Notes: Oh, what fun can I have with my favorite guys this time?
"Pass it to me, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra demanded as he ran across the yard waving his arm frantically.
Buck looked up and kicked the ball toward the undercover agent before running on nearer the goal again. Ezra controlled the sphere deftly as it landed perfectly at his feet like a targeted missile. He looked toward the makeshift goal where Vin was already jumping up and down like a maniac in anticipation of the forthcoming shot.
Ezra judged the distance carefully with his eyes and then tried to confuse Vin by prancing about a bit before finally kicking the ball to attempt to score. Vin read the ball's direction beautifully, despite Ezra's shenanigans, and dived to save it before it could go through the goal posts. Buck laughed as he saw the infuriated look created on Ezra's face by Vin's graceful skills.
"Godammit, Mr. Tanner. Are you Peter Schmeichel reincarnated?" the smaller man ranted in disgust as he kicked at a stone in irritation.
"Nah, just gifted. Well, that makes it twenty-nil to me, I reckon," Vin grinned as he bowed theatrically.
"Come out of that goal and see if you can get past us to score instead. We need to even things up a bit," Ezra challenged sulkily.
"You're on," Vin said as he threw the ball down and walked away from the goal confidently.
Buck and Ezra moved in front of the target and Vin began dribbling the ball toward them slowly. He feinted to the right and then to the left to try and wrong-foot his opponents before suddenly spurting forward through what he thought was an appearing gap. Buck and Ezra immediately moved to close it just as Vin kicked the ball hard. The three men collided, face first, and fell to earth with a multitude of muffled curses. As they dropped to the ground, they heard a crash and looked toward Chris's Ram anxiously. The ball, having initially struck Ezra and Buck, had then careered away from them at high speed to strike the vehicle's headlight.
The three men disentangled themselves with a few well-chosen swearwords. Buck took his foot out of the bottom of Vin's pant leg while Ezra pushed out from under Buck's arm, which lay somewhere best not mentioned. The agents then stood and brushed themselves down before ambling over to inspect the anticipated damage. They were dismayed to see that the headlight had shattered and the sparkling pieces lay glittering on the ground like diamonds.
"Oh, Good Lord! Who is going to volunteer to apprise Mr. Larabee of our little mishap?" Ezra asked quietly, his skin coming out in goose bumps at the very prospect.
"I sure as Hell ain't," Vin replied as he rubbed a bruised elbow distractedly while backing up a step.
"You broke it," Buck said accusingly as he turned to the sharpshooter with hands on hips.
"Did too," the ladies' man objected as he took a threatening step toward the retreating man.
Ezra quickly placed himself between his friends and held out his hands to placate them. "Gentlemen, gentlemen. Let's settle this as men, shall we? Rock, paper, scissors suit you?"
"I'm up for that, Ez," Vin agreed as he flicked a warning look at Buck.
"Fine." Buck nodded and stepped away from Vin.
The three men stood facing one another, eyeing each other warily like gladiators in ancient Rome.
"Okay, you two reprobates first. The loser then plays me," Ezra suggested after a quiet minute had passed. "The loser of that contest will have the onerous task of telling Mr. Larabee."
Buck and Vin moved into position in front of Ezra, standing about three feet apart. They raised their fists in anticipation and on Ezra's mark, shook them three times before showing their chosen object. Buck had paper and Vin had rock.
"Dammit," Vin complained while Buck grinned broadly like a Cheshire cat.
"Mr. Tanner, are you ready to meet your fate?" Ezra asked as he moved to take Buck's place.
"Yeah, I'm ready but I have no intention of losing, Ez."
Vin and Ezra clenched fists and looked at Buck for the signal to begin. A nod of the head and three simultaneous shakes of the hands later, a pair of scissors was displayed by Ezra while Vin showed a rock.
The undercover agent put his hands on hips as he studied the ground quietly and took a deep breath, wondering whether it would be his last. "Damnation. I hope you'll both prepare a fitting memorial to me."
"Yeah, we will. Good luck, Ez," Vin said as he patted the man's back sympathetically.
The undercover agent wandered reluctantly toward the ranch house and entered the kitchen. "Mr. Larabee?" Ezra said as he hovered in the doorway.
"Hey, Ez. Who won yer game?" Chris asked as he looked up from the newspaper he was reading avidly.
Ezra wriggled uncomfortably and scuffed the floor with his shoe like an unhappy child. "Vin, but I'm afraid we had a slight accident."
"Is someone hurt?" the blond asked, not quite able to read Ezra's face.
"No. Not someone, something."
"What?" the blond asked in confusion. Ezra never makes any damned sense, the blond grumbled to himself. "Speak English, dammit."
"I'm afraid your Ram suffered an injury."
Chris pursed his lips and hurried outside to see what had happened to his beloved, once pristine, vehicle.
"Jeez. Yer gonna pay for this, " the blond fumed as he paced up and down while staring at the shattered headlight. He stepped forward and licked his finger before rubbing at a mark he could see on the paintwork. He then resumed his panther-like pacing and Ezra imagined that he could even hear the man growling in a feline fashion.
"Of course we will reimburse you fully for your expenses," Ezra replied as he joined the blond and his two friends.
"Oh, you'll pay in money and time," Chris said as he came to a standstill opposite the undercover agent.
"I beg your pardon?"
"I have several jobs that need doing. You can all help to do them as punishment," Chris said as he jabbed his finger against Ezra's chest to make his point.
Ezra stared at the blond angrily. "We are not little children, Mr. Larabee. We are happy to pay to repair the damage but I fail to see what good making us work would be."
"It'll give me pleasure, Ez. I want my pound of flesh outta you reprobates."
"What've ya gotten in mind, pard?" Buck asked resignedly, knowing that the black-clad man wouldn't back down now.
Chris looked thoughtful. "Well, the stream out back could do with some work 'cause it's clogged with weeds and debris. Then the horse-trough has sprung a leak and the faucet needs replacing on it too, and finally the barn door could do with a new coat of paint."
"Who does what then?" Buck asked, sincerely hoping he wouldn't have to clear the stream. He'd seen the state of it recently and knew it would take hours to do.
"Rock, paper, scissors?" Ezra asked, hoping he would get a better draw this time. He received nods of agreement from his fellow sufferers, so the smaller man turned to look at Chris. "Mr. Larabee, you'd better be the referee, I think. Who do you want to go first?"
"You and Vin, I reckon. The loser will have the pleasure of painting the barn door," the slender man said as he stood with arms across his chest.
Scissors and paper were displayed by the two battling participants.
"Paint's in the barn, Vin," the blond said as he pointed off in the required direction.
"Okay, cowboy," Vin said as he winked at Ezra and set off to start work.
"Right," said Chris as he turned to face the last two men. "The winner mends the horse-trough and the loser clears the stream."
Buck and Ezra faced one another and tried to psyche each other out. Ezra was desperately trying to decide what Buck's symbol would be but the game started before he'd made up his mind. While the two men shook their fists three times, Ezra stared hard at Buck's hand and momentarily delayed his decision by a microsecond in the hope of seeing what form his opponent's fist was creating. It didn't do him any good whatsoever. Rock and scissors were shown, making Ezra hop up and down in frustration.
"Lord, that's the last time I ask anything of you God," Ezra grumbled as he looked skyward angrily. "I think we should play best of three, Mr. Larabee," the man protested as he tried to wriggle out of his assigned task.
"Quit it, Ez. I ain't in the mood," Chris said as he turned and headed back to the house, signaling an end to the debate.
Ezra and Buck looked at one another, one sad and one happy, before heading to the barn where Vin was already setting up. The two men collected the tools that they would need and then split up to do their punishments.
+ + + + + + +
Vin started at the bottom of the barn door and slowly worked his way upwards. He wondered whether it wouldn't have been better to start from the top instead but either way didn't really matter. As long as it got done, who cared? he thought to himself. He worked quickly and climbed up to the top of the ladder to finish the job. He reached up to paint the very top corner of the door but instead of moving the ladder to reach properly, he balanced on one leg and hung over the side of the apparatus. The ladder naturally tipped over and he could do nothing to save himself from falling. He made a quick grab for the top of the barn door but missed his target by a mile; not that he thought dangling many feet from the ground would be any more enjoyable than falling to earth.
Buck looked round as he heard the sharpshooter yell and the ladies' man was just in time to see Vin land amongst the pots of paint on the ground. A cloud of dust rose up around the sharpshooter's body and the tall agent heard Vin cough as a result.
"Shit! Vin?" The ladies' man dropped his tools and sprinted to the paint-splashed man who slowly sat up amongst the overturned pots. "You okay, pard?"
"No, I ain't," Vin said as he held a hand over one eye. "I think I poked the paintbrush handle in my eye as I fell, as well as landing face first in the pots. 'Spect I'm all colors of the rainbow, ain't I?"
"Let me see yer eye," Buck said as he squatted down before prying Vin's fingers away from the injured area. "Wow, pard! Gonna have a beauty come morning. Better bathe it to get the swelling down," Buck said as he helped the man to his feet.
The two men headed slowly to the kitchen as Buck kept a hand on Vin's elbow for support and steering purposes. After sitting Vin at the table, Buck soaked a towel in cold water and then placed the cloth over the injured man's eye.
"Don't 'spect Chris has gotten a steak, so that'll have to do for the moment, pard. Feel okay otherwise? Don't feel dizzy or nothing?"
"No, but I could kick myself for being so stupid. Shoulda moved the ladder and then it wouldn't have happened," Vin admitted as he rubbed several other tender spots that were just making themselves known.
Chris wandered into the kitchen and frowned when he saw the towel over Vin's face. He saw the paint that was splashed all over the man's clothes so he walked quickly toward him.
"What's going on?"
"Vin fell and hurt his eye. Can you stay with him while I finish my job?" Buck asked.
"Sure. Let me see, Vin." Chris peeled back the towel and inhaled a deep, whistling breath through his teeth. "Ouch. Looks nasty but it's just bruised and swollen, no broken skin, thank God. Let me make you a cup of coffee while you sit there and recover."
"Thanks, Chris. Least I'd gotten the door done before it happened."
"Damn the door. Just glad yer kinda okay. That's all that matters to me. Do ya want anything for the pain?"
The blond busied himself making the drink while keeping a close eye on Vin. He was never sure whether Vin always told the truth when he was hurt; well, no that was wrong - he knew damned well that he never told the truth. Other than Vin looking a bit pale, though, he didn't seem to be suffering any other ill effects from his fall.
"There ya go, cowboy, get that down ya. Sure yer feeling okay?" the blond asked again.
"Yeah, just got a bit of a headache but nothing I can't handle."
Vin sat sipping his coffee while keeping the cool towel over his eye. Chris wandered over occasionally and removed it to soak it in more cold water. At the same time he checked to see whether the swelling had gone down enough to allow Vin to see, but it hadn't. The area felt very tender and the sharpshooter groaned when the pain changed from continuous to throbbing. He really didn't know which was worse.
Half an hour and three coffees later, both men heard a muffled curse from outside. Footsteps approached the kitchen and then Buck appeared in the doorway holding his ear and swearing loudly.
"Jeez. What have you done?" Chris asked when he saw the blood leaking between the man's fingers.
"Hit my ear with the hammer," Buck replied sheepishly as he wiped his watering eyes.
Vin couldn't help laughing. "How the hell did ya do that? Think even I can tell the difference between my head and a water- trough. Although Ezra always said you had nothing but water between yer ears, so maybe it weren't so hard after all."
"Very funny, pard," Buck said as he flicked a disparaging look at his friend. "I just lost my temper, okay? Couldn't undo the faucet so I hit it with the hammer but swung it rather enthusiastically. Just caught the edge of my ear when the hammer rebounded off the metal again 'cause of the force I used. Damn well hurts too, I can tell ya."
"Not surprised," Chris said. "Sit down next to Vin while I look at it." The blond waited for his friend to obey and then studied the injured ear gently. He sighed and dabbed at the bloody body part before wandering to the sink. "Looks worse than it is. Just let me clean it properly and you'll be as right as rain. Might ruin yer good looks for a while though."
Chris treated the injury efficiently and stuck a Band-Aid on it awkwardly. The blond deliberately shaped the Band-Aid to a point so that the ladies' man resembled a one-sided Vulcan. Chris hid his smile, knowing that Buck wouldn't appreciate being told what he looked like. Chris flicked a quick look at Vin and saw the man smiling too at Buck's comic appearance.
The black-clad man moved to stand next to Vin as he tried to stifle a laugh. "Let's see yer eye again, cowboy."
Vin pulled the towel away and squinted up at the black-clad man through the slit that constituted his optic.
"Looks better already. Soon have the ladies swooning at yer feet again," the slender man said with a broad grin.
"Chris!" Vin complained, as he turned red.
Buck stood up. "Come on, pard. Let's go and see how Ez is getting on 'cause it's better than staying and being insulted here. Ain't heard a squeak out of Ez yet, have we? Bet he's dug out one lot of weed and given up. 'Spect he's asleep under a tree somewhere."
"Okay. Come on, Spock."
Chris laughed as Buck stared at Vin before following the man outside asking, "What the hell does that mean?" the ladies' man asked, still unaware of the joke played on him.
"Nothing, Bucklin. Nothing at all," Vin giggled.
The two men ambled to the stream, each nursing their injuries, to find Ezra knee deep in the water actually working hard for once in his life. He was soaked from head to foot and had bits of mud and greenery stuck all over him. The undercover agent looked up as he heard the two men approaching and he stopped with fork in midair as he stared at them quizzically.
"What happened to you two?" he asked as he looked at Vin before turning his attention to Buck. "Has anyone told you that you look like a Vulcan, Mr. Wilmington?"
"What clown stuck a Band-Aid on your ear?"
"He's shaped it nicely for you just like a Vulcan," Ezra informed him with a broad grin.
"Damn him. Just you wait until I get my hands on him," Buck ranted as he reached up to feel the offending item. He tried to rip it off but let go quickly when the pain was more than he could bear.
"What happened to you to warrant the application of a Band-Aid?"
Buck and Vin gave an in-depth account of how they had obtained their injuries as Ezra listened quietly and leant against the fork to have a rest. It gave his aching body the chance to recover a bit after all his exertions.
"Well, I think we've been made to suffer more than is necessary for our little misdemeanor," the undercover agent complained.
"Quit whining, Ez. Least you're still in one piece," Buck said as he rubbed his ear, which continued to sting after its rough treatment. "Come on, Ez, put yer back into it. Jeez, yer a slacker. We managed to finish our jobs early, despite our hurts." Buck said proudly, neglecting to say that neither man had worked after receiving their wounds.
"This is a backbreaking chore, Mr. Wilmington," Ezra said as he began work again before looking up at the spectators. "If you were any kind of friends, you'd lend your services. After all, you did have the easiest tasks to do."
"Oh, no," Buck said as he crossed his arms while standing hip-shot. "We've served our time in the Larabee chain-gang. It ain't our fault that yer slower than a tortoise and as fit as a limp lettuce."
Ezra bent over with the fork and went to dig out the next lump of weed but stopped dead with a yell when he attempted to lift his burden from the water. He quickly put the fork back against the riverbed and leant against it to keep himself upright. Ezra so very nearly fell face first in the water when his legs wouldn't move an inch when he asked them to.
"He's play-acting. Thinks he can skive off by pretending to be hurt like us," Vin said unsympathetically as he made moves to leave.
Buck frowned as he reached out a hand to stop the man, and said, "I don't think he is, pard. Ez? You okay?"
"No, Mr. Wilmington, I am not," Ezra said through clenched teeth. "Oh, good Lord."
"I seem to be stuck in this ungainly position and I can't move an inch. I said it was backbreaking work, didn't I? Shoulda kept my big mouth shut because God seems to have gotten it in for me today," Ezra said as he tried to reach a hand round to the painful area but nearly fell over again in the process when the movement tipped him sideways.
"Oh, jeez. What we gonna do?" Vin asked as he hurried back to the riverbank.
The ladies' man stepped into the water and felt the water soaking up each pant leg making them cling to his skin uncomfortably. "Well, he can't stay in the stream, can he? We'll have to try and get him back to the house between us."
"You sure you can't straighten up, Ez?" Vin asked as he raked the bent-double man from top to toe with his eyes.
"Yes, positive," Ezra said quietly sounding faint.
Buck and Vin quickly moved to stand on either side of the undercover agent. They got hold of his elbows and Vin took the fork gently from the man's hand and put it aside so that they couldn't trip over it.
Ezra groaned and closed his eyes. "Oh, this is so embarrassing. I must look ridiculous."
"Well, let's get you outta sight before the fish die laughin'," Buck said with a grin.
"Oh, God, yer sense of humor does not improve, Bucklin."
The ladies' man tried to make Ezra feel better by saying, "We must all look a right sight, pard. You bent over like an old man, Vin with only one working eye, and me looking like the alien from outer space."
They stepped out of the stream as Buck talked, with Vin easing the injured man out from the front and Buck lending a hand from behind. Once clear, the two men took up position again on either side of Ezra and started walking. All Ezra could see was their six feet stepping forwards and it made him quite dizzy watching the perpetual movement. He hated not being able to see where they were going and he found it very disorientating and claustrophobic. The three men made painstakingly slow progress toward the house as Ezra groaned continually with each step he took.
Chris was on the porch and saw them coming so he stood and ran over to meet them. "Ez? Is there some reason that yer bent over like that?"
"No, I felt like studying my shoes in minute detail. What the hell do you think?" Ezra yelled in an uncharacteristic fit of pique. "You don't think I'm doing this just for the fun of it, do you? Thanks to your brilliant idea of retribution I've put my back out. That's double punishment and highly unfair. My companions have also been maimed, I see, so I protest on their behalf as well."
Chris hurried along ahead of the three men and opened the kitchen door as he called back to them. "Let's get you inside and I'll call Nate."
Buck, Vin and Ezra continued walking behind the blond toward the porch but Ezra had great difficulty lifting his leg to step up onto it. They finally gave up and took him in the front door instead, seeing as that entrance was easily accessible. They wandered through to the living room and placed Ezra near the couch.
"Bend yer knees, Ez," Buck instructed when Ezra stayed rooted to the spot.
"I don't know that I can. I'm frightened to move."
"Try, pard. You can't stay on yer feet forever, can ya?"
Ezra slowly bent his knees and his human crutches eased him down onto the seat. Buck moved some cushions to support the injured man's back but they really didn't seem to help.
"Oh, God, I'm in agony. Agony," Ezra mumbled as he sat hunched forward.
"Lay him down," Chris suggested and watched as Buck helped to get the man out flat.
Chris moved to his phone once Ezra was settled but the prone man didn't look at all comfortable and continued groaning at regular intervals.
"Nate? Ez has hurt his back. He's in real pain." The blond moved his gaze on toward his two other injured agents. "Buck and Vin hurt themselves too so I s'pose you need to check them out if you can come. If not, can you give me some advice over the phone? Vin's hurt his eye and Buck hit his ear with a hammer." Chris could hear the exasperated sigh that Nathan expelled on hearing the news.
"Give Ez some painkillers and I'll come out and look at all of them. God, those three will put me in an early grave. Can't leave them for a moment without one, or all of them, getting injured in some way or other," Nathan complained. "I ain't gonna be able to get there for a few hours though. Nothing needs real urgent attention, does it?"
"No. They're not hospital cases, although Ez is in considerable pain, as I said."
"Okay, I'll be as quick as I can."
Chris put down the phone and headed to the bathroom. He found a bottle of painkillers and passed two over to Ezra along with a glass of water.
"There ya go, Ez. Have those while we wait for Nate to come. Either of you two want any?" Chris asked as he turned to face Vin and Buck.
"Yeah, I might now, cowboy. Headache ain't improving none," Vin admitted as he rubbed his head wearily.
"You sure it's just a headache?" the blond asked anxiously.
"Yeah. I don't feel any worse, cowboy. Just starting to annoy me is all."
"You okay, Buck?"
The ladies' man nodded but looked unhappy and the blond soon found out why. "Yeah, except for the fact that you messed around with my Band-Aid, pard. I'll make you into a damned Klingon, pard. You've already gotten their bad temper so you just need the wrinkled brow to go with it. Just you wait, I'll get you back in the end when you least expect it."
"Like to see ya try, Bucklin," Chris grinned. "Right, everyone take a seat and stay quiet. I don't wanna hear a peep outta any of you until Nate arrives," Chris warned.
+ + + + + + +
The medic arrived three hours later and he took a cursory look at Vin and Buck before sitting on the floor next to Ezra.
"Where exactly does it hurt?"
"Can't point. Can't move," Ezra mumbled quietly. Even talking seemed to hurt.
"Tell me then," the medic sighed when he saw just how much pain the man was in.
"Just above hip level in the middle of my back," Ezra said through gritted teeth.
"Okay. Let me check it out." Nathan stood up and leant over Ezra as he lifted the man slightly and put his hands where Ezra had indicated. He knew he'd hit the right spot when Ezra yelled loudly and jumped in his grasp. "Sorry, Ez. Let's see if you can bend yer legs or not."
Nathan got hold of Ezra's left leg and put one hand under his knee as he bent the leg toward the man's chest.
"Ow! Ow!" Ezra cried out and couldn't help the tears that escaped his tight-shut eyes.
Nathan sighed. "Now the other one." He got the same results. "Well, I reckon you've really wrenched yerself. Pulled the muscles on either side of your spine from what I can tell. You'd better stay with Chris until yer more mobile but don't lay about all the time. Keep moving, within reason, okay? Chris? Can you get an ice pack and put it on his back for about 24 hours and then put a heat pack on for the next 24? That should help ease it some. I also brought some more powerful painkillers with me so I'll give you some of those, Ez, but don't take too many. They're the real deal, okay? I don't wanna have to come and pump yer stomach out," the medic warned.
"Nor do I, believe me," Ezra agreed as he took the offered medication gratefully.
"Does he need to sleep on a hard surface?" Chris asked, after fetching the injured man a glass of water for his pills.
"Well, that always used to be the way of thinking but it's recommended to be a bit softer nowadays. Not rock hard but something with some give in it, alright?"
"What the hell were you doing to get in this state, Ez?" Nathan asked as he moved to study Vin's eye.
"Digging out the stream."
"Ah, well, what do you expect then? Yer always gonna have a weakness in yer back after yer accident. Just take care." Nathan was referring to the motorbike accident two years previously when Ezra had broken his back.
The medic carefully checked Vin's swollen eye and then moved onto Buck. "I don't think I wanna know what you two've been up to. Fighting by the looks of it, although I seem to think a hammer was involved somewhere along the way from what Chris said."
"No we weren't fighting. We were doing Chris a favor and this is how we've been repaid," Buck complained.
Nathan shook his head and pulled out a few items from his bag and stood beside Vin again. "Well, I'm gonna cover yer eye for the time being, Vin. Bathe it regularly and it should be okay in a couple of days. Gonna be real colorful by the look if it, though." Nathan turned back to Buck. "Nothing much I can do with yer ear. It's clean but you musta hit it real hard. I'll put a dressing on it just to be on the safe side. Bet you'd prefer that than the Vulcan ear-piece that you had earlier," Nathan said before laughing at the angry look on Buck's face.
"Jeez, I'm gonna kill ya for that, Chris," the tall agent promised as he turned to face his oldest friend.
"Yeah, yeah," Chris said sounding unperturbed by the threat.
The medic continued treating both injuries as Chris talked. He then moved to stand beside the blond and studied the three men critically. Nathan exchanged glances with Chris and raised his eyebrows when he saw the blond was on the verge of speaking.
"They look like the three wise monkeys, don't they?" Chris said as he pointed to each man. "See no evil." Vin. "Hear no evil." Buck. "If only your injury was elsewhere you could be speak no evil, Ez."
"Oh, I can speak evil, Mr. Larabee," Ezra muttered darkly. "There's nothing wrong with my mouth."
The blond nodded, knowing Ezra and the others had every right to yell at him if they wanted to. "I'm sorry. I really feel bad about what happened, guys," Chris apologized.
"And so you should," Ezra grumbled as he shifted slightly on the couch. "Perhaps we oughta think up a punishment for him too, Ez. How about deciding what it should be, with a game of rock, paper, scissors?" Buck suggested.
"Oh no! I've had quite enough of making decisions by that method. It's caused nothing but trouble today. You seem to have had your pound of flesh from all of us, Mr. Larabee. Please try not to be quite so literal in the future," Ezra grumbled.
"Yeah, well I think I've gotten payback already what with having to take care of you until yer fit again, Ez," Chris said with a rueful smile.