ezra in the barn packing away the equipment after their ride. The youngster rose after completing his tidying up and went to muck out the horses, which was the next job on his agenda. Ezra sniffed and coughed loudly as he brushed his clothes down to get rid of the dust and dried manure that he'd acquired. JD turned round to ask his friend a question and was just in time to see Ezra collapse.

"Jeez, Ezra?" He hurried over to the prone man and knelt beside him. He felt his pulse and it was very slow and the kid frowned. Ezra stayed motionless and JD finally stood up after waiting for what seemed like ages for his friend to wake up.

JD looked down at Ezra once more before running to the house and bursting in the kitchen door. He found Chris washing up and the blond turned to see why JD had entered so quickly. He saw the worried look on the youngster's face and asked, "JD? What's up, son?"

"Ezra's collapsed. He's been out for ages and he still ain't woken up yet. I had to leave him to come and get some help. His heart was beating real slow, Chris."

Chris wiped his hands quickly and put a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder. "Nathan's out by the creek. Run and get him, kid. I'll go sit with Ezra if you tell me where you left him."

"In the barn."

JD turned and ran outside with Chris close on his heels. They split up immediately and headed in different directions. Chris ran to the barn and saw Ezra lying in the straw moving slowly. He knelt beside him and felt his pulse again but it seemed fine to him and he wondered if JD had imagined things in his panic. He would mention it to Nathan anyway just in case it was true. Chris looked his friend up and down and could see a dark patch on Ezra's pants near his crotch. He frowned and then put a hand on Ezra's shoulder to keep him on the ground and he received no resistance whatsoever.

The blond finally heard the sound of numerous running feet approaching the barn and he rose and met them at the door. "Just Nate, boys. Can the rest of you stay out here for the moment?"

The men did as they were told and stayed outside although they were curious as to why Chris wouldn't let them in. Nate followed Chris in and asked, "Why only me?"

"You'll see," Chris said cryptically.

Nathan knelt beside Ezra and noticed what Chris had seen earlier. "Get an ambulance, Chris, will ya?" The therapist looked down at Ezra and said calmly, "Just stay where you are Ezra. An ambulance is on its way."

"I don't want one," the man said quietly as he tried to rise.

Nathan easily prevented him from doing so and said, "I don't care what you want, Ezra. I want to see if the sickness you felt before and this episode are related in any way. If it is I want to know what is now causing you to pass out."

"Do you really think they could be related? I'd kinda forgotten all about the previous times he'd felt sick," Chris said anxiously.

"So had I until today and I don't really know either way but I gotta consider the possibility, Chris."

Chris eventually heard a siren in the distance and went to the doorway but Buck had already gone to meet it. Two paramedics exited the vehicle after it had parked and they entered the barn to start examining Ezra. Nathan told them the history and also what Chris had told him about JD's observations. Ezra was then loaded into the emergency vehicle and taken back to town with Nathan for company.

"Chris? Why couldn't we see him?" Buck asked when the blond joined him outside the barn.

"Let's just say I didn't want him embarrassed and leave it at that, okay? Are you coming to the hospital too?"

"You bet."

"I just need to pick some things up from the house and I'll be with you." Chris went off on his errand and came back with a bag in his hand that contained a change of clothes for the attorney. Buck looked at him curiously but didn't make a comment. Chris threw the bag in the trunk for safekeeping and then climbed in the driver's seat.

The men arrived at the hospital and were sent through to the waiting room. Nathan appeared after a few hours and sat down next to Chris and the blond passed the bag to him. The blond looked at him expectantly but Nate remained silent.

"How is he?" Chris asked eventually after studying the man's face for any clues.

"They're doing some tests but so far they haven't found anything wrong. All his vital signs are normal so without him feeling sick here while they're checking him I guess they'll just send him home. They're gonna do some more tests to rule out anemia and epilepsy and check whether he's allergic to anything but I know it ain't epilepsy. They also say they can't tell if how he felt on the two previous occasions has any relevance to this or not. There's only a young doctor on duty so there's no one else to ask for a second opinion."

After staying for several hours and having every test under the sun performed, Ezra was released and given a clean bill of health as Nathan had predicted. The therapist wasn't at all happy but he had to accept what he was told.

Several more weeks passed by without incident but the problem was always at the back of Nathan's mind. He had a nagging feeling that he knew what was wrong but unless Ezra had another attack he couldn't be sure. As time passed by without a recurrence though, Nathan began to hope that the problem had resolved itself.

+ + + + + + +

The buildings were finally ready to accept guests and all the men left their jobs so they could concentrate on the final stages of the project.

Vin and Ezra were relaxing after a day of running around doing odd jobs. Ezra picked up the newspaper and started trying to solve the crossword while Vin listened to some music. After only a few minutes the attorney put the paper aside and sighed in contentment.

"You ain't finished it already Ezra, have ya?" Vin asked in disbelief as he took off his headphones.

"When you have an intellect like mine, a crossword poses few problems," Ezra said modestly.

"Bullshit. Bet it's yesterday's paper and you already looked at the answers in today's. Vin reached over and picked the paper up and checked the date suspiciously. He had been wrong and it was the paper for that day. Dammit, how does he do it? Vin wondered. He read through all the questions to see how many he could answer. He found some of the clues difficult to understand and it took him a long time to get through them all. "What's this one? Great Astronomer." Vin spelt out Ezra's answer in his head and said it out loud as he thought the word was pronounced, "Copper knickers."

Ezra burst out laughing and held up both hands apologetically, "Oh, Mr. Tanner that was classic. I'm not laughing at you but it is a long time since I've heard it pronounced like that. That's teaching language phonetically for you. It's pronounced Copernicus with the accent on the 'er', do you see?"

"Yeah, I see. Still prefer my way of sayin' it though. Sounds more interestin'," Vin said with a grin.

"What you two grinning at?" Chris asked as he ambled in and saw the smiles on his friend's faces.

"Just discussing the vagaries of language. You had to be here to appreciate it, Mr. Larabee," Ezra smiled.

"Are you up to a skiing session tomorrow? Thought we deserved another day off and the slope needs testing anyway."

"Excellent. Having skiing available around the year is a real bonus. I take my hat off to you Mr. Larabee for suggesting such a wonderful concept."

"Well, it ain't the same as skiing on snow but it comes pretty damn close," Chris said as he acknowledged the attorney's praise with a tip of his head.

"What time do you wish to start? Not too early I hope."

"Na. We can have a couple of hours in the morning and then do any work that needs doing in the afternoon. Needn't start 'til 10am."

"Oh good. Who's going to be the brave soul who goes down first? I don't think I'll volunteer. If there are problems I don't want to be the one to discover them. I think I'll go last if it's all the same to you," Ezra decided.

"Coward," Vin said.

"No. I like my limbs in the position they are in now. I'm just thinking of my own welfare."

"What about the rest of us? Pull up the ladder Jack I'm on board, is that what yer saying? Don't you care if we have to suffer for your benefit?" Vin asked with a grin.

"Well, you've got brains, haven't you? I'm sure you can decide for yourselves what to do for the best but I bet Mr. Dunne volunteers to go first. He's got no fear or brains."

"I heard that Ezra," the youngster said as he walked into the room from where he'd been listening outside. He sat down beside the attorney and looked at him wryly.

"Ah, JD. Now I didn't mean that as an insult," Ezra stuttered and looked embarrassed.

"Sure sounded like one to me."

"Well in that case I apologize but my prophecy stills remains unaltered about you being the first to ski the new slope tomorrow," the attorney said emphatically.

"Heck, course I will. I'll leave you old people behind with no trouble," the youngster grinned.

"There you are, no brains," Ezra stated firmly as he sat back with folded arms and a satisfied look on his face.

"We'll see. Just 'cause I'm the first down don't mean I find all the problems. The rest of us might all get down safely but something may come loose after we do and you encounter it instead of us because you come down last."

"Thank you, Mr. Dunne. I feel so much better now," Ezra retorted sarcastically with a disconcerted look on his face.

"Well done, kid. That took the wind out his sails, didn't it?" Chris said as he slapped the youngster on the back heartily.

+ + + + + + +

The men met up the next morning and collected their skiing equipment and made their way to the ski lift. They traveled up to the top and studied the slope that dropped steeply from under them.

"Jeez. Looks worse from up here. Didn't look so steep from down there," Vin said as he checked his skis again.

"Not going to chicken out, Mr. Tanner?" Era asked challengingly. He stood leaning nonchalantly on his ski poles and grinned at the longhaired man.

"No way. I was only making a comment. I didn't say I was scared, did I?"

"Not in so many words," Ezra said with a challenging grin.

"Bullshit. Least I ain't too scared to go first like you," Vin contradicted as he poked Ezra's shoulder with an outstretched forefinger to emphasize his point.

"Right, that's it. Come on, Vin. Let's race to the bottom. I'll show you who's scared."

"Take it easy, boys. I need you to look for problems as you go and I don't need you encased in plaster from top to toe after falling ass over tip on the way down," Chris cautioned as he fixed the two men with a serious stare.

"Alright, cowboy. Don't get yer pants in a knot. We ain't stupid," Vin said with a grin.

"Well said, Mr. Tanner. Are you ready for a sedate race?"

"Sure. Last one to the bottom washes the dishes all week."

"Good God, let me through. I'm not getting dishpan hands. You don't stand a chance, my young friend," Ezra said as he set off briskly after pushing Vin over.

"You bastard. I knew you could never trust a lawyer," Vin said as he struggled to get upright and set off after the fast-departing attorney.

Chris shook his head in exasperation. "Better get ready with a stretcher, Bucklin. The rate they're going there's bound to be an accident."

The blond pushed off and started down the slope slowly and studied the slope as he went. The other men followed behind but soon rushed past yelling and laughing.

"What kept ya?" Buck asked when the blond finally reached the bottom.

"Seeing as I was the only one doing what they were told I decided to take it easy. Glad to see you're all in one piece so I think we can say there aren't any problems, don't ya?" Chris grinned.

"We going again?" JD asked eagerly.

"Don't see why not."

The men all headed back to the top and Chris beat them all to the bottom this time. He stood lounging against the fence at the bottom and grinned relentlessly when the others finally arrived.

"Show off," Josiah said.

"Na. Just putting you all in yer place."

+ + + + + + +

They all began to move into their new cabins until Nathan was the only one left to move on site. Ezra and Vin volunteered to help him pack his possessions and transfer everything to Chris's ranch.

"Good Lord, Mr. Jackson. Where do you propose putting all your belongings? The cabins aren't as big as your house you know. It's going to take another millennium just to clear one room by the look of it."

"Jeez, Ez. Not still complaining, are ya? Thought you'd be used to hard graft by now," Vin smiled.

"I am but this is like moving Mount Everest. Why do you hoard so much?"

"They're all essential items, Ezra. I ain't chucking anything out just to please you. Get working or else we won't get anything done," Nathan instructed with a grin. "You can start upstairs just for moaning."

"So kind." Ezra headed off while the other two dealt with what was already packed downstairs. They then began clearing what Ezra had carried down from the upper floor.

Vin decided to lend Ezra a hand in the afternoon. The man had been bringing down armfuls of boxes all morning and Vin began to feel sorry for him. Nathan had driven out to the ranch quite some time ago with a truck full of boxes for the men at the other end to help unpack so Vin climbed the stairs and went to join Ezra as he cleared the last room.

The attorney had taken his time to complete his task because he knew the two men downstairs had a lot to move first. He hadn't offered to lend them a hand as he saw that they had some sort of system in place to cope and he knew he'd only get in the way. Having said that he certainly hadn't been slacking off upstairs. He'd got his own way of dealing with the mountain of boxes and it had worked well. He'd taken several breaks when he saw Vin and Nathan were getting overloaded but he had to admit he still felt tired.

Ezra smiled as he saw Vin reach the top of the stairs. "Oh, decided to help me now that I've nearly finished have you, Mr. Tanner? There's just these two boxes left." Ezra pointed to the items and picked one up as he spoke.

"I ain't exactly been slacking off, Ez. Still had to move everything you carried downstairs out to the truck, didn't we?" Vin said as he bent and picked up his box. "Jesus. Has he packed them with rocks?"

"Certainly feels like it, doesn't it? I know I said it would be like moving a mountain but I hope he didn't take me literally."

The green-eyed man moved out to the stairs and looked down over the top of his burden. The world suddenly started swaying and his vision blurred. He dropped the box he held as he reached out for something to hold on to but he knew he was going to fall and he could do nothing to stop himself. Vin saw his friend wobble precariously on the top step and he too dropped his box but he couldn't grab Ezra before he fell. Ezra's knees buckled and he tumbled down the stairs after the box he had just dropped as if it was a race to see which of them could reach the bottom first.

"Shit, Ezra." Vin pounded down the stairs after his friend who now lay in an unmoving heap up against the wall at the bottom with the box across his back. The longhaired man slowed his pace as he neared the attorney and knelt down beside him. "Are you okay, Ez?"

He moved the box away gently and turned his friend over when he got no reply and felt for a pulse. He found it beating slowly but while he was monitoring it, it suddenly stopped altogether. Vin moved his hand quickly under Ezra's nose and was pleased to feel the warm breath on the back of it. He put his finger back on Ezra's pulse and found it beating again albeit slowly.

"Nathan!?" the young man yelled at the top of his voice as he heard the Explorer draw up outside and the door slam shut.

The summoned man appeared in the doorway quickly and saw his two friends at the bottom of the stairs. The therapist moved toward them and knelt down as he asked, "What happened?"

"He lost his footing and fell head first. He was as white as snow a moment ago and then his skin got very flushed. His heart stopped, Nate. I swear it."

Nathan felt Ezra's pulse anxiously but it felt fine to him. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah, I'm sure. It stopped so I checked to make sure he was still breathing and when I felt his pulse again after that it was there but real slow."

"Ezra?" Nathan called as his friend stirred. "Take it easy. How do you feel?"

"I'm okay."

Vin reached out and helped him sit up but kept a tight hold on him. "Well, you weren't a minute ago, Ez. You dove head first down the stairs."

"Did ya feel dizzy again or did ya just miss yer footing?" the therapist asked.

"I don't really recall but I do feel sick and dizzy now," the attorney said dreamily as he held a hand to his head and swayed.

"Come on. I'm taking you for another checkup."

"No. I don't want to be any trouble. I'm perfectly fine." Ezra protested weakly as his voice trailed off to a whisper.

"You're not fine." Even as Nathan spoke, the attorney passed out again and started convulsing in Vin's arms. Once the man stopped moving Nathan reached out a finger and felt exactly what Vin had discovered before. Ezra's pulse suddenly slowed and then stopped altogether before restarting of its own accord after about half a minute. The man had gone incredibly pale during this time but his skin suddenly became flushed as he revived. Nathan again noticed the dark stain that appeared on his friend's pants. "Help me get him in the Explorer, Vin. I ain't waiting for an ambulance to get here. Can you drive?"

"Sure," Vin replied as Nathan tossed the keys to him.

The two men picked their friend up carefully between them and laid him along the back seat of the Explorer. Vin got in the front while Nathan climbed in with Ezra and sat in the foot well by the attorney's head. Vin set off when he saw they were both settled. The therapist kept a finger on the pulse point in Ezra's wrist throughout the journey so he could tell if there were any changes in his friend's condition.

"Okay, Ez?" Nathan asked when he saw Ezra watching him nervously. "Don't worry. We'll have you sorted in no time."

"How is he?" Vin asked as he looked back over his shoulder briefly as he heard Nathan talking.

"Pulse is back to normal and he don't look so pale."

"Do you know what's wrong with him, Nate?" Vin asked.

"I have a suspicion but I don't wanna say anything until I know for sure. I'll just phone ahead to the hospital so they know we're coming."

Nathan pulled out his phone and put in the call. Vin listened as he gave his opinions to one of the doctors at the hospital but the longhaired man didn't understand all the medical terminology that was being used so he was none the wiser when Nathan had finished.

They arrived at the hospital and a nurse was waiting for them with a gurney. The attorney was whisked away and Nathan followed anxiously behind.

Vin stayed outside and found his cell phone and called Chris. "Chris? It's Vin. I'm at the hospital with Ezra."

"Shit! What now?"

"He passed out twice at Nathan's," the young man informed the blond anxiously.

"How is he?"

"His heart stopped and he had a seizure, Chris. Can you come? We're real worried about him."

"Sure, I'll be there as soon as I can. Does Nate know what's wrong?" Chris asked as he ran a hand through his hair.

"He says he thinks he does. I heard him talking to the doctor and he said something about stokes and something else, another name I think but I didn't really understand."

"Stokes? You sure it wasn't stroke?"

"No it weren't that. It was definitely stokes," Vin said emphatically.

"Okay. I'm setting off now. This time we don't let them discharge him before they find out what's really wrong." Chris put the phone down and informed the others what had happened and they headed off to the hospital. They ran along to the waiting room and found Vin looking out the window.

"You okay, kid?" Chris asked as he studied the young man closely.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

"Have they told you anything yet?" Buck asked as he put a comforting hand on Vin's shoulder.

"No. Nathan's been with them on and off but even he's saying nothing."

Back to the present

Chris was jolted from his thoughts as Nathan entered the room. Chris scowled because he hadn't even realized that the therapist had left. The man was met with a barrage of questions before he could even speak so he held his hands up and silence fell over the room.

"Nate?" Chris asked anxiously in the sudden quiet.

"He's being kept in overnight so they can monitor his heart."

"His heart? Is it really that serious?" Buck asked with a frown as he sat back down when his legs didn't seem to want to support him.

"Yes. He's just had a minor heart attack but he's stable and conscious."

"What do you think it is that's causing all this, Nate? Do you have any ideas?"

The therapist was quiet for a time before sighing and saying, "I think he's been having Stokes-Adams attacks which are a symptom of something called heart block. Ezra's heart suddenly slows down because of disruption in the electrical signals in his heart and it reduces the blood flow to his brain. That either caused him to feel dizzy and breathless as it did at the start of all this or on the last few occasions made him pass out momentarily. His pulse has been normal when I've checked before but today I felt it slow and stop for myself. Even though the doctors did an ECG and EEG last time, it wasn't picked up 'cause his heart was beating at the proper rate while he was being monitored. Usually with this syndrome, the heart beats at a slower rate all the time but in Ezra's case it didn't. Ezra actually had an attack while the doctors were testing him this time and they knew straight away what was wrong. They should have realized last time because of the loss of bladder control and so should I. I'd also noticed he'd lost weight but I put it down to the amount of exercise he was doing but I was wrong."

"We couldn't have asked for any better from you, Nate. I've been so grateful that you were around to see Ez through this. Will he be able to work again?" Chris asked as he mulled over what Nate had just said.

"Yeah. He'll probably have to have surgery to insert a pacemaker and that should stop the attacks. Might take him a while before he's up to speed again but he should manage okay."

"Shit. Can we see him?" Chris asked.

"Just you. He's not overly well at the moment and I don't think he could cope with seeing too many of you."

Chris stood and followed Nathan along to Ezra's room. When they entered they could see that Ezra was now asleep.

"Can I stay until he wakes?" Chris asked.

"Sure. Might be a while though." Nathan left Chris with the patient while he went to talk to the doctors again.

Chris sat down next to the bed and took hold of his friend's hand and waited for him to wake. After an hour the sleeping man stirred and opened his eyes. He felt the grip on his hand and turned his head to see what was causing it and he saw Chris beside him and smiled.

"Hey Ez. Do ya feel alright?"


"Did Nate tell you what's wrong with you?" the blond asked as he studied Ezra closely.

"Yes. Bit of a shock, I can tell you. Why haven't I had any symptoms before?"

"I don't know, Ez. Although he explained things I didn't really understand everything. Did he tell you what they were gonna do?"

"Yes. He's been very good in keeping me informed about the treatment. Just when I'd really found something I love doing this has to happen," Ezra said sadly.

"You can still work, Ezra. You should be back to normal after the pacemaker is fitted."

"Really? I wouldn't want to give up all my sporting interests. I really enjoyed the outdoor life after being stuck inside for years."

"I know you have. It's just a feeling of freedom, ain't it? We'll see how things go but Nate says you'll be fine. I really can't imagine what it's been like for you over the past few months, Ez," Chris said sympathetically.

"I did begin to question what was happening but after last night..." Ezra came to a sudden halt.

Chris immediately pounced on the halted comment, "Ez? What happened last night? Did you have another attack?"

Ezra flicked a quick look at the blond and dropped his eyes immediately in embarrassment. "Yes."

"Why didn't you say anything? Is that the only other one you've had?"

"No. I had several," Ezra admitted in a whisper.

"Jeez Ez. Did ya just feel dizzy or did you actually pass out?"

"Passed out."

"Shit, Ez. You shoulda told me." Chris couldn't help being angry but he could see Ezra was upset so he put out a hand and patted the man's arm. He wasn't really angry, he decided. It was more the fact that Ezra didn't feel secure enough to come to him with his problem. I'm not that unapproachable, am I?

Ezra interrupted his thoughts when he said, "I couldn't tell you, Chris. I was beginning to think you didn't believe me and I was embarrassed as well. It was frightening to suddenly find yourself flat out on the floor and not being able to remember what had happened. I could feel my heart slowing down and I can't describe how that affects you. I really felt I was going to die."

Nathan walked in just as Ezra finished talking and asked, "How are you, Ezra?"

"Okay," Ezra said quietly but refused to meet the medic's eyes.

The therapist looked at Chris in puzzlement. The blond stood and indicated for Nathan to accompany him so they could talk in private. The two men stepped outside the room and Chris turned toward Nathan with a sigh as he ran his hand through his hair.

"What's the matter, Chris? Is he alright?"

"He just told me he had several other attacks when he's been on his own, including one last night. He passed out every time apparently but he was too scared to tell us about them."

Nathan shook his head and went back to see Ezra. Chris listened outside to the quiet voices for five minutes and then left the two alone while he wandered outside to get some fresh air.

After half an hour, Chris ambled back to Ezra's room as he mulled over the entire situation. He reached the ex-attorney's room and looked inside to find Ezra alone again. The dark-haired man looked up and saw Chris watching him and he beckoned the blond in.

"I'm sorry, Chris," Ezra said as Chris drew near.

"What you apologizing for?"

"I should have told you about the other attacks but it was awkward. By the following morning I began to wonder whether I'd actually dreamt it. Anyway I didn't feel I could suddenly bring the topic up at breakfast by saying, Oh by the way I passed out last night. I felt stupid."

"I know what you mean, Ez. I wasn't angry with you for not telling me. I just felt we'd let you down because you didn't feel you could tell us."

Ezra smiled slightly and said, "Oh well, it's all being remedied hopefully so let's not discuss it any more."

As Ezra finished speaking a doctor arrived and asked Chris to leave while Ezra was prepared for surgery. The blond went back to the waiting room to join his friends and updated them about Ezra. The men waited anxiously until the doctor reappeared to say the operation had been successful and that Ezra could go home the next day.

"That's great," Buck said in relief. He'd had visions of Ezra having to stay in hospital for months.

"I'll stay with him tonight and then bring him home. Can you lot manage on yer own with the horses?" Chris asked.

"Sure. We'll be fine, don't you worry. Give our regards to Ezra and we'll see ya tomorrow," Buck replied as he patted his oldest friend's shoulder comfortingly.

+ + + + + + +

The next day, Chris drove Ezra back out to the ranch and his friend's were all there to meet him. The ex-attorney climbed out of the Ram and greeted them with a broad grin.

"Hey, Ez. Good to have you back," Vin said as he walked slowly alongside the man to the ranch house.

"Thank you, Mr. Tanner. I'm glad to be home too."

Life slowly got back to normal and within two weeks Ezra was driving and helping out with simple things around the ranch.

"Gee, look at Superman. Slow down, Ez. Just 'cause yer ticker's got jet propulsion don't mean we can all keep up with you," JD said with a smile as he helped Ezra take care of the horses.

"I can leave it all for you to do if you like, Mr. Dunne. You're more suited to shoveling shit than I am."

"No, that's quite alright, Ez. You carry on. We had enough trouble getting you to help in the first place without me letting you off now," the youngster laughed. "Anyway, Nathan said exercise was good for you."

"I see I'll have to have words with that man," Ezra grumbled. "I'm sure I should be taking it easy instead."

Nathan appeared in the doorway after hearing the last few sentences of their conversation. "Sorry to disappoint ya, Ez. There's no reason why you have to take it easy at all."

"Rubbish. I think I'll ask for a second opinion."

"Okay. Here's an opinion for ya. You need a bath. You stink, Ez," the man retorted before running back toward the house with an irate Ezra following closely behind.

The End

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