Why me?

by Hombre

+ + + + + + +

Chris stayed overnight at Josiah's house. It was late when the three men had returned from their pilgrimage and he decided it was easier to remain in town than travel all the way home.

Ezra lounged in his favorite chair in Josiah's living room. His thoughts were turned inward and he was totally unaware of his companions' activities around him. He was thinking once more about the accident, as well as the fear that he'd felt as the train had passed by them at the wreck site that day. Neither of his friends noticed that Ezra wasn't paying attention and Chris unwittingly put his hand on the man's shoulder just before starting to speak to him. He was totally unprepared for Ezra's response and didn't even manage to utter one word of his question.

Ezra felt the slight grip on his body and snapped out of this reverie in a state of panic. He yelled and stood rapidly before stumbling back up to the wall. As he hadn't got his crutch, his leg gave way immediately and sent him to the floor with a bang. He curled up as much as he could and began hyperventilating and sobbing with fear.

Josiah hurried toward him while Chris stayed still, shocked into silence. The blond shivered and came out in a cold sweat at Ezra's unexpected reaction.

"Ezra? Ezra, it's okay. Do you know where you are?" Josiah asked as he squatted in front of his trembling friend.

The undercover agent started dragging in deep, noisy breaths as he shook uncontrollably and groaned. He looked up at Josiah as if he didn't know who he was and then began whimpering. He felt disorientated, dizzy and very confused.

After finally getting his own emotions under control, Chris stepped forward. "Josiah? Anything I can do?"

"Can you find a comforter or blanket? He always gets real cold during an episode."

"Sure." Chris hurried out of the room and came back with a thick soft blanket. "There ya go."

"Ez? Can you sit up for me?" Josiah requested quietly, his attention already back on his panicked friend.

"I'm sorry. I was just thinking," Ezra mumbled as he put a hand over his mouth and remained lying down. He was beginning to remember what had happened and it terrified him to think that he could unconsciously react so badly.

Josiah reached out a hand and pulled Ezra upright and the man didn't resist or protest at all. The profiler wrapped the blanket round his friend's shoulders and rubbed a comforting hand up and down his arm. "You just stay where you are, son, until yer feeling better."

"Sorry, Chris. So sorry," Ezra apologized as he leant against Josiah for comfort.

"No, Ez. I'm sorry. I shoulda taken more note of how you were acting. I didn't mean to scare ya."

Ezra really didn't know why had been so startled by Chris's hand on his shoulder. It had no relation to what he had been thinking about at the time. It was just the fact that it had been unexpected, he supposed.

"Let's get you to bed, Ez. You've had a big day."

Chris passed over the man's crutches and Josiah pulled Ezra to his feet. "I'll bring you a drink once yer settled."

The man's two friends took him to his bedroom and while Josiah undressed the man, Chris made the promised drink. When he returned, Ezra was sitting up in bed, still shivering.

"There ya go, Ez. That'll warm you up a bit. How ya feelin'?" the blond asked as he sat on the bed and watched his friend sip from the mug.


"Do ya think that maybe yer scared deep down about going on a train again?" Chris asked quietly, thinking back on their earlier conversation at the wreck site.

"I'm naturally apprehensive but I wasn't thinking about that at the time of my hysterical outburst," Ezra said as he held the mug between the palms of his hands.

"Well, try and get some sleep. You look exhausted."

Ezra put his empty mug aside, lay down slowly and pulled the covers up round his ears. Now that the subject of a train journey had been brought up again, Ezra's mind inevitably latched onto it. He fell asleep easily enough but began tossing and turning as his body became bathed with sweat. He dreamt about boarding a train. In the dream, he looked out the window and watched the scenery rushing by. He looked round the passenger car and saw the little boy again. This time, though, without his parents. Suddenly through the window on the child's side of the train, Ezra could see a huge axe. He tried to yell a warning but no sound came out of his mouth. The child stared at him and smiled unsuspectingly. The axe crashed through the window directly behind the boy and headed inexorably toward him.

Ezra woke and then yelled as he tried to get away from the imagined danger. He reached the edge of the bed and fell hard on the floor, head first. He scrambled on hands and knees across the rug until he ended up beside the closet. He crawled into the corner between the closet and the wall as if trying to make himself invisible.

Chris got to the bedroom first and he looked at the bed and saw that it was empty. His eyes swept the room and only noticed Ezra when the man whimpered.

Josiah came running in but Chris signaled for him to stand still as he pointed to where Ezra was cowering. "What we gonna do? He's scared shitless, Josiah."

"I'll see if I can get through to him." The profiler moved slowly toward Ezra. "Son? It's Josiah. Are ya gonna come outta there so we can talk?"

"Leave me alone. He's dead. They're all dead," Ezra shouted hysterically as he covered his ears with his hands.

"I know, son, but there was nothing you coulda done to save them."

He got no reply as Ezra continued sobbing loudly. In his mind, Ezra was back on the train when he'd discovered the contents of the shoe. He opened his eyes again and saw Josiah's bare foot right in front of his eyes. It proved to be the final straw for the mentally fragile man.

"Ahhh!!! The shoe, the foot," Ezra yelled as he covered his eyes to try and get the images out of his mind. When that strategy didn't work he tried banging his head against the floor instead.

The profiler was aghast at the change in tactics. "Ez! Stop it! Yer gonna hurt yerself."

"Don't care," Ezra cried as he continued slamming his head against the floor, and then back and forth between the closet and the wall.

"Shit! Stop it, Ez," Josiah pleaded desperately. He reached out his hands and got hold of Ezra's head to try and stop the man doing serious damage.

"Let me go! Get off me!" the undercover agent shouted as he fought fiercely. The small hiding space restricted his movements, though, and he ended up doing more harm to himself than to Josiah.

"No, I won't, not until you do as you're told. Now please stop hurting yourself." Josiah could feel something wet and warm on his hand and he saw blood seeping between his fingers. "Shit! Now you're bleeding."

Ezra was still struggling to get free from the firm grip that Josiah had on him. The man alternated between whimpering and shouting. All at once, though, the fight went out of Ezra and Josiah felt the man totally relax in his grip. He didn't dare remove his hands, though, in case it was just a ploy to get free. He wouldn't put anything past Ezra in his present frame of mind.

"Chris? Get the first aid box while I get him on the bed."


Josiah reached down and pulled Ezra out awkwardly from his hidey-hole. The smaller man seemed stunned and the profiler knew it was from the effects of his head-banging antics. The big man swept Ezra into his arms and took him to the bed. He lay the man down on top of the covers and Ezra curled up on his right side and covered his eyes with his hands again. His injured leg, though, remained out straight because he still couldn't bend it properly.

"Ez? Can you turn over? I need to look at the cut on yer head."

The man didn't move so Josiah reached out and got hold of Ezra's knee and elbows and pulled him over. Ezra kicked out with his good leg but missed Josiah by a mile. The profiler had the feeling that Ezra had never intended to connect with his body at all. It was just a petulant response. "That's enough of that, Ez. I'm trying to help ya, son," Josiah reprimanded in a slightly angry tone.

"Don't want yer help. You can't help," Ezra mumbled in despair.

Chris came back into the room and walked to the side of the bed. He put the first aid kit on the nightstand so that Josiah could choose what he needed in order to treat Ezra. The blond then looked down at the undercover agent worriedly and pursed his lips.

"How is he?"


"Jeez, nasty cut, Ez. Why'd ya do it?" Chris asked as he reached out a hand and pushed Ezra's hair away so that he could study the wound in more detail.

"Need to get the pictures outta my mind. Can't bear it," Ezra said as he began crying and pounding his fists hard against his head.

Josiah had no choice but to grab the man's hands. "Ezra? Come on, that's enough. Do you want me to get you admitted to the hospital? That's the way yer heading at the moment, son. I can't have you in my house if you carry on like this." Josiah hated to make threats but the words had tumbled out of his mouth before he'd realized what he was going to say. He could see that Chris was angry at his words but the blond had only just seen how Ezra was behaving. Josiah had had to deal with it continuously and he knew he couldn't cope with the man any longer. He could feel his own control steadily slipping and he couldn't stop a couple of tears escaping his eyes. He'd really reached the end of his rope and didn't know what to do to help his friend.

Ezra felt as if someone had punched him in the stomach as he heard Josiah say that he might have to leave if his behavior didn't improve. He could see how upset the big man was and he knew his erratic behavior must be hard to deal with, but he never would have thought that Josiah would give up on him. He stared up at the profiler in something close to horror.

He stopped struggling but began to cry even more instead. "I'm sorry, Josiah. Please don't make me leave," he begged. He knew he needed Josiah like a plant needed water, but the man's rejection struck him like an arrow to his heart. "I didn't mean to upset you. Please let me stay. I need you. Please."

Josiah immediately regretted his comments when he saw the devastated look on Ezra's face. "Oh, Ezra, I didn't mean it, son. I just feel that I'm failing you. You need professional help. I see you acting like this and I can't help but wonder if I'm making matters worse."

Ezra sobbed. "I can't help losing control, Josiah. I try so hard not to let things affect me. I wake up every day and wish I were dead. None of you would have to bother with me any more then, and I wouldn't have to keep seeing what I do in my dreams. I feel safe with you and I don't know what I'd do if I had to leave this sanctuary." The undercover agent felt panic grip him, knowing he wouldn't cope on his own. He buried his face in the pillow to try and stifle the tears when he felt as if he was being deserted.

"Oh, Ezra, of course you can stay with me. I wouldn't feel happy with you being anywhere else, son." Josiah bent down and scooped the distraught agent in his arms and held him tight. He felt Ezra put both arms round his back and cling to him for dear life. Josiah tried to push his own feelings to the back of his mind when he realized just how much Ezra was relying on him to survive on a daily basis.

Chris waited until the two men released each other. "Guys, look we're all tired. Maybe we'd better talk more in the morning before something is said that can't be put right."


"Alright, Ez. I still need to see to the cut on yer head. I'll do that and then let you get some rest." Josiah cleaned the wound thoroughly and stuck a Band-Aid over it firmly.

Chris sat on the bed when the profiler had finished. "Ez? Look at me."

There was no reaction to begin with but then Ezra slowly looked up at the blond.

"I'm gonna stay in here with you tonight, okay? I ain't gonna leave you alone," the blond said, letting Ezra know that he wasn't being discarded at all.

"Thank you."

The undercover agent lay down and the blond pulled the comforter over him. Josiah nodded in thanks and left the room while Chris watched Ezra fall asleep. When he was sure that the man was not going to wake, he went to check on Josiah. He searched the whole house and eventually found his quarry out in the front yard.

"Josiah? You okay?"

"No." The big man tilted his head back and stared up at the stars as he let a few more tears escape his eyes. He wiped them away and sighed dejectedly. He hated this feeling of inadequacy that had descended on him.

"I never realized how bad he got. I know you told us about his behavior, but until I saw it today it didn't hit home. I shoulda arranged for you to have some help," Chris said apologetically. He'd never seen Josiah take things so hard. He could usually cope with anything.

Josiah stood with hands on hips as he dropped his gaze to the ground. "Don't think it woulda helped, Chris. Up to this week he was trapped in his own little world, not talking or anything. He was so quiet, so withdrawn. Now he's the exact opposite; loud, emotional and violent, and I'm finding it real hard to adjust to. Anyway, you're all working on the Bedford case. You ain't gotten time to help me too. I don't expect you to neither."

The blond nodded in understanding and patted Josiah's back lightly. "Okay, but I don't want you getting sick because of this. We can always drop in if you give us a call, and we're usually free at weekends. I could always find someone from outside our group to help you out," the blond suggested.

"Thanks for the thought, Chris, but I don't think Ez would react well to a stranger right now. I'll be alright, but I'll call ya when I need a bit of assistance with him. Let's just leave it like that."

"Okay, but we'll definitely help you out at weekends. That should ease the burden for you a bit."

"Thanks, I appreciate it, Chris. I really do," Josiah replied as the two men ambled back inside. One went to bed, while the other took up the vigil beside Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

In the morning, the three men settled in the living room.

"Ez?" Chris said as he took a seat next to the undercover agent. "You okay?"

Ezra nodded and turned to face the profiler apologetically. "Yes, but I'm very sorry that you are finding me so hard to deal with, Josiah. I've been very grateful that you've taken me into your home and I know I haven't thanked you for that. I never meant to be such a burden."

Making Ezra feel bad had been the last thing that Josiah had meant last night. He hadn't been able to stop saying what he had though. "Please don't apologize to me, Ez. This whole business has affected us all profoundly, but I didn't realize just how much it had affected me until now. I will never desert you, son, no matter what."

"Thank you."

Chris patted Ezra's back and smiled sadly. "One other thing, Ez. I don't think you getting on a train at the moment would be a good idea. Until I see some improvement in yer behavior, I ain't gonna let you go, okay? You ain't ready by any stretch of the imagination."

Ezra didn't dispute that fact. "Okay," he agreed meekly.

The profiler could see that Ezra looked highly uncomfortable at being reminded of his erratic behavior. Josiah smiled, leaned forward and changed the subject. "You hungry, son? Don't know about you, but my stomach's complaining something awful at not being fed."

"That's what I can hear, is it?" Ezra asked shyly. "I thought it was the sound of distant thunder. Your innards certainly know how to gain everyone's attention."

Josiah laughed at the hint of the old Ezra that had just shown itself. It made him realize just what was missing from his friend's personality at the moment. "Sit tight and I'll get something to shut it up," the profiler said as he rose and left the room.

Chris looked over at Ezra and watched him silently, wondering if the man was ever going to recover from his harrowing ordeal.

"Mr. Larabee? Have I suddenly grown two heads to warrant your intense scrutiny?"

Chris dropped his gaze immediately. "Sorry, Ez. Didn't mean to make you feel uncomfortable. I'm just worried about ya."

Ezra didn't quite know what to say in answer to that. He couldn't tell Chris not to worry, and that he was going to be alright. He really didn't know that he could give that assurance. At the moment, he was just living every minute separately because that was the only way he could survive.

"Ez?" Chris said, unable to read his friend's face.

"Why does life have to be so complicated?" Ezra asked rhetorically as he sighed and rose to look out of the window.

Josiah came back into the room at that point and looked at Chris quizzically. The blond only pursed his lips and shrugged in reply. He really didn't know what was going on in his friend's mind at the moment.

"Here ya go, Ez," the big man said as he put a tray down on the table.

"Thank you, Mr. Sanchez," Ezra said as he turned back and hobbled to the couch. He ate a few mouthfuls and then sat back, staring into space.

"What ya gotten planned for today, son?" Josiah asked, trying to occupy the man's thoughts.

"Oh, the usual exciting round of exercises, eating and sleeping," Ezra replied wryly.

"Well, how about a game of poker for a change?"

The undercover agent perked up at that suggestion. "That sounds most agreeable. You can stay for a few hands, can you, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked.

"Sure, I can. We ain't played poker for ages, have we? Hopefully you're rusty too and I, for once, will stand a chance of winning," the blond said with a hopeful grin.

"You'll be lucky, Chris," Josiah said as he ferreted around under the table to find a deck of cards.

The men enjoyed several hands, and afterwards Ezra seemed outwardly much more relaxed, although inside he was sinking ever deeper into depression.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan turned up for Ezra's next therapy session and decided that the man might like to go out for a walk instead of his usual exercises. He thought the fresh air and change of scenery would do the man the world of good after his recent nightmares. The two men set off slowly to wander up the street and back.

"Does yer leg feel any better? Yer moving a bit more easy," Nathan commented as he watched his friend limping along on his crutches.

"I think there is some improvement. Thank you for all you've done for me. I appreciate your unending patience." Ezra wanted to thank the medic, especially after Josiah's outburst the previous night. He wanted to make sure that all his friends knew he was grateful for everything they were doing for him.

"That's alright, Ez. It's my job," Nathan said kindly as he helped the man steer round a fire hydrant.

Ezra concentrated hard on just putting one foot in front of the other and his mind was, for once, occupied with other thoughts, so what happened next hit him twice as hard. The undercover agent saw a child heading toward him wearing the same type of shoes as the boy on the train. He stopped walking abruptly as he stared at the footwear, totally taken aback and shocked.

"Ez? What's wrong?"

The injured man was trying not to cry so he didn't answer the medic's question straightaway. Nathan moved in front of him and unwittingly obscured the shoes from Ezra's sight. The smaller man snapped upright and immediately gasped.

"I've got to sit down," he whispered as he began breathing rapidly. "Oh, God."

Nathan looked round quickly and saw a diner not too far away, which had chairs out on the sidewalk. "Can you make it over there?" he asked anxiously.

Ezra nodded and began peg-legging unsteadily toward the nearest empty chair. Nathan kept pace and held out one arm round his friend's back in case he faltered. He eased the man down onto the seat and patted his shoulder quickly.

"I'll get you a drink. Just stay there," Nathan said worriedly before hurrying inside the building. He came out soon afterwards with a bottle of water and a glass. He undid the container's lid and poured out some of the clear liquid. Ezra picked the glass up with a trembling hand and sipped it quietly.

"Better?" the medic asked, after letting the man recover for a couple of minutes.

"Yes, sorry," Ezra whispered as he fiddled continuously with the bottle top.

"Did you have another flashback?"

"Sort of." Ezra shivered, so Nathan put a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I saw another child wearing the same shoes as the boy on the train. It just knocked me sideways. I looked up at the child and saw the other boy's face instead. It's these unexpected things that I find so hard to handle. Just walking down the street and something like this happens. It makes it so difficult to get on with my life. The bad dreams and flashbacks at night are things I was aware of but this.."

"Post-traumatic stress can strike in many ways, Ez. Unfortunately, it's a combination of several things. Victims don't just suffer from one symptom and that's why it is so hard for sufferers to cope. There's no magic solution, I'm afraid, Ez."

"I know," Ezra replied dejectedly. He really didn't know how much more he could take. "It's just that something seems to happen to me everyday. Is that normal?"

"Well, everyone reacts differently but you've been through a real bad ordeal so it ain't surprising that you've been affected so much. I know it ain't much comfort to you now, but they will fade in time, Ez."

"Well, it's something to believe in, I suppose. Have to believe in something, don't I? Gave up on God years ago."

+ + + + + + +

The weekend following Josiah's outburst, Vin was helping the big man out and Chris was also hanging around, keeping an eye on things.

"Ez? You okay?" the long-haired man asked as he joined his injured friend in the living room.

"Yes, Mr. Tanner. I just can't see that there's an end in sight and I'm sure Josiah will throw me out at some point. I can't help my actions, Vin, and I'm so scared that you'll all desert me."

"We won't ever desert you while we think that you still need us so bad, Ez. Anyway, Josiah said that your behavior has gotten a bit better since last week. That's real good, Ez." It didn't even occur to the sharpshooter to wonder how Ezra's behavior seemed to have suddenly improved. He assumed it was entirely natural.

Ezra didn't look particularly convinced by Vin's forceful assurances. He shrugged uncomfortably. "For most of you, except Nathan and Chris, the wreck is in the past, but for me it's still so very much in the present. You'll soon begin to wonder why I can't get over what happened. You'll begin to lose your patience with me. I know you will."

"No, Ez," the sharpshooter said. "We're with you for the long haul, so none of us are gonna give up, do you hear me?"

"Yes, loud and clear, Vin. Thank you."

Vin patted Ezra's back and wandered out into the kitchen where he met up with Chris. He couldn't help being concerned about Ezra's conviction that they would desert him.

"Hey, cowboy. Ez seems really worried today. He thinks we're all on the verge of telling him to pull himself together, and that we'll chuck him out if he don't. I'm worried he's gonna pretend that he's cured just to satisfy us." Vin didn't know just how near the truth he was, but he would soon find out.

"I don't think he'd be able to, Vin. There's no way he can suppress things now that they've come to the surface. You haven't seen him when he's had a flashback. He totally loses control and there's no telling what will set him off. Pandora's box is well and truly open."

"Hope is still in there, cowboy."

Chris nodded but said, "Even so, I think we need to watch him closely from now on despite Josiah's reports on his subtle behavioral improvements."

The sharpshooter nodded in agreement and went back to keep an eye on Ezra. He just entered the room in time to see his friend fall flat on his face. The man had been trying to walk round a small table and had gotten one crutch tangled up in it. The undercover agent landed awkwardly against the hard edge of the couch and he knew that he'd hurt his hand and ribs.

"Jeez, Ez. Just stay where you are and I'll get some help," Vin said anxiously as he made moves to leave.

"I'm quite alright. Please don't fuss," Ezra begged as he tried to get up and keep the tears at bay. There was no way he wanted Vin or anyone else checking his newly injured hand.

The sharpshooter turned back uncertainly from the door at Ezra's plea. Vin walked toward the man and helped him back to his feet but he noticed that his friend grimaced mightily as he tried to remain upright on his crutches. It seemed to the sharpshooter that it was almost unbearable for Ezra when he put any weight on his hand.

"Sit down and let me see yer arm. Yer really hurting, Ez," the long-haired man said as he lowered Ezra gently onto the couch.

"It's nothing. It's fine now," Ezra protested.

"Don't lie to me, Ez. I can see how much pain yer in." Vin sat down next to Ezra and nearly ended up fighting him as he tried to get a look at the man's hand. He knew that Ezra was hiding more than just an injury. Why make such a fuss if that was all it was? He eventually got hold of the injured appendage carefully and pushed up the man's sleeve so that he could look at the whole area. He found a bloody bandage and he frowned before gently unwinding the material. He stopped dead at what he saw underneath and looked up at Ezra in distress.

"Ezra? Jesus, what have you been doing to yerself?" he asked in a whisper.


"What's this, then? This don't look like nothing to me," the sharpshooter said as he pointed to the raw, infected cuts on the man's inner arm.

"Just leave me alone," Ezra begged as he began crying while covering the self-inflicted marks with his free hand.

Chris had heard the commotion and came to see what was going on. "Guys? What's the matter?"

"Ez has been harming himself," Vin said quietly as he looked at the blond in horror.

Chris knelt down in front of Ezra and took hold of his arm, which Vin had been clinging onto tightly. The sharpshooter moved aside once Chris had taken over the grip, but he stayed hovering nearby in case he was needed.

"Ezra? Is that true? What are you hiding under yer hand, Ez?" Chris asked softly.

No answer.

The blond reached out and gently lifted his friend's hand away. He saw the various nasty cuts and looked up quickly at Ezra's forlorn face.

"Ezra?" he asked huskily, sounding appalled. "How long has this been going on for?" The blond couldn't understand firstly, why Ezra had been doing this to himself, and secondly, how they had all, especially Josiah, missed the signs. How could he have missed the vivid marks on Ezra's arms from the self-mutilation?

The smaller man shrugged in answer to the blond's question. He couldn't really remember how long he'd been cutting himself and it hadn't really helped him feel better anyway.

"Ezra, son? Please talk to me. I ain't mad at ya. I'm just sorry that you felt that you had to do this to yerself. I'm sorry that we weren't able to help you properly. You musta felt so alone. What did we do wrong? What should we have done to make you feel better?" Chris asked quietly. He didn't want the man to feel even worse than he was already, by blaming him for what he was doing. It wasn't his fault at all.

"It isn't you," Ezra mumbled as tears rolled slowly down his cheeks. "I couldn't have asked any more from you. You've been so good to me, so patient. I never felt that I deserved your kindness, though. I thought that what I was suffering was what I deserved. It was a punishment for surviving. I've tried so hard to get over this but no matter what you, or I, have done, it hasn't helped. I'm so sorry," Ezra sobbed. "I felt so much pain inside that I thought if I physically hurt myself it might relieve it, but it hasn't," Ezra whispered.

Chris felt like crying at his friend's explanation. "Ez, I don't know what to say. We've obviously failed you big time in lots of ways," he said as he raised a hand and wiped the tears from the man's cheeks gently.

"No, you haven't."

Nathan came in at that moment and stopped as he saw the huddle of three men. The man had come to do another physical therapy session but he had the feeling that his skills were needed elsewhere instead.

"Chris? What's wrong?"

The blond stood up and took Nathan to one side and explained exactly what had taken place. The medic flicked a look over to the upset undercover agent and shook his head sadly. He nodded to Chris and then sat down beside Ezra and didn't ask any more questions of the man. He could see that his friend was on the verge of losing control again and he needed him to be calm.

The medic smiled and tried to put the man at ease. "Hey, Ez. Let's go to yer bedroom 'cause I wanna get a good look at you."

"Can Vin come?" Ezra asked in a whisper as he reached out and clung to Vin's hand with an iron grip.

"Sure, he can." Nathan smiled as he helped Ezra to his feet and escorted him along the hallway and into the bedroom.

The undercover agent sat on the bed and Nathan helped him lay down. The two friends undressed him and Ezra didn't lift a finger to assist them. Vin thought he could've painted the man bright pink and he wouldn't have complained. He didn't seem to care what was done to him any more.

Once Ezra had been stripped down to his boxers, Nathan did a very thorough examination and he was immensely relieved not to find any more cuts.  "Alright, just hold still, Ez. Let me clean all the cuts on yer arm. They're real nasty."

Ezra didn't say a word and lay staring up at the ceiling. He felt humiliated and he couldn't help but wonder what the future held for him.

Nathan flicked a look up at his injured friend as he cleaned and bandaged the infected limb securely. He thought that Ezra looked strained, upset and defeated. The man had a faraway look in his eyes and seemed to have retreated into himself again.

"There ya go, Ez. I'll check them again tomorrow," the medic said kindly before getting the man dressed again.

"Thank you," Ezra whispered, keeping his gaze down.

Vin stood up, and as he did so his foot struck something under the bed. He bent down to see what it was and saw that he'd kicked over one of Ezra's spare pairs of shoes. He stood the item upright again but frowned when he felt something solid inside it. He pulled the footwear out into the open so that he could see what he was doing and heard Ezra whimper. He looked up at the man in confusion while reaching his fingers inside the shoe. His hand clamped round a bottle and he pulled it out and looked at what he'd found. He unscrewed the cap and tipped out some pills into his palm and then looked at the label, aspirins. That definitely wasn't what he was holding in his hand. He didn't know what the pills were, but he knew they were illegal. He flicked a look at Nathan and passed everything over to him. Ezra's problems, it seemed, were getting worse by the minute and the undercover agent's eyes were glued to the pills as he began to cry pitifully.

"I'm gonna get Chris," the medic said as he rose and left the room.

Once Nathan had gone, Vin sat next to Ezra and hugged the distraught man. "You okay, Ez?"

"No, I've let you all down. If you gave up on me now, I wouldn't blame you. I've thrown all your goodwill back in your faces."

"No, you haven't. We've seen how hard you've been trying to carry on with yer life. None of us have gotten any idea what you've been going through. You ain't the first person to turn to drugs as a way out of the daily hell they're enduring. Maybe you need to go by official means, though. Perhaps Nate can give you something that will help. We could then give them to you along with yer pain meds. Surprised the hospital didn't give you nothing, 'cause they musta known you'd need something," Vin pointed out truthfully.

"They did prescribe pills but they haven't been very effective," Ezra said as he scratched his newly bandaged arm distractedly. He sighed unhappily as he thought back on what Vin had just said. "You're always so sensible, aren't you? Why didn't I think of asking Nathan? I have to go for the underhand method, while you think of the logical, legal method. I'm so stupid," Ezra whispered.

Vin rubbed Ezra's back. "No, you ain't. You just reached the end of yer rope but didn't wanna admit it to us."

Nathan returned at that moment with the blond in tow, and Chris once more knelt down in front of Ezra. He got hold of his friend's hand and rubbed the back of it gently in comfort.

"Why Ez?"

The undercover agent looked up at Chris and let the tears have control again. He spoke haltingly through the sobs. "This was the only way..... that I thought I could cope....... and I didn't know what else to do. I thought that they might help to improve my behavior so that Josiah wouldn't...... throw..... me out........ I was so desperate to stay here that I would do anything,...... anything to ensure that I could remain. I know they haven't done..... any good, but I can't stop taking them now.......... They suppressed the nightmares for a while but then the visions came back twice as bad. I've just reached the end of the line and I really can't go on anymore."

"How did you get the drugs, Ez?"

Ezra took a deep breath and was quiet for a while as he regained his composure. "I, quite by chance, met one of my informants when I was out walking. We exchanged pleasantries and I then found myself asking him if he could get something suitable for me. He did, and I've been collecting them from him each day while I've been out exercising on my own."

Chris ran his hand up and down his friend's arm. He knew, but for that chance meeting, Ezra would not have resorted to drugs. "I so want to help you get off the drugs, Ez. You have to want to stop though. Do you?"

"Yes, I do, but I just haven't got the strength. If I had something to look forward to...but I don't. Life has no meaning for me..... My life stopped on the day of the accident. I should have died," Ezra said as he wiped his face.

"No, you shouldn't, Ez," Chris disagreed vehemently. He'd said the same thing numerous times, and he knew he'd say it many times more before this affair was over. Hopefully, one day, Ezra would come to accept it as the truth. Chris stared at the man quietly for a moment. "Will you let us help you get off the drugs?"


Chris squeezed the man's shoulder in encouragement as he smiled. "Right, that's great, Ez. Vin and Nate will stay with you now to keep you company. I just need to do something."

Chris wandered outside and leant back against the wall and gave into the tears. He just couldn't believe what Ezra had done to himself. The blond heard footsteps approaching, so he quickly dried his eyes when he saw Josiah drawing near the room. He put out a hand to stop the man and got a firm grip on the profiler's arm.

"I want a word with you, Josiah," he said sternly as he indicated the kitchen. "Chris?" the big man said in confusion when he noticed the man's red-rimmed eyes.

Chris turned to face him angrily once they were in the room and he stood with hands on hips as his whole body trembled. "Ezra's been taking drugs and harming himself. How the hell did you miss it? You've been dressing and undressing him each day. Surely you shoulda seen the numerous cuts on his arm."

Josiah stood absolutely still as he stared at Chris in horror. He then lowered himself slowly into a nearby chair and put his head in his hands. "Oh, my God. How did he get hold of the drugs?" he asked after he'd regained his composure.

Chris was still very upset and was letting his anger get the better of him. "He got them while he was out walking every day. You still haven't answered my question. He was in your care, Josiah," the blond said accusingly as the loudness of his voice rose to a yell. "You told me you could cope with him. You lied to me, Josiah."

"I never saw anything, Chris, I swear," Josiah said with wide, honest eyes. "He's managed to dress himself over the last week, and before that I only ever had to deal with his pants and shoes."

"Very convenient excuse, Josiah. What about when he showered? You were there then in case he fell, weren't ya?"

"Up until this week, yes. Now he's more stable on his feet, I wanted to let him do things for himself so he could see that he was improving. I hoped he'd see it as a step forward: a positive note." Josiah talked almost as if he was trying to convince himself of what he was saying. He fidgeted nonstop and clenched and unclenched his fists in agitation as he spoke to Chris. "Before this week, as with dressing him, I only dealt with the clothes on the lower half of his body when he showered. He took off his sweatshirt, or whatever he had on, and he always had his back to me when he did it. Now you mention it, I never once saw his arms after the day that you stayed over. I saw them once or twice before that and I swear there were no marks on them then. He was taking an awful big risk anyway with hurting himself. If he'd had another real bad episode at any point, we'd have maybe checked him out for injuries." Josiah stared at Chris when he realized what timeframe was involved. "He musta started harming himself and taking the drugs during the past week because I threatened to throw him out. Oh, shit. I'm real sorry, Chris. I did tell you that I didn't think that I was doing much good. Just proved it, ain't I?" Josiah then gasped and asked anxiously, "Do ya think he's suicidal?"

The blond shook his head. "No, I think this was the only way that he could communicate to us what he's truly feeling. Couldn't do it verbally, so did it physically. The proverbial cry for help without taking it to the extreme of trying to kill himself, thankfully."

Josiah looked on the verge of tears.

Chris suddenly realized that he was being unfair to the big man. None of the other men had noticed anything wrong with Ezra when they'd been helping either. It wasn't just Josiah that had missed it. "We're all to blame for this. I ain't picking you out for sole condemnation over this and I'm sorry if I made it seem like that. Just gotta decide what to do to rectify matters, ain't we? I think from now on, we don't let Ezra out of our sight for a minute. Accompany him to the bathroom, and sleep in the same room at night if that's what it takes. We'll also have to check him for injuries and marks everyday until we're sure he's better."

"Do ya still want him to stay here?" Josiah asked, still trying to come to terms with what he'd been told.

Chris shook his head negatively. "I think I'll move him out to the ranch. There ain't nowhere he can get his hands on any extra drugs out there."

"Okay. Whatever you think is best," Josiah said unhappily. He knew Chris did ultimately hold him accountable for what had happened. Hell, he held himself responsible. He'd let his own feelings of failure blind him to what Ezra was doing to himself.

Back in the bedroom, Vin looked at the medic. "Nate? Is there anything you can give Ez as an alternative to the drugs he was using? Something to make him a bit happier," Vin asked as he patted Ezra's back encouragingly.

"Sure there is. There are lots I can recommend, and I shoulda offered you help well before this. You must stop whatever else yer on, though. Can you do that, Ez? Promise me that you won't go down that road again. Come to me if you need help medically in the future. You oughta know better than to mix drugs like this. There's no way of knowing what it'd do to ya. You coulda had a real bad reaction to it," Nathan said insistently as he kept a grip on Ezra's upper arms while looking into his eyes.

When he let go, Ezra wiped his eyes and hiccuped. "Yes, Mr. Jackson, I really don't know what I was thinking. I was past behaving rationally." Ezra grimaced. "I s'pose I thought you might pack me off to a psychiatric hospital if I carried on like I was and I couldn't have handled that. After Josiah threatened to throw me out, I was so desperate that I wanted to try and be normal. The drugs worked fine to begin with, but then I was plunged back into the depths of despair. It was worse than before I'd started. Shoulda just taken an overdose and then it woulda been over. No more problems for anyone."

The medic kicked himself for not doing something to alleviate Ezra's deep despair earlier. Nathan pulled Ezra into his arms as the injured man began crying again. He held the man tenderly as he rubbed his back continuously until he had calmed.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra moved out to the ranch the next day. He became very withdrawn again, hardly spoke and seemed to be trying not to be noticed.

"Ez? Are you not comfortable staying here?" Chris asked after another awkward mealtime had passed. He was beginning to really understand what Josiah had felt.

"I'm very comfortable, thank you."

Chris sighed in exasperation. "That's not what I meant and you know it. Yer acting like a slapped child. I don't want you tiptoeing round me, trying not to annoy me or whatever it is that yer up to. I want you to treat this as yer home. Yer welcome here and if you wanna wander round the house in just yer birthday suit, or fart when you've finished yer breakfast, that's fine by me."

"Why? Is that how you behave in the morning? Am I cramping your style?" Ezra asked with a hint of a smile.

"If you wanna think that, then yes," Chris replied as he grinned, glad to have got some reaction from his friend.

"Fine, but be warned, you don't know what vices I have. You may end up rather regretting that you've been so insistent that I make myself at home."

Chris smiled. That was the most Ezra had said since he'd moved in. Hopefully it was the start of a new phase in Ezra's recovery. The blond looked at his watch. "Nate's due out in an hour. Here's ya pain meds and yer new pills."

Chris handed them over and kept the bottles in his pocket because then he always knew where they were. Ezra took the medication and then helped the blond with a few easy chores around the house in an effort to keep himself occupied until the medic arrived. No matter the assurances that Chris gave him about settling in, he still felt as if the blond was watching him like a hawk every minute of every day. Well, he was, they all were, and it wasn't very conducive for making him feel at ease.

"Hey, Ez. How's it goin'?" Nathan asked as he hurried into the kitchen right on time.

"I've been told to fart," Ezra said as he grinned broadly.


"It seems that Mr. Larabee is feeling that he has to be on his best behavior while I'm here as his guest. I gather that in order for him to feel relaxed I need to let my bodily functions have free rein. He says that it is so I feel at home, but I'm still not convinced that it is not because it would make him feel more at home."

"Just go with the flow, Ez," Nathan smiled as he studied the seemingly content man. "Had yer new meds?"

"Yes, thank you. Can't say I feel any different, but perhaps they work with a cumulative effect," Ezra said as he swung round the kitchen on his crutches, unable to keep still for some reason.

"It ain't like switching on a light, Ez. You'll feel a difference, believe me. How are ya feeling now that the other drugs you took are leaving yer system?"

"Bit shaky, but not too bad, all things considered." Ezra sighed as he thought back on his stupidity. He realized that Nathan was watching him closely so he smiled weakly and shook himself mentally. He continued his travels round the room and finally came to a halt in front of the medic. "You've come to tie me in knots, have you?"

"Yeah, thought I'd try and get both yer legs behind yer neck today."

"Surely you jest," Ezra exclaimed in horror.

"Yeah," Nathan laughed. "I only want to see ya walk round the yard without yer crutches."

"That sounds as bad a proposition as your previous suggestion," Ezra said in disgust.

"You'll do just fine. Tell me when you've had enough though. I don't want you trying to impress me."

"Yes, sir," Ezra saluted as he hobbled outside.

He set off slowly as Nathan walked beside him holding his crutches in case they were needed. Ezra limped along and after what seemed like hours got to the end of one side of the yard. He stopped, breathing erratically as he looked up at Nathan.

"Ez?" the medic asked as he tilted his head to one side questioningly. He knew the man had done as much as he could manage but he wanted him to admit it himself. He waited silently and watched the emotions flicking across Ezra's face as the man wrestled with the options of giving up, or carrying on and collapsing.

"I can't go any further," the injured man finally conceded as he blew out a noisy, exhausted breath.

"Fine. You did real well," Nathan said as he passed over the crutches and patted Ezra's back in encouragement. "Let's go back to the house and do a few simple exercises and then I'll call it a day."

"Torturer," Ezra grumbled as he followed behind the medic slowly.

+ + + + + + +

That evening, Vin was due out to stay overnight at the ranch although he had yet to arrive. The blond was dozing in the living room having fallen asleep while reading the newspaper. He was waiting up for his long-haired friend to turn up so that he could talk over the day's events from both work and home.

Ezra had already retired to bed, exhausted after the extra exercises that he'd endured that day. The troubled man was very restless as he experienced another traumatic nightmare. It was only the second one he'd had since he'd been staying with Chris and the blond had hoped that things were slowly improving for his friend. The intensity of the nightmares was still horrific though and Ezra suddenly sat bolt upright in bed, covered in sweat as he recalled its contents.

In the living room, the blond was still contentedly dozing with the occasional snore escaping. He was rudely awakened, though, by the sound of his friend's terrified cry.

"Jesus! Aaaaahhhhhhhh!!!!!"

The blond sat up at the sound of the scream and shivered from head to foot. He stood up and ran along to the bedroom and saw that Ezra was clinging desperately to the door frame crying.

"Ez? Come on, get back in bed," Chris ordered gently.

Ezra clung desperately to his arm and Chris winced at the unintended pain. "I need to get outside. Please," the injured man begged.

The blond studied his friend and saw the trapped look on his face. "Wait a minute, put some proper clothes on. It's cold out." Chris stepped into the room and picked up the pants and sweatshirt that Ezra had worn the day before. He threaded his friend's trembling limbs in to them and found some sneakers for him to put on too. He then helped him along to the kitchen and out onto the porch.

Ezra sat down on a chair and dragged in deep, shaky breaths. "Oh, God. How much longer do I have to endure this?"

"I don't know, Ez," Chris said as he squatted down in front of the man. "Can I get you anything?"

"No, I just need some air. I felt as though I were suffocating," Ezra said as he started crying again.

Chris stayed with the man, hoping his company alone proved beneficial, until he felt Ezra shivering. "Come on, let's get you back to bed. Yer freezin'."

The blond heard the sound of an engine and sighed in relief when he recognized Vin's jeep as it pulled up in front of the porch. The long-haired man jumped out and strode toward his two friends worriedly.

"Guys? Somethin' wrong?"

"Ez had a nightmare and needed some air. I was just gonna put him back to bed 'cause he's getting cold."

Vin reached out and helped Ezra to his feet and then the two men supported their friend back to the bedroom and tucked him in gently. The blond showed Vin to the room that he had made ready for him and asked if he could take over watching Ezra at two in the morning. Chris then took up position in the chair next to Ezra's bed and stayed in the room until Vin came to relieve him. Ezra slept through without further interruption, taking comfort from Chris and Vin's presence. That night signaled a real change, because much to everyone's relief, it was to prove the last nightmare that Ezra would ever have.

+ + + + + + +

Vin turned up at the end of the week again and immediately sought out the injured man. He'd heard Chris's updates of Ezra's improvement and he wanted to check it out for himself. He found the man in the barn feeding the horses a few treats.

"Ez? Feel okay?"

"As a matter of fact, yes I do. I managed to walk two sides of the yard today as well as completing Mr. Jackson's tortuous exercises. It felt good."

"Great. Maybe now yer body's mending you'll feel better mentally too," the sharpshooter said encouragingly. He moved to stand beside Ezra and reached out a hand to stroke the muzzle of the equine in the nearby stall.

Ezra handed a carrot to the sharpshooter and watched as the horse took the food gently from the man's hand. "I hope so. The nightmares seem to be less frequent, for which I'm immensely glad."

Vin patted Ezra's back in agreement. "Chris in?"

"Yes, in the kitchen, I think," Ezra replied as he moved on to see the next hungry animal who whinnied to him from its stall.

"See ya later then." Vin wandered along the hallway and found Chris where Ezra said he would be. "Hey, cowboy. Ez seems happier. How are the two of you getting on now?"

The blond turned to face Vin and smiled. "Okay. He's calmer and he ain't had no nightmares since you stayed over."

"Yeah, he just told me that they seem to be getting less and less frequent. That's gotta be a good sign."

Chris nodded as his thoughts turned to another of his agents. "How's Josiah? Is he alright?"

"Yeah, I've been staying with him. He just feels bad that he couldn't help Ez."

Chris knew that he was partly to blame for Josiah's present frame of mind. "He helped him a lot. Without him, I don't think Ez woulda progressed this far."

"Maybe you need to tell him that, Chris," Vin pointed out to his friend seriously. He hated that there was disharmony between the two men when everyone should be pulling together to help Ezra recover.

"Yeah, I will," the blond agreed. "Shoulda spoken to him ages ago but I've stupidly just let things ride. I'll call him now."

Chris wandered into the living room and picked up the phone and punched in Josiah's number.


"Josiah? It's Chris."

"Oh, hello."

"Josiah?" Chris said tentatively. "I just wanted to thank you for all you've done for Ez. I think you may have thought that I blamed you for him resorting to drugs. I don't, okay? I was just real upset at the time and lashed out at you. Since Ez has been staying with me, I've come to know how tough it was for you. His behavior was ten times worse when you had him, I reckon. I'm amazed that you managed to achieve so much when you were under such great pressure. You've helped him much more than any of us coulda done. I'm real grateful to ya."

The profiler smiled and nodded. He was glad that the air had been cleared. He hadn't spoken to Chris since Ezra had moved to the ranch and the big man had started to believe that the blond didn't want anything more to do with him. "Thanks, Chris. Kinda needed to hear that from you. I appreciate it."

+ + + + + + +

Chris finally agreed, with Nathan's blessing, to let Ezra travel on a train after the man kept pestering him about it. The undercover agent's behavior and mood was much better and the blond hoped that he'd be able to cope with the journey. There was only one way to find out if he could anyway, so Chris bit the bullet and fixed a date.

Ezra stood on the platform, flanked by Chris and Nathan, as he wondered whether he'd made the right decision. He balanced carefully on his crutches as his heart began pounding and his skin came out in a cold sweat. He was beginning to have second thoughts although he wasn't going to admit that to his companions.

"Ez? You okay?" Nathan asked when he saw the man shiver.


"Well, we don't have to do this," the medic said.

"I do."

"Okay," Nathan said although he was suddenly not happy about Ezra continuing with the journey. He had the distinct feeling that Ezra didn't want to go either.

The train pulled in before any more could be said and Ezra boarded, trying to look confident. Chris and Nathan settled him in a seat by the window and took up position, one opposite, and one beside the man. Ezra had his fists clenched tight as the train finally pulled out of the station. Nathan could hear the man breathing rapidly and he saw that's Ezra's skin looked gray and sweaty. The more that time passed by, the worse Ezra looked. Chris had hoped that the man would settle into the journey once it started but he knew he'd been wrong in that assumption. The two men talked to Ezra constantly in an effort to get him to relax but they could tell that Ezra's mind was fixed on one, and only one, thing: the crash. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn't get the thoughts out of his mind.

The train passed over a particularly noisy section of rails just as another train flew past Ezra's window. The man leapt to his feet and nearly fell over as his knee buckled. He couldn't cope anymore.

"I have to get off. Now. Please, Ezra yelled frantically.

Nathan stood too and got hold of Ezra's arms. "Ezra? Look at me," the medic commanded.

Chris looked round the passenger car and saw everyone staring at his distraught friend. "What the hell you all looking at?" he yelled angrily. Everyone looked away in embarrassment.

"Please, please," Ezra sobbed.

"We'll be at the next station in a minute. We can get off there. Calm down, Ez. You're perfectly safe. Nothing has happened to the train," Nathan said quietly but he could see that Ezra was too far gone. The man was in the grip of a fully-fledged panic attack.

The undercover agent began breathing rapidly and deeply so Nathan got hold of him and pushed him down into his seat.

"Try to breathe properly, Ez," Nathan said as he felt Ezra's pulse.

"Dizzy," Ezra gasped as he put a panicked hand to his face.

"I need a paper bag," Nathan said to Chris.

The blond stood up and shouted down the passenger car, "Has anyone gotten a paper bag?"

An old lady sitting opposite, over the aisle, smiled and dipped her hand into her handbag. She passed over the requested item to Chris. The blond couldn't help smiling despite the situation. It always amazed him what women kept in their handbags.

"Thank you, Ma'am," Chris said as he passed the item to Nathan.

The medic turned to Ezra, "Ez? I need you to breathe in and out of this bag. It's gonna go over yer nose and mouth, okay?" The medic put the bag in place and kept hold of it because Ezra seemed incapable of doing anything at all. "Slow, gentle breaths, Ez."

Ezra obeyed the order and seemed to improve relatively quickly although he still looked terribly pale and distressed.

Chris felt the train slowing down and he patted Ezra's shoulder as he took a quick look out of the window. "We can get off now, Ez."

Ezra rose shakily to his feet with a whimper of relief. His two companions escorted their friend off and sat him on a bench on the platform. Both men took up position so that Ezra was shielded from any onlookers because they knew he could do without being stared at.

"Ez? Feel okay?" Nathan asked as he squatted in front of his friend who had turned bright red in embarrassment.


"Yeah, well, that's to be expected. Do ya feel shaky?"

Ezra nodded and shivered. "Yes, I'm sorry. It was still too soon. I've felt so much better lately and I thought that I could handle this. Now I think I've taken several steps backward again."

"No, you haven't. You did real well." Chris rubbed the man's back, not really knowing how to comfort him. He knew his words sounded hollow in the circumstances. "Come on. Let's get you home 'cause you look tired. We'll get a cab so you don't have to worry about getting back to our car on the train again."

Nathan and Chris drove Ezra back to the ranch after being taken back to collect their own car from the station. On arrival Ezra went straight through to his room without a word. Josiah had been waiting

n the house to see how they had gotten on. By the looks on their faces, he had the distinct feeling that his talents may be required.

"Guys? Is he okay? How did you get on?" the profiler asked curiously.

"He had a panic attack on the train and we had to get him off at the first station we came to," Chris said as he sat down with a sigh and ran his hands over his face wearily. He wondered how long Ezra was going to have to suffer because of his experiences.

Josiah made moves to go to Ezra's room but Nathan reached out a restraining hand. "Leave him, Josiah. Give him some space. He needs to start coming to terms with everything on his own without us always jumping down his throat."

"I know, but it's hard to leave him alone when you know he's upset and suffering."

"Yeah, but sometimes it's for the best. Let him come to us."

A couple of hours later, Ezra emerged and joined his friends, who greeted him warmly as they tried to put the man at ease. He looked pale and troubled as he took a seat quietly opposite Josiah and stared down unhappily into his lap.

"Hungry, Ez?" the big man asked.

The injured man shrugged but didn't speak. He still felt embarrassed at his behavior earlier in the day and he wondered what his friends thought of him. He flicked a quick look up at Josiah and received an encouraging, understanding smile in reply.

"Well, I'll make some sandwiches, anyway. Bet Chris and Nate need something to eat," the big man said as he stood up.

The profiler came back from the kitchen with a plate of sandwiches and three out of the four men tucked in. Ezra finally reached out and took one sandwich, which he ate slowly. That was all he had, but it was better than nothing. Chris and Nathan exchanged glances with Josiah and both men left the room, knowing that Josiah wanted to talk to Ezra about what had happened on the train.

"Anything you wanna tell me, son?" the profiler asked as soon as the men had gone. He changed seats and sat down beside the quiet agent.

"I made a fool of myself. I couldn't even handle a simple train journey. I lost control in front of everyone and I felt about an inch high as a result. I shouted and pleaded to get off the train and they stared at me like I was a freak. I've never felt so stupid," Ezra said as he wriggled nervously. He wrung his hands where they lay in his lap and felt the palms become increasingly sweaty.

"You couldn't help it, son."

Ezra shrugged uncomfortably. "I know and that's what frightens me. I hate being unable to behave normally; to let the smallest thing upset me."

Josiah put his arm round Ezra's shoulder and drew the man toward him. "Travelling on a train was no small matter. It took a lot of guts to even set foot on it, Ez. Don't look at it as a failure. You are progressing day-by-day, but you only seem to focus on what you haven't achieved, instead of what you have." The big man held up his free hand and folded over a finger for each of the ways that Ezra had improved. "You've told me what really troubled you about the shoe; you've stopped having nightmares; you've visited the wreck site and you've boarded a train. That's four huge leaps forward in a relatively short time. Just 'cause things didn't always quite go to plan for you, don't mean that you've failed at all. I'm real proud of you, son, just for trying," Josiah said as he squeezed the man lightly in comfort.

Ezra turned to face him and smiled anxiously. "Thank you, Josiah. I have really appreciated your encouragement and support, although it may not have seemed like it on occasion. I know I haven't made things easy for anyone but I thank you for continuing to stand by me."

"We're all here for you, son."

Ezra stood up and nodded as he made his way out onto the porch. He stared out over the yard and took a few deep breaths as he tried to put the day's events to the back of his mind.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra woke the next morning and lay staring at the ceiling as he went back over recent events. He felt different, his stomach wasn't tying itself in knots and for the first time in as long as he could remember he was calm. He thought back over Josiah's speech the previous night and realized the truth in his words. He had progressed, he could acknowledge that fact now. He knew that things weren't suddenly going to be alright. There were still going to be situations that he encountered that would upset him but he thought that he might be better able to cope with them now. Nothing had happened on his recent train journey in the respect of crashing. He'd been expecting it to crash and that had heightened his sensitivity to the journey. Now he could look back calmly and see it for what it really was: progress. Despite the setback yesterday, he realized that he was beginning to come to terms with everything that had happened to him. He knew that there was nothing he could've done to stop the train from crashing on that fateful day. With the injuries he'd sustained, there was also no way that he could've saved anyone else's life. Finally accepting those seemingly small facts started him on the last steps of his journey to normality. His guilt over the accident had been holding him back from recovering fully, and now he had accepted that he was lucky enough to have been spared, he could get on with his life.

It was kind of an epiphany for him. It was all suddenly startlingly clear.

There was still a long way to go but the world definitely, and at long last, seemed a brighter place. He got dressed quickly and headed outside into the fresh air. He stepped off the porch and set off round the yard, managing a whole circuit without his crutches for the first time. When he got back to the porch again he was smiling broadly.

The End

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