The next day Ezra seemed calmer. The anonymity of the mission gave him a
small measure of comfort that no one would question him about what had happened
to him. The homeless people were notoriously shy about physical contact,
reducing his anxiety about being touched.
Chris called Josiah early that morning to let him know that they were going
in to the office to help with the clean up and relocation of the groups in
the damaged offices.
Ezra asked Josiah if he could call and talk to the others. He willingly
surrendered his cell phone and retreated to the far side of the room to allow
the man some privacy.
He called JD first. He remembered that the young agent had been the last
one to reach out to him. It took him three tries to work up the courage to
dial the number.
Hey JD, its Ezra. He had to pull the phone away from his
ear at the excited exclamation from the youngest member of the team.
Hey Ezra! Are you okay? You kinda had us worried what with you disappearing
and all. Are you coming back to work soon? We all miss you, you know.
Brushing tears from his lashes, Ezra listened to the boys questions.
Im okay, JD. I just needed some time to work things out. I wanted
to apologize for upsetting you last week. And I wanted to thank you for bringing
me supper and, and for caring.
JDs breath caught for a minute. Well, gosh Ezra, we all care
about you. Chris, Buck, Nathan and Vin, they all been worrying themselves
sick about whatever was bothering you.
Ezra couldnt hold back any longer, he began to cry. Josiah quietly
slipped across the room and took the phone. JD? Ezra needs to rest
some more, okay? Tell Chris that Ill call him later. Without
giving him a chance to respond, Josiah hung up the phone.
Resting his hand lightly on Ezras shoulder, Josiah waited for the young
man to regain control of his emotions before guiding him back to the pillow
and settling a blanket over him. Standish looked up at the brilliant blue
eyes as he drew the blanket up close.
Thank you, Josiah. His voice was a mere whisper as he sank into
an exhausted sleep.
JD looked up at the circle of anxious faces that surrounded his desk. I
think I upset him again. It sounded like he was crying.
Buck squeezed JDs shoulder gently. I think you did just fine,
son. You let him know we were all thinking about him.
A few hours later, Ezra called Vin trusting that the sharpshooters
voice would be softer on his ears. He was able to dial the number thru on
the first try in spite of his shaking hands.
Hey Ezra. Its good to hear your voice.
I wanted to thank you for coming over to my place last week. I appreciated
that you were there for me in spite of the way I was acting.
Geez, Ez! I was just worried about you. Ya dont have to go thru
it all alone. Ya got a family now. Were all here for you. You have
to know that.
The gentle urging tone in Vins voice nearly brought Ezra to tears but
he was determined not to break down again. He kept breathing deeply until
he could swallow the knot that had formed in his throat.
Thanks, Vin. For several minutes they just sat, listening to
the static on the line and the muffled background voices.
Finally, Vin broke the silence. You still there?
Yeah, just thinking. I should let you get back to work. I didnt
mean to keep you this long. Im sorry.
I got all the time you need, Ezra. You want to sit here like this,
its fine with me.
Vin couldnt see the slight smile that crossed the undercover agents
face, but Josiah did.
Thanks, Vin. I gotta go.
Will we see you at the farm this weekend?
Hmm? Whats this weekend?
Chris wants us to get together and go for a ride. It wont be
the same without you.
Ill think about it, Vin.
The soft click that ended the conversation caused Vin to look up at the faces
that stood around his desk scarcely breathing. He reached out and pressed
the speaker button on his phone. Ezra hadnt known they
were all listening in on their conversation.
Those two calls were all that Ezra could bear to make. He was physically
and emotionally drained. Curling up on the bed and pulling the pillow over
his head, Standish slept. When he wakened, Josiah asked no questions except
where they wanted to eat supper. They ended up at the steak house that Vin
had taken him to the week before.
When their waiter arrived, Ezra was gripped by a feeling of deja vu. When
the waiter asked Josiah how he wanted his steak, Ezra whispered, Not
You say something, Ezra? Josiah asked before answering the waiter.
He noticed that Ezra looked a little pale all of a sudden.
Not rare. Thats was got me the first night. Vins steak
was, Ezra blanched slightly, rare.
Josiah looked up at the waiter and changed his order to broiled chicken.
After the waiter had taken his order and walked away, Ezra thanked Josiah.
The older man chuckled softly. If something bothers you, all you have
to do is say so.
Ezra slept fitfully that night.
It started again, as soon as he closed his eyes. He saw the bloody, battered
body thrown near his feet. The overhead light glinted off of the knife as
it came down. Twisting his hands helplessly in the handcuffs, Ezra watched
as his contact pressed the point of the knife into the boys body.
No! Dont! Ezra screamed as the blood welled up and
flowed out of the wound. Suddenly there were screams. The other boy was screaming
and pleading for his life. His contact grinned evilly as he pressed the knife
deeper into the stomach of the boy at his feet. The boy opened his eyes.
His eyes so pale and blue, like Vins! A brief moment of shock registered
in those blue eyes before the boy recovered his voice and began to scream.
His body arched from the floor as the knife ripped thru his insides.
Ezra tried to turn away but he couldnt. The boys eyes held
him like a deer in the headlights. He tried to offer his strength to the
boy as his life slipped away. While Standish fought to keep control of his
stomach, they threw the other young man into the light.
His stomach muscles tightened as he realized what they had done to the
boy while at the edge of the light. The boy caught sight of the body of his
friend and went wild, screaming and struggling. His death was mercifully
quick as one of the other men snapped his neck. The knife flashed out before
the body fell and Ezra caught sight of the ropes of intestine that spilled
from the abdominal cavity before the boy slipped to the floor alongside of
With an evil grin, the two men approached Ezra. He hadnt been able
to free his hands as he was so caught up in what the men had done to the
two helpless teenagers. He barely registered the blows to his ribcage and
stomach before the handcuffs were removed and the assault began. Before his
mind shut down completely, he heard himself screaming.
Josiah fell out of bed at the first whimper from the younger man. He watched
helplessly as Ezra writhed in the depths of his nightmare. The anguished
cries were soft, pleading. Standishs body was rigid in the bed as he
Sanchez knew he should wake the younger man from the nightmare but he held
back. He knew that if it wasnt done properly, Ezra would hurt him.
He knew, only too well, the power that lay in the taught muscles of the
undercover agent. The nightmare rolled to its inevitable conclusion and Standish
bolted upright in the bed, gasping for the air to voice his agony.
Josiah wrapped his arms around Ezra and held him until he caught his breath
and found his voice.
Josiah! Oh, God! His eyes! His eyes were so like Vins! He looked
at me with those pleading blue eyes and, and
they cut him. The blood!
There was so much blood. Ezra dissolved into helpless sobs.
Josiah sat on the bed for over an hour before Standish went completely limp
in his arms. After settling Ezra back on his pillow, Sanchez slid to his
knees at the side of the bed and prayed.
Heavenly Father, the boy has been thru an awful lot in the last few
weeks. If it be your will, grant him peace. Reach out and touch his soul
and ease the anguish he is experiencing. We need him, Lord, all six of us
need him to come back to us whole and healed. In your sons holy name,
After breakfast that morning, Ezra asked if they could go back to his apartment.
Josiah was concerned because Standish had yet to admit to remembering taking
the pills. He hoped that taking him back there wouldnt upset the progress
he seemed to be making. Chris had told him that they had the door replaced
after discovering it had been kicked in so Josiah knew he wouldnt have
to deal with that when they arrived.
Ezra noticed that the door had been replaced, but he didnt speak of
it. If he did, he knew he would have to talk to Josiah about how and why
the door had been damaged and he just didnt feel up to it yet. He moved
thru the apartment silently before picking up the phone and curling up on
the couch with it.
Josiah tried to stay in the kitchen to give Ezra some privacy as he made
his phone calls. It was the same as the day before, he called Buck and
apologized, exchanging only a few pleasantries before quietly ending the
call. He then moved to the kitchen and made himself a pot of herbal tea to
calm his nerves.
They made lunch in the kitchen and ate at the dining table. Ezra was quiet
but Josiah didnt push him. They started watching a movie on the television.
When Standish picked up the phone and went to his bedroom, Josiah held his
breath. He had shoved all of Ezras weapons into the small vault in
the closet in his room. He prayed that they would stay there.
Ezra called Nathan. He remembered the confrontation in the mens room
at the office and felt badly for the way he had reacted to the mans
Ezra. How are you feeling today?
Better, a little. Mr. Ja-, Nathan, I wanted to apologize for my abominable
behavior last week when I accosted you in the mens room. I sincerely
regret any discomfort I may have caused you.
Damn, Ezra! Cant you ever just say a simple Im sorry?
Im sorry, Nathan.
Me too, Ezra. I shoulda realized something was bothering you and I
know how you feel about us prying into your business all the time.
Yes, well as Mr. Tanner reminded me yesterday, we are becoming a family
of a sort and I need to learn how to share the things that are bothering
Josiah might tell you that a burden shared is a burden lightened.
Wed all like to lighten your burden, to help you deal with whatever
Happens, not happened Nathans choice of words was not lost
on Ezra. Thanks, Nathan.
As Josiah watched, Ezra put down the phone and curled up on his bed. From
the shaky sound of his breathing, the young Southerner was struggling with
his emotions and winning.
Nathan rubbed his forehead as he pushed the speaker button on
his phone. Looking up at Chris he asked, Does he sound better to
Chris nodded. He hadnt failed to notice the larger variety of words
and the complexity of the words Ezra used when talking to Nathan. It sounded
more like Ezra.
I guess youre next.
Larabee looked toward his office, I hope so. Chris was afraid
that Ezra wouldnt call him. He had been the one to push the undercover
agent. He was the one who was hardest on the team when something went wrong.
He trudged down the hall and sat staring at his phone, waiting for it to
Josiah ran his hand along the door to announce his presence before sticking
his head in. You okay?
Yeah. I think so. Mr. Jackson said something really prophetic. He said
a burden shared is a burden lightened. I never knew he thought that way.
Chris waited the rest of the afternoon without hearing from Ezra. He debated
going by the apartment, they had been surprised when Ezras home number
had come up on the caller ID when he called Buck that morning. But Josiah
had asked them to wait and he had to respect that.
Ezra thrashed a little in his sleep but never quite made it all the way into
the nightmare. He pushed the images out of his mind and pictured his friends
instead. As the faces floated into his dream, he felt an awe-inspiring sense
of peace. He knew that they had his back.
Josiah took Ezra for a long ride in the morning. They had been cooped up
together for most of a week and he needed to blow the cobwebs out of his
mind. The suburban bounced and ground its way up the heavily rutted logging
road. There was a place Josiah wanted to show Ezra. A place he had discovered
by accident one day when he had gotten lost.
As the vehicle came to a stop, Ezra looked around. They were high enough
in the mountains that the clouds looked close enough to reach out and touch
them. There was a run-off stream ambling across the field. As he and Josiah
came to stand side by side in front of the suburban, Ezra grasped the older
agent by the arm.
There in the field was a small herd of deer. They moved without fear across
the field to dip their faces at the stream. Josiah reached into his pocket
and drew something into his hand. He slowly moved toward the deer with his
arm outstretched. Ezra watched, amazed, as Josiah walked right up to the
deer and let them lick the small salt block he had in his hand.
One of the smaller deer approached Ezra and nibbled at his jacket sleeve.
The southerner trembled with excitement and delight as he stretched out his
hand and touched the animal.
A sudden sound caused all of the animals to lift their heads and look around
before bounding across the stream and disappearing into the tall grass. Josiah
turned to take in the look of wonder on Ezras face as he watched the
deer. They spent a couple of hours walking around in the field, just talking
about deer and nature and simple things.
You about ready to head back? Josiah asked.
Yes. I need to call Mr. Larabee and make my amends to him. Would you
be willing to drive me out to his cabin on Saturday? Mr. Dunne said that
they are taking the horses out and I would enjoy the opportunity to ride
Josiah smiled, Sure, Ezra. Id be glad to take you out to the
Thanks. And thanks for bringing me up here today, I enjoyed this.
After making lunch together, Josiah watched as Ezra withdrew to his room
to make his call to Chris. He hoped that Larabee wouldnt upset the
young agent; he had come so far in a short time. Josiah was sure that he
would be able to get Ezra to agree to counseling in the very near future.
Chris jabbed the speaker button as soon as the phone rang.
Hello Ezra. How are you?
Better. I wanted to apologize for my behavior toward you in general
and for last week specifically. I had no right to talk to you the way I did
and I deeply regret my actions. Mr. Dunne suggested that you were having
the team up to the cabin this weekend to go horseback riding. I was wondering
if it would be all right for me to come up and spend the day. I would very
much like an opportunity to spend some time with you, with all of you.
Ezra ground to a halt. He had said all that he planned and a little more.
His hand shook as he waited for Chris to say something.
Mr. Larabee? Chris?
Of course you can come up to the cabin! Weve been worrying about
you all week! Ezra, Im sorry if I push you a little too hard sometimes.
You just have a knack for getting under my skin and bringing out the worst
in me. I want to try to work out an arrangement with you. Maybe so we dont
step on each others toes so much. What do you think?
Ezra sighed, I would like that.
They made small talk for a few more minutes before Ezra ended the call. Chris
looked up at the rest of the team as they stood around the desk.
It looks like hes getting better. Vin said softly.
Thank God! JD said as he left the office.
Josiah watched Ezra as he replaced the phone in the charger. He moved a little
easier. His body language was a little more vintage Ezra. They brought out
a chessboard and played for several hours that evening. When they played
one game to a stalemate, Ezra decided to turn in for the night. He slept
soundly until the early hours of the morning.
When Ezra awakened in the predawn hour of the morning, he realized that he
had a lot to discuss with Josiah. He owed the man his life several times
over. He knew he needed to talk to Josiah about the pills. He also needed
to tell him about the night with the Jag and the razorblade and the nights
with the gun. His only fear was that he would see disappointment in those
deep blue eyes when it was all over. He only hoped he could bear it.
Josiah opened his eyes to the smell of coffee and biscuits. He stretched
for a few moments before rolling out of the bed in Ezras spare bedroom
and getting dressed. Stepping out of the room just as the food was being
set on the table, he studied the undercover agent closely.
Ezra was dressed in his casual clothes, designer jeans and an
Egyptian cotton tee shirt. He had already showered and shaved, unusual,
considering the early hour. Catching him watching, Standish quickly looked
away. He had his poker face firmly in place, ready to do battle with his
Josiahs heart sank. After the past week, he had hoped that he would
not have to try to read thru Ezras mask of control. He sighed quietly
and moved toward the plate that had been set out for him.
No, I believe that my body had reached the saturation point with regard
to sleep. I awoke at 5:30 and was unable to sleep any longer so I decided
to make us breakfast. You have been doing most of the cooking this past week
and I felt I should attempt to reciprocate.
Smells good. How do you feel? Josiah caught the flash in the
green eyes, a hint of emotion peeked out before he covered it.
Josiah, there are things that I need to discuss with
you. I would, however, prefer to wait until both of us have had a chance
to enjoy our repast and perhaps share a cup of coffee.
Okay, if thats what you want, pass the pepper mill, please?
An hour later, the meal consumed and the dishes loaded into the dishwasher,
Ezra sat on the far end of the couch and faced Josiah. The look of dread
was plain in the tight set of his shoulders and the way he wrapped his left
hand around his right wrist to still the nervous fidgeting.
When I awoke in the mission, you asked me if I remembered how you came
to be in my apartment last week. Only too clearly do I remember the events
of that night. I had driven to three different pharmacies across the city,
persuading the unsuspecting clerks to refill the prescription for the pain
pills that the doctor gave me when I was discharged. I sat at that table
and took every single pill in all four bottles. I was determined to go to
sleep and never wake again.
I heard you enter the apartment. I, I was afraid, I was afraid that
you would stop me. My gun was on the nightstand. I remember reaching for
it. A slight smile crossed Ezras face for a moment. Mother
would never have forgiven me for blowing my head off. That was what stopped
me before, I kept hearing her voice at the funeral, mortified that I had
disfigured myself. The bitter chuckle that escaped his throat was tight
Thats what I thought about. She wouldnt be upset that I
was dead, as long as I looked good lying in the casket. Is that crazy or
what? Anyway, I remember that you took the gun from me and I was relieved,
Josiah. I couldnt do it with the gun, I tried twice before.
Josiah shifted uncomfortably on the couch, he knew that he would have to
tell someone that Ezra had tried to take his life, he needed to talk to someone.
The real question was could he do it without revealing the deep, dark secret
that he and the young man shared.
I also considered slitting my wrists. I remember reading where
exsanguination is supposed to be fairly painless aside from the obvious
incision. His thumb ran nervously across his wrist as he remembered
the feeling of the cool razorblade against his skin. Then the image
of those boys,
Easy now. You dont have to go thru this right now. He reached
toward Ezra and let his hand rest on the back of the couch near the
southerners shoulder. Take a minute and catch your breath.
Deep shuddering breaths followed for several moments. Then Ezra resumed his
The image of Mr. Tanners steak was what finally got to me. He
eats beef nearly raw, did you know that? I lost my nerve and my supper at
the same time. Again with the wry chuckle and slight grin.
I also contemplated taking my beloved automobile to the bottom of a
ravine. I drove for hours until I found a place where I could, where I could
end it all. But, I was afraid that I wouldnt die. I was more afraid
of being paralyzed or disfigured in the crash. Kinda conceited of me if I
do say so myself.
Josiah shook his head. No, son, not conceited. It takes a brave man
to continue to face his demons. Its easy to die and escape them; it
takes a lot of courage to get past them and go on living.
Your theory is good up to a point, if you had not gotten here when
you did, I would have been dead on Saturday morning.
You sent out your plea for help, Ezra. Probably didnt even realize
you were doing it. You told JD that you couldnt take it anymore. He
said you actually clung to him for a while, do you remember that?
Finally, a puzzled look crossed Ezras face. Slowly he began to shake
his head. No, I pushed him away. I remember pushing him away.
But not pulling him in? JD said he turned to tell you goodbye and you
pulled him to your chest and clung to him. Scared him so bad that he stayed
outside your apartment for a half hour trying to figure out what had
You reached out, Ezra! You were screaming for help and we just didnt
get it. Finally, you latched onto the one person who wouldnt misunderstand
your need. You need to talk to someone about all of this. You cant
keep all this bottled up the way you do everything else.
A horror stricken look crossed Standishs face. You said you
wouldnt tell anyone!
I wont say anything to the team but you need to talk to someone
about the suicide attempts. You need to get back in control of your feelings.
That doesnt mean putting them behind that wall youve built up
inside where you keep all your hurts and disappointments. Control was taken
from you, ripped away and you were hurt. You have to talk about it with someone
who can help you work thru it.
Cant I just talk with you about it? The gentle pleading
tone in Ezras voice tore at Josiahs heart.
For now, you and I can talk about it but you need to find someone else,
a professional, to talk to. Now, I want you to promise me something.
When Ezra nodded, Josiah continued. If you ever feel like youre
losing control that you will call me. Day or night. Undercover or not. You
have to promise to call me and tell me exactly how youre feeling. And,
you have to answer me honestly whenever I ask.
At first, Josiah thought he would refuse. Committing to revealing his emotional
state would take a tremendous amount of trust from the man who appeared to
trust no one. And then, finally, Ezra nodded.
I think I can do that.
They got out of Josiahs truck in Chriss driveway and walked to
the house. After Ezras sometimes-violent reactions to being touched,
the others were hesitant to get close to him. Josiah privately had asked
each one of them to make sure Ezra was looking at them before they touched
him for a while.
It was good for the team to be together again. Ezra took JD for a long walk
to talk to him about what had happened the week before. It had been difficult
to admit that he had contemplated suicide. The young agent promised that
he wouldnt tell the others.
The rest of the day was spent in an easy camaraderie as the men settled into
their old routine. Taking the horses out for a long ride in the mountains
was healing for them all.
Ezra privately found a counselor to talk to about what had happened to him.
It was harder than he ever imagined it would be to openly discuss what had
happened. Gradually, he reached a point where he could say it aloud without
being overcome by shame or anger.
His relationship with the other members of his team improved gradually as
each made more of an effort to interact with him without becoming angry or
hurt when he sometimes pulled away. Between Josiah and JD, any anger that
might have been directed toward the undercover agent was quickly diverted
before harsh words were exchanged.
Three months later
Ezra summoned Josiah to his apartment. They had all noticed that the southerner
was struggling with something after receiving an envelope with a newspaper
article from someone in the FBI office. Standish had actually trembled as
he scanned the article before excusing himself from the conference room.
That evening, Josiah read over the article. It told of the deaths of four
men in a high-speed crash outside of Chicago. There were pictures of each
man at the bottom of the page.
I dont understand, Ezra. Who are they?
Ezra took the paper and pointed to the last two photos. These are the
men who took me to the factory. The ones who
He stopped when
Josiah nodded. Is it wrong for me to feel glad that theyre dead,
The older man regarded Ezra. If it is, then lets both be wrong
together! He threw his arms around the smaller mans shoulders
and slapped him on the back resoundingly.
Ezra asked Chris if they could get together at the cabin that weekend. He
had something he needed to discuss with the team and he thought they would
be more comfortable at their safe retreat.
Ezra explained that he needed to confide in them what had happened to him.
He asked them not to ask any questions or make any comment until he had
completely finished. It was a slow and agonizing process for the southerner.
He paced in the room for a while as he assembled his thoughts. When he was
finally able to articulate what had happened he was greeted by stunned silence.
Ezra studied the face of each man in the room. He saw no judgment, no revulsion
and no condemnation. Vin was the first to make it to his feet, rage contorting
his face. He wanted to hurt something! He stormed out of the cabin and across
the yard. From the window, Ezra watched as Vin kicked the metal trash barrel
The sharpshooter barely felt the pain that raced up his shin as he kicked
the barrel. That someone could do something like that to another person enraged
the young man. He had seen it happen in the group homes where he had been
sheltered before taking off to be on his own. There were always larger boys
who preyed on the smaller ones. He had had to fight to protect himself once
or twice. Vin reacted to the injustice the only way he could, he kicked the
Buck was next, joining Vin in brutalizing the trash barrel. Nathan walked
out to the kitchen and began making coffee. A few moments later the sound
of the healers fists pounding on the butcher-block table echoed in
the empty room.
Buck had been hard pressed to hold his reaction inside. With all the pain
that Ezra had endured in his life so far, to have something like that happen
was incomprehensible. That any one of them would check into a hospital under
another name to avoid the others finding out enraged him. Just under the
rage came the horror of what it would have been like if one of them had found
him after he had killed himself.
The thought of Vin or JD finding him in the apartment left him breathless.
When he thought of the damage something like that would have done to the
team, he was angry with Ezra for a moment. And then he considered what he
had gone thru with Chris after his family died. Alcohol could be just as
lethal as a bullet. When Buck jumped to his feet, it was with the intention
of working out the rage he felt at himself for getting angry with Ezra.
Nathan was upset with himself. He had seen the warning signs in the younger
man and had completely missed them. That Ezra had tried, not once, but several
times to end his life without anyone realizing upset the ex-medic deeply.
He had seen traumatic stress cases in the military. Young men came home from
Desert Storm and killed their wives and then themselves. Sometimes, there
were suspicious deaths that the military covered up that were later found
to be suicides. It was right under his nose and he missed it! He slammed
his hand down on the butcher-block table again and again.
JDs reaction was completely opposite. He felt tremendously relieved
that Ezra had finally explained why he had tried to end his life. The question
had plagued the young man for the past couple of months. He had worried about
his friend until he nearly made himself sick over it. Im sorry,
Ezra. I didnt realize. I wanted to ask you about it before but I
didnt want to upset you.
Chris made a move to go and comfort JD but Josiah held him back, he wanted
to see if Ezra would be able to deal with JDs reaction. Ezra watched
as the tears filled the youngest agents eyes. Upset me?
he wondered. Suddenly, his eyes widened.
It came to him in a flash of pain. Ezra remembered how close he had come
to telling JD what he had tried to do. The anguish and fear had been so deep
that he felt like he was drowning. At the same time, he couldnt bear
to burden the kid with his problem. His mothers voice had been ringing
in his ears. Keep your feelings to yourself, Ezra dear, no one else
cares how you feel and they will only make fun of you. He remembered
JD standing in the door looking at him. His mind replayed the moment that
he had seen the hand the kid offered just before he had pulled him into the
crushing embrace. He had sought comfort from the most vulnerable member of
JD, no, I only meant to apologize for frightening you with my emotional
response. I didnt mean to burden you with more worry! Ezra crossed
the room and pulled JD to his feet and wrapped his arms around him.
Im sorry! I should have confided in you the reason for my behavior.
I just wasnt ready.
Josiah glanced at Chris for a moment. He could tell that the leader was
uncomfortable with the information. Larabees hazel eyes were carefully
hooded as he watched JD and Ezra.
Chris felt his stomach tighten as Ezra had told them what had happened. Years
of preconditioned response rolled over him as he looked at the emotional
scene before him. He had immediately understood when Standish had said he
felt ashamed. Hard on that realization came disgust. It was engrained in
him from the locker rooms of his youth. Macho young men who were too strong
to ever allow something like that to happen to them, he recalled.
His throat tightened as he mentally kicked himself. Ezra hadnt willingly
allowed it to happen! He had been handcuffed, beaten and then brutalized.
It was an attack of cowardice by the men who sought to destroy his friend.
As he watched JD and Ezra clinging to each other he shoved all of his earlier
conditioning aside and allowed anger to surface, flushing his skin and tightening
his hands into fists. He was proud of the man who had endured all that and
had not surrendered to the darkness. Chris privately wondered if he could
have dealt with it as well.
Chris waited until Ezra released JD before he stood. He walked over and offered
Ezra his hand as he put his arm around JD and ruffled his hair. No
one else has to know about this. You just have to tell us what we can do
to help you.
After a couple of hours, they were almost like their old selves. They avoided
discussing what had happened. In the afternoon they went out for a ride.
Ezra enjoyed the feeling of control he had on the horse. He felt safe among
these men. Josiah had been right about him having their unquestioning support.