Blood, Sweat and Tears

by Hombre

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+ + + + + + +

After Chris reported back on Travis’s instructions, Nathan headed off to the hospital and wandered through to see Ezra. He was still fuming about the day’s events.

He walked up to his friend’s bed and smiled down at him. “Good to see ya, Ez. Jeez, what a day. The guy that’s replacing you ain’t worth his salary: ain’t worth shit. Near on got Josiah killed today. You’ve left big boots to fill, buddy.” Nathan sighed and smiled at his friend. “I know we don’t always see eye to eye, Ez, but I really miss ya. Miss ya as a friend; miss ya as a colleague and the team ain’t the same without ya. We don’t function well and Travis has just demoted us to desk duty. We’ve never been affected like this before. We can’t seem to think straight, can’t sleep and can’t eat. Suppose we had real hope before you woke that you’d recover well, but we’ve been dealt a body blow now we know how you’ve been affected. We’d rather be here with you, not working. Maybe we unconsciously made Travis stand us down so we could be with you,” the medic said with a shrug.

“Nate? What ya doin’?” Vin asked as he approached the bed, smiled down at Ezra and stroked his hair gently.

“Talking to Ez.”

The sharpshooter studied the medic and could see his pained expression. “You okay? You were pretty upset about Jake and Josiah earlier today.”

“Weren’t you? That guy’s an amateur compared to Ezra,” Nathan ranted, his anger stoked up once more.

“I know.”

“I was just talking things through with Ez,” the medic explained.

Vin got hold of Nathan’s arm and pulled him out of the room insistently. He turned to face his friend and saw the curious look on his face. Vin didn’t like telling Nathan off but this was one time that he felt strongly enough to say something. “Do ya think he’s up to listenin’? Seems to have enough problems of his own, and they’re ten times worse than ours,” Vin whispered. “We shouldn’t be landing our troubles on him, Nate. It ain’t fair.”

The medic winced, knowing he’d done wrong. “I was just telling him how much we missed him at work.”

Vin shook his head, trying to contain his exasperation. “Work’s the last thing on his mind, or it should be at the moment He don’t need to be reminded of the life he used to have. A life he may never have again. I know we don’t know if he can really understand us, but we need to be careful what we say, Nate. Maybe you think I’m being paranoid but I really believe we need to tread carefully. He don’t need to believe that we don’t think he’s gonna improve and that we’ve given up hope.”

Nathan sighed and kicked himself mentally. It was a rare day that Vin spoke in such a way and it showed that even the quiet man’s nerves were frayed. The medic patted Vin’s shoulder. “I’m sorry. Oughta’ve known better, Vin, and I shouldn’t have needed you to tell me. I just needed to blow off steam but I shoulda talked to Chris or Josiah, not Ez.”

“We’re all feeling the heat, bud.” Vin shrugged as he squeezed Nathan’s shoulder. “You never know, Ez mighta taken what you said as a signal to get better pretty damned fast. S’pose he coulda taken it either way,” the sharpshooter replied. “Come on, let’s go back in. I’ve said all I need to.”

+ + + + + + +

Little improvements began to show themselves over the next two weeks. Ezra could now eat solid food but still had to be fed by someone else because of his useless hands. With no further medical intervention needed, Ezra was transferred to the state’s premiere rehabilitation facility to prepare for the intensive therapy that would begin in the near future.

Josiah turned up to sit with Ezra on his first day at the new venue. The profiler was actually supposed to be on vacation, but he chose to spend his time with his friend. There was no way he could go off and enjoy himself when Ezra was still incapacitated.

He deliberately arrived at lunchtime and saw the nurse go into Ezra’s room with a tray.

“I’ll feed him if you like,” the profiler offered as he strode up behind her.

“Okay, thanks.” She turned round and smiled after putting the tray on Ezra’s lap table.

Josiah picked up the spoon and sat on the bed sideways, facing Ezra. He stirred the food speculatively as he tried to decide what it was.

“Here ya go, Ez. Don’t know what it is but I guess you’ve gotta eat it. Hope you ain’t too disappointed that it’s me, and not that pretty nurse, feeding you. I know you prefer male companionship, but I also know that you can still admire a pretty face when you see one. Hers, not mine, I mean.”

Ezra didn’t smile at the joke but sat and stared at the bowl of food in seeming curiosity. Despite the man’s lack of facial expression at the moment, Josiah could still detect that his friend seemed unsettled and rather subdued. The profiler realized that it was probably because of the change of accommodation. Ezra had got used to the old hospital and he must be feeling a little lost now that he’d moved. The man hated hospitals at the best of times so this must be torture for him.

Josiah pursed his lips, dipped the spoon back in the liquid and raised the full utensil to Ezra’s mouth. “Open up, Ez.”

The injured man eventually obeyed and Josiah poked the food in. Ezra slurped it messily and chewed slowly, even though the liquid didn’t need it, before swallowing.

Josiah watched the man’s features all the time. The Ezra-of-old’s face had always been full of life, with shining eyes and a constant smile. Seeing the man like this was hard to bear. Josiah sighed and scooped up another spoonful with a sad shake of his head. Some of the food dripped down Ezra’s chin but he didn’t seem to notice at all. Josiah reached out quickly and captured the errant food with the cloth that the nurse had left him. The profiler then continued to feed his friend until the meal was finished.

“All gone, Ez. You did real well, son,” Josiah praised as he tidied the crockery and cleaned Ezra up too. He put the tray near the door for collection and then made his way back to the bed.

“Hey, big guy.”

Josiah turned round and smiled. “Oh, hello, Vin.”

“Hey, Ez.” The sharpshooter greeted before switching his gaze back to Josiah. “How is he?”

Josiah indicated that he’d rather talk outside, so the two men wandered into hallway.

The big man sighed. “Just fed him, but no real response from him at all. I’ve been praying so hard, son, but I think God’s deserted me this time.”

“Don’t give up, bud. We’ve just gotta be patient. He’s improving, ‘cause he’s eating now, ain’t he? We didn’t think he’d ever manage that, did we? I know he ain’t eating for himself, but he will,” Vin said seriously.

“Marty got his just deserts, if you ask me. He didn’t deserve his place on Earth,” Josiah ranted as he looked back in at Ezra. “I just hate that Ezra’s been affected like this. He’s such an intelligent, lovely boy and I can’t believe he’s been struck down so cruelly.”

“I know, bud. Life can change in the blink of an eye, can’t it, and not necessarily for the better,” Vin said as he urged Josiah back into Ezra’s room.

The profiler sat beside Ezra and tidied up his side of the bed distractedly. Vin took the seat on the other side of the bed and pulled the sheet up higher over Ezra’s chest as he smiled kindly at the injured man. Ezra stared back up at him and Vin couldn’t help feeling as worried as Josiah.

None of the men could really get on with their lives while Ezra was like this. They were in a bubble, seemingly separated from everything else, as they concentrated solely on their friend’s wellbeing.

+ + + + + + +

JD ambled into Ezra’s room the next day. He sat down next to the bed and took hold of Ezra’s left hand. The injured man’s friends tended to sit on that side because Ezra could feel their touch there. They always wanted to make him aware of their presence, to let him know that they cared.

The youngster tightened his grip and Ezra opened his eyes and turned to look at him. The undercover agent was finally beginning to feel a bit more human. His mind was now functioning in the thought department after having seemed to be stuck in a fog before. It was like the sun finally rising after a year of darkness. He’d felt the presence of his friends when they’d visited him during his coma, and he’d physically seen them after he’d woken, but up until this point it was as if he hadn’t been totally awake.

“Hey, Ezra. It’s JD. Casey was gonna come to see ya but she was called to see Nettie at the last minute. She sent you her love instead.”

Ezra naturally didn’t answer out loud, but in his head he greeted, Hello, Mr. Dunne. Nice of you to visit. At least he felt as though he was participating in the conversation this way.

“Had any other visitors? Vin said he was gonna come in and see ya,” JD said awkwardly, his mouth just spouting any random thought that entered his head. “I meant to bring you a present but I forgot it. I’ll bring it next time, okay?”

JD saw that Ezra was still watching him. The youngster reached out his free hand and stroked his friend’s hair before noticing that Ezra’s nose was starting to run.

“Hang tight, Ez.”

JD stood up and collected the box of tissues from the closet. He pulled out a handful and stepped back to the bed.

“Here ya go,” he said as he gently wiped Ezra’s nose. “That’s better, ain’t it? All ship-shape again.”

Oh, how degrading. Having to have my nose wiped like a snivelling baby, Ezra grumbled. Have to have other bodily outlets wiped in due course as well, but that’s another story.

JD retook his seat and got hold of Ezra’s hand again.

“Hope yer not getting a cold,” he said worriedly. He reached out his hand and felt Ezra’s brow. “Well, you ain’t got a temperature and you’re in the best place anyway, I reckon. Yer in a hospital of sorts, ain’t ya?”

Unfortunately, yes. Your powers of observation are, as usual, astounding, my young friend.

JD sat back and then saw the water jug. “You thirsty?”

Now that you mention it, I am.

The youngster held up the glass of water in question and Ezra opened his mouth. JD put the straw against his friend’s lips and held it steady. Ezra sucked in a few mouthfuls before JD took the glass away.

“Enough?” the youngster asked after detecting that Ezra had stopped sucking.

Yes, thank you.

As Ezra didn’t open his mouth again JD put the glass aside.

“You’re missing some great weather, Ez. Least you got a good view from here. The last time I was in the hospital I overlooked the garbage area. Buck said I should feel right at home seeing as my room resembled a dump,” JD laughed and looked at Ezra to see if he appreciated his joke.

Very witty, Ezra agreed, his face neutral.

JD never usually had trouble talking, but he found this situation difficult to deal with and felt himself drying up. Ezra was a talkative soul and it was so hard to accept his enforced silence now. The youngster, for some reason, felt embarrassed to be doing the equivalent of talking to himself. In truth, he felt embarrassed to be with Ezra.

He looked around the room nervously and began fidgeting, wishing he could leave. He then felt terribly guilty for his thoughts. Ezra was his friend and currently defenseless. The youngster couldn’t imagine how Ezra was feeling right now and he didn’t want to make him uncomfortable by his behavior.

The undercover agent sighed inwardly as he watched his friend moving about restlessly. He could read JD’s thoughts just by looking at his face. I know, JD. I wish I wasn’t here either, but at least you’ve got the choice to leave.

JD felt Ezra’s gaze on him and he turned with a smile as he patted his arm apologetically. He re-took his friend’s hand and sighed, thrusting his feelings to the back of his mind.

“Any nice nurses, Ez? Buck visited you a lot at the other hospital and kept on raving about a redhead that he saw there. I prefer brunettes myself.” JD paused as he thought of his own girlfriend. “How do you know if she’s the one that you want to spend the rest of your life with? I kinda feel that Casey is her, but how do ya know?” He looked at Ezra again. “Sorry. Don’t ‘spect you wanna hear about my love life. Can’t exactly tell me to shut up if I annoy ya, can you?”

True, very true.

JD winced when he realized what he’d just said. “Sorry, Ez. That was outta line. You’ll soon be yelling at me to be quiet again, but in more flowery language. Didn’t mean to upset you.”

JD looked at Ezra again but couldn’t tell if he was upset or anything. As usual, there was not much outward sign of what was going on inside the injured agent’s mind.

“Hey, kid! Everythin’ alright?” Buck asked as he strode into the room energetically.

“Yeah, we’re okay.”

“Hello, Ezra.”

Hello, Mr. Wilmington. I think Mr. Dunne was just trying to get out of the hole he’d dug himself into. Your timing, therefore, is impeccable, as you have saved his blushes.

The ladies’ man studied his injured friend seriously. “Still got yer ears attached, so he can’t have been talking too much,” he said with a grin.

Buck! JD complained, his mood lightened no end by the arrival of his roommate.

The undercover agent looked up at the tall mustached agent. Yes, they’re still attached, Mr. Wilmington, but rather worn out, I have to admit, Ezra thought just before he fell asleep.

+ + + + + + +

A man entered Ezra’s new room during the afternoon of his second day and Ezra stared at him curiously. He was still having trouble putting names to faces of those people he’d already met. Having another new name to memorize was not exactly welcomed right now.

“Hello, Ezra. My name’s Jeff and I’ll be your physical therapist for some of the time that you’re here. Let’s do some exercises, shall we? Need to get ya moving so you’ll be ready for action when the time comes.”

Wonderful. I can’t wait to be free of the confines of this bed.

Jeff pulled back the sheet covering Ezra and stood beside the bed. He started maneuvering every limb gently but firmly while Ezra lay on the mattress. The feel of the man’s hands on his flesh was nice and Ezra dozed contentedly.

Lovely, so relaxing. I certainly can’t complain about this type of exercise.

Nathan came in halfway through the session and hovered in the doorway uncertainly. “Can I stay?”

Jeff looked up and smiled. “Sure. Just got his left side to do. We need to keep him supple but he’ll be a bit tired after this, I reckon. Although he’s not running or doing anything strenuous, his body’ll be affected by the movements he’s doing.”

“Yeah, well he didn’t get to do much at the other hospital, although they did what you’re doing now too. They wanted to get him up and about but he just weren’t up to it,” Nathan said. “When can he start proper therapy here, if you see what I mean? I don’t mean that this ain’t doing him any good,” the medic said in embarrassment, hoping he hadn’t caused offence.

The therapist smiled in understanding. “I think they’re gonna try getting him in the pool next week. His muscles need building up after being stuck in bed for so long. There’s only so much we can do when a patient’s been confined for a long time like this.”

“Yeah, I know. I think just seeing him outta bed will be a huge boost for us andfor him. We’ll maybe begin to see that there’s an end in sight.”

“Yeah, I understand.” Jeff stopped working and patted Ezra’s shoulder. “There ya go. That’s it for today, but I’ll be in every day until you get up and about properly, okay?”

The therapist smiled as he collected his equipment before leaving the two friends together. Nathan sat beside the bed but saw that Ezra was already asleep.

“All tuckered out, are ya, Ez?” he said with a quiet smile before sitting back to wait for his friend to wake.

+ + + + + + +

Buck strode into Ezra’s room later that evening and looked toward the bed. His friend was currently alone, although Buck knew that Nathan was around somewhere. Ezra was propped up on the mattress and as soon as he detected movement in the doorway his head turned.

“Hello, Ez.”

Hello, again, Mr. Wilmington. Ezra smiled and blinked at him. He really was very pleased to see his friend.

Buck could feel tears pricking his eyes at the sight of Ezra’s reaction. It was the first real response and it lifted his heart. He bounced over to the bed and sat on the mattress before reaching out a hand to cup his friend’s face. He just sat grinning like a maniac at the injured man.

Buck didn’t know whether he’d be able to speak properly with his emotions as they currently were, but he cleared his throat and asked with a trembling voice. “Feel okay, pard?”

The injured man nodded slightly and Buck stroked his cheek gently and beamed happily as an unashamed tear escaped his eye. Ezra followed the track of the droplet with his eyes before raising his gaze back to meet Buck’s.

Please don’t cry, or you’ll start me off too, Ezra pleaded silently as he blinked to fend off the tears.

“Hey, guys. What ya doin’?” Nathan asked as he stepped into the room.

Buck turned to face him and the medic saw the tears running down his cheeks.

“Buck? What’s wrong?” he asked in concern.

The ladies’ man shook his head and wiped his eyes. “Nothing at all. He smiled, Nate. He damned well smiled at me.”

“Great,” Nathan said as he stepped forward and stood beside Buck.

Ezra transferred his gaze to the medic and smiled again. Hello, Mr. Jackson.

“Hello, Ez. Glad you’re awake again. Jeff sure tired you out, didn’t he?”

The injured man looked back at Buck and seemed uneasy. I wish I could really talk to you both. Talking in my head is not in the least bit satisfactory.

Buck studied Ezra closely but didn’t interpret his facial expressions correctly. “I don’t think he knows who we are. He never seems to recognize us,” the ladies’ man said uncertainly.

Ezra scowled. I do, he thought to himself. I just can’t tell you, can I? Smiles don’t really convey nearly enough. Without my speech and hands I’m useless.

Nathan pursed his lips thoughtfully. “I’m not sure that he doesn’t know who we are, Buck.”

Ezra nodded and smiled, glad that his friend seemed to be aware of his thoughts.

“Which one of us is Buck, Ez?” Nathan asked.

The undercover agent nodded his head in Buck’s direction.

“Great. There ya go. We haven’t exactly asked him if he knows us, have we? We just assumed he didn’t. I shoulda known better anyway. At the most, he’d only have forgotten events just before his accident. Although his head injuries were bad, they weren’t enough to cause total memory loss. If they had been, he would never have recovered.” Nathan smiled and studied Ezra a bit more. “I just wanna try something else.” The medic wrote on two sheets of paper and held them up. “Can you point to Buck’s name?”

Ezra stared at the papers but couldn’t distinguish what they said. He looked back at Nathan and shook his head while looking upset. What’s wrong with me? he wondered in a panic.

Nathan knew that his friend needed a bit of reassurance. “It’s okay, Ez. Sometimes when a person can’t speak, they also can’t read the written word. It’s called aphasia. You can understand what’s said but you can’t read or speak. It’s natural, okay, so don’t worry. When you get to speak again you’ll be able to read again.”

Ezra nodded and looked mightily relieved. Thank the Lord for that.

Nathan smiled and left Ezra with Buck while he went in search of the doctor and told him his thoughts about Ezra’s aphasia.

“Yes, you’re absolutely right. He’s gonna feel pretty apart from everything, especially without the use of his hands too. Hands can be very expressive and unfortunately he’s lost that way of communicating too. It may be hard to keep him motivated but he’ll soon find other ways of getting across what he wants. He just hasn’t needed, or been able, to do so before now.” The doctor smiled. “I’ve already noticed a change in his use of facial expressions in the short time that he’s been here. He’s obviously been a bit overwhelmed by being moved here but he’s coming back to life a bit now.”

Nathan smiled and patted the doctor’s back in thanks before heading back to Ezra’s room.

+ + + + + + +

“Hey, Ez. Happy Birthday,” Chris said as he stepped into the room the next day.

His five friends came in behind him and they all greeted the injured man happily. Ezra raised his left hand and waved it erratically while looking totally confused.

My birthday? Is it really?

Chris sat on the bed. “Okay, Ez? We’ve come to help you celebrate. Do you know that it’s your birthday today?”

No, I’m sorry. Ezra lifted the right side of his mouth awkwardly as he winced and shook his head. Life had become so very confusing and worrying for him. He felt alien, adrift from the world around him. He frowned and looked back at Chris, for some reason expecting a rebuke from him for not knowing.

Chris smiled to ease the fear he saw on his friend’s face. He then ran his fingers through the hair over Ezra’s left ear and tucked some errant strands behind it, like he used to do with Adam. “That’s alright, Ez. Do you feel like a party anyway?”

Ezra nodded eagerly in relief when Chris didn’t seem to be angry with him after all.

“Great, bring in the food, guys.”

Ezra watched as trays of food were brought in. Chris had arranged for ice cream and things that his friend could definitely manage. Although Ezra always insisted that he only ate cordon bleu cuisine, the agent had a secret love for kids’ food too.

“Tuck in, Ez. What do you fancy?” Buck asked.

The younger man indicated the food in the bowl nearest him and watched as Buck scooped out some for him.


Ezra nodded and looked up at his tall friend expectantly.

“What is it, Buck? Sure looks good,” Josiah said.

“It’s a recipe of my Mom’s. It’s jello covered with vanilla custard and cream,” the ladies man replied proudly.

“You ain’t never made it before, have ya?” JD said.

“No, kid. I only make it on real special occasions and I reckon this is one, don’t you?” Buck said with a grin as he patted the youngster’s back gently.

Ezra licked his lips in anticipation of tasting the lovely looking desert. It smelt delicious and his mouth was running water already.

“What flavor is the jello, Buck?” JD asked, seeing Ezra’s expression.

The ladies’ man sniffed it as he sighed contentedly. “Mom sure knew how to invent nice food and this was one of her best. It’s sherry, kid.”

“Don’t get intoxicated, Ez,” the youngest agent warned with a grin.

Ezra smiled back as he flicked his eyes round the group of friends. I’d prefer a whiskey for its intoxicating properties, if truth be known.

“Ready, Ez?” Buck asked as he sat next to the undercover agent.

Ezra’s mind though was elsewhere and he didn’t react to Buck’s close proximity or voice. The undercover agent was still dreaming of a nice, strong whiskey. Warm, smooth, tasty. Ah, bliss.

The ladies’ man reached out a hand and patted his distracted friend’s arm gently to gain his attention. “Ready?” he repeated when Ezra’s eyes finally turned his way again.

Ezra flicked his eyes at the food and nodded as he then studied Buck intently. Well, doesn’t look as though a whiskey is forthcoming, so sherry jello will have to suffice. He finally smiled, so Buck filled the spoon in readiness to feed his friend.

The other five men took the opportunity to pick something to eat for themselves while Buck saw to Ezra’s needs. Silence reigned for a short time while everyone’s mouths were full.

“Reckon this is better than the regular food you get in here, ain’t it, Ez?” JD said eventually as he ate a chocolate chip cookie that he’d smuggled in.

The injured man chewed the next mouthful of jello while looking at JD nervously. He then nodded and smiled as he finally relaxed. He’d been used to having his friends to see him in ones and twos only and he had to admit that having the whole lot in together was a bit too much to handle.

“Want a drink, Ez?” the ladies’ man asked, after the food had been consumed.

Ezra’s eyes moved to see what was available and after a minute of deliberation he pointed awkwardly to apple juice. Buck poured some in a glass and put a straw in it. The tall man held the glass with his left hand while Ezra sucked in the liquid. Although Ezra could just about point to things with his left hand, if his brain was behaving itself, he still couldn’t hold things. It was much better, on the whole, to have someone do everything for him at the moment rather than tempt fate by being too ambitious.

“Try one of these mini sandwiches, Ez. The nurse said you could have those. They’re nice and soggy.”

Buck picked one up and popped it into his friend’s mouth.

“Jelly and peanut butter,” Josiah said.

Ezra’s face lit up and he looked at Buck to say that he wanted another one. The ladies’ man chuckled and obeyed and watched as Ezra rolled his eyes in ecstasy.

“Like them?” Vin asked with a grin. Ezra wouldn’t usually touch the combination, but right now he seemed to love it.

Well, as young Mr. Dunne stated earlier, this is better than the regular sustenance that is usually on offer. Jelly and peanut butter is veritable ambrosia of the gods compared to the slop that usually passes for food here.

“How about some music?” Chris asked, interrupting Ezra’s thoughts.

“Yeah, it ain’t a party without music,” Nathan said enthusiastically.

Chris put a CD in the player and the sound of chatter and laughter grew the more the party progressed. The boys tried to include Ezra as much as possible but it proved difficult with his enforced silence. There was only so much that he could signal facially and most questions required more than a nod or shake of his head.

“Hey, what am I missing?” Dr. Peel, Ezra’s new doctor, asked as he entered the room.

“It’s Ezra’s birthday,” Vin said.

“Well, how about that? Happy Birthday.”

Ezra smiled shyly and fidgeted slightly on the bed. Could have been my funeral and I’d have been none the wiser, Ezra thought to himself wryly.

“Had a good party? Sure sounded lively,” Dr. Peel commented.

Ezra nodded. The doctor smiled at him and then indicated that he’d like a word with Chris. The blond stood and followed the medical man outside curiously.

“Has he been okay?” Dr. Peel asked as he looked back into the room.

“Yeah, ain’t said nothing, of course, but he ate okay,” Chris said as he leaned back against the wall and studied his sneakers.

“Has he used his left hand at all?”

Chris nodded but sighed. “Only to point with, but it shook real bad.”

The doctor patted the blond’s shoulder. “Okay, well it looks like the party’s done him good anyway.”

Chris reached out a hand and stopped the man from leaving. He pursed his lips as he met Dr. Peel’s gaze. “He didn’t know that it was his birthday, doc.”

The medic looked at Chris, hearing the upset in his voice. “Well, he’s hardly likely to know, is he? He’s got a calendar in his room but he can’t read it. He probably doesn’t even know what day it is, let alone the date. It’s not something that you’re inclined to talk about to him, is it? You don’t say, ‘Hello, Ezra. It’s Monday May twentieth’ or whatever, do you?” Dr Peel said wryly as he raised an eyebrow in question.

Chris smiled. “No, you’re right, but there must be some way of keeping him in touch.” The blond sighed and looked at the doctor again with a wince. “He still ain’t quite our Ezra,” he said.

“You can’t expect him to be just how he was. His brain is sort of rerouting circuitry at the moment so you can’t expect him to be firing on all cylinders so soon. Try and think of his brain like a radio that has breaks in transmission. Sometimes he’ll get perfect reception, but quite often he’ll only get static, which means he has trouble functioning properly. He’s been through a major trauma and he needs a long time to heal properly. He’s gonna go through patches where he seems to behave how he used to, but more often than not he’s gonna be different, and he can’t help that. Hopefully, the ratio will shift the opposite way with time. He’s gonna be frustrated that his body won’t do as he wants, or that he can’t communicate adequately. He needs lots of praise when he succeeds at something because he needs to feel good about himself. He doesn’t need to see that you are becoming frustrated or upset that he isn’t progressing fast enough for your liking,” the doctor warned.

Chris nodded and winced at the rebuke. “Yeah, sorry. It’s just real hard.”

“I know. Ezra isn’t the only one affected by what happened. You and your friends have been deeply shocked by what was done to him as a result of the accident. You’re sort of in mourning for him and you’re coming to terms with the fact that he may never be the man you used to know. If that happens, you’ll just have to think of it as having the pleasure of getting to know a new friend. Try not to compare his old self with his new incarnation because it could destroy you all. That’s the worst case scenario, anyway. Hopefully, you’ll have the pleasure of re-greeting the Ezra you all know so well.”

“Thanks, doc,” Chris replied gratefully, realizing the sense of his words.

“Maybe wrap up the party soon, alright? He’s looking tired and a bit overwhelmed,” Dr. Peel advised after looking in at Ezra quickly.

“Sure thing. We hadn’t planned on staying much longer anyway.”

Chris went back into the room and rejoined the party. After ten minutes had passed by, he stood and signaled to his friends. “Okay, guys, best let Ez get some rest.”

The men tidied up the room and then turned to face Ezra.

“We’ll see ya tomorrow then, Ez. Did you enjoy the party?” Chris asked.

Ezra nodded and looked upset that the men were leaving. He’d enjoyed himself, despite the fact that he’d felt a bit uncomfortable with his room being quite so full.

“I’ll leave the CD, okay? You can listen to it when you like,” Chris said, sensing his friend’s mood.

Ezra smiled. That will certainly stop the time from dragging during the evening.

“See ya, Ez,” Vin said as he patted his friend’s back.

Good-bye, Mr. Tanner. Thank you for coming.

The rest of the group said good-bye before making their way out. Ezra lay down and reached out his shaking left hand and finally managed to push the big button on the CD player to start his music. He smiled and closed his eyes as he listened to the soft jazz and dropped off to sleep.

+ + + + + + +

The swimming sessions started the following week as Jeff had predicted. Ezra still hadn’t learned to swim but he wore inflatable armbands as a matter of course to keep him safe and balanced. He was still apprehensive: he and water really didn’t get on and being in an even more vulnerable condition made matters worse.

Chris tried his best to encourage the man after seeing just how worried he was. “They won’t let anything happen to you, Ez. They’ve done this countless times before and I dare say they’ve had a lot of people who can’t swim. You aren’t the first and you certainly won’t be the last.”

Ezra didn’t look overly convinced but he knew that Chris spoke the truth. He just had to convince his nerves. Well, I don’t have much choice in the matter anyway, do I? I’ll just have to grin and bear it.

Ezra was collected soon after and taken along to the pool in a wheelchair. He was eased into the water gently by two new therapists, Emma and Patrick.

“There ya go, Ez. Can I call you Ez?” Emma asked.

Ezra nodded and smiled as he tried to keep the fear from showing on his face. Emma was certainly pretty and he couldn’t help staring at her. Even if he did prefer men, he wasn’t averse to casting his eye over an attractive woman. Having someone nice to look at did wonders for his nerves, he had to admit. Patrick wasn’t really his type so Emma would make a nice diversion instead.

Emma grinned, unperturbed by the scrutiny she was receiving. She could tell what Ezra was thinking and she blushed unconsciously. She patted Ezra’s arm and got back to business. She could feel him shaking and tried to put him at ease. “Okay, Ez, now just lay back and float. Nothing’s gonna happen to you, we’ll keep hold of you, okay?”

Ezra tipped back and lay on top of the water, supported by the therapists. He had to admit that it felt nice except for the water lapping around, and in, his ears. The sounds around him were deadened because of it and he felt as if he were separated from things by a wall of glass. He was there but he wasn’t, and it was disorientating. The agent did feel safe, though. Emma and Patrick gripped his body firmly and he began to relax a bit more.

“Now, can you kick your legs to propel yourself along?” Patrick asked, once Ezra had settled nicely.

Ezra was rather too enthusiastic and jerked his legs, splashing water everywhere. His body seemed to act erratically after such a long time without proper action.

Oh, good Lord. I’m possessed! he thought to himself wryly.

“Gently, Ezra. Relax and just wiggle your feet to start with,” Patrick said above the noise of the water.

Ezra did so as he watched the eerie reflections of the moving water on the ceiling. He listened to the sounds of the water splashing round him like waves on the ocean. The water tickled his skin and he was glad that the pool was heated. It all helped to settle him down - for a short time anyway.

“Great, now bend your knees and keep kicking, but try to do it gently.”

The inured agent’s neck was beginning to ache with trying to keep afloat, despite the therapists’ support. Ezra did as he had been told for a while but then flailed his left arm in panic when he felt that he was sinking. The therapists’ tightened their grip and straightened him out.

Shit. Just when I thought things were going swimmingly. Hah! What a truly dreadful pun. Ezra still didn’t feel safe despite his therapists help. I want to get out. Right now; if not sooner.

“Okay, let’s get you upright,” Emma said quietly, seeing Ezra’s fatigue and sensing that he wasn’t entirely happy anymore.

They helped Ezra put his feet on the bottom of the pool and let him recover for a few minutes.

Patrick patted his back and asked, “Feel okay, Ez? You’re prepared to carry on?”

Ezra winced but eventually nodded, his mind changed now that he had his feet on the ground. Things looked so much better in a vertical position for some reason.

“Okay, well let’s just try something else. Can you walk toward me?” Emma asked as she split from her colleague, who continued to hold Ezra.

Emma stood a few paces ahead of her patient and held out her arms to catch him. Ezra took one step and wobbled, his balance upset by not being able to use his right arm properly. Patrick adjusted his grip to try to make the injured man feel more secure. Ezra then strode on and finally reached his target, smiling in triumph.

Perhaps this isn’t so bad after all.

“Well done, Ez. That was terrific,” Emma praised as she patted his back gently. “Let’s leave it there, shall we? Still feel okay?”

Ezra nodded, but if he could speak he would have said that he was exhausted. He was escorted out of the pool slowly and he sank into his wheelchair gratefully. He’d never been so pleased to sit down, and after such a long time of incapacitation, that was saying something. Emma and Patrick dried him off and helped to put his pajamas on before taking Ezra back to his room.

Chris was there to greet him and make sure that he was alright. “Hey, Ez. Get on okay?”

I did, I truly did, and I wish I could put it into words for you, Ezra thought sadly.

Patrick spoke on his behalf with a broad grin, “He sure did. Did real well, although I think he’s tired himself out.”

Emma, meanwhile, helped Ezra lay on the bed and the agent was asleep almost immediately, proving the therapist’s thought.

The blond looked at Ezra and then at Emma. “Was he really okay?”

“Yeah, as you can imagine though, it’s gonna take time till he gets his strength back. The pool works wonders usually. It relaxes the patients but they have to work very hard against the pull of the water. Ezra’s balance is off because of his arm, which caused a few problems, but I was sure pleased with his first session. I know he’s fearful of the water but he did just fine.”

Chris sighed in relief and smiled happily. “Good. We could do with hearing something positive again.”

The therapists left the room and Chris took up position beside the bed. He watched Ezra sleeping and sent a few prayers up to heaven for his friend’s recovery. The blond never knew why he prayed. It was a habit that he’d got into and it had become automatic in circumstances such as these. He hadn’t believed in God for years but it was still Him he called on when one of his own needed help.

You hypocrite, Larabee, he chastised himself.

The blond clutched Ezra’s hand gently as his mind drifted and he only came back to himself when he felt Ezra’s hand move in his. He looked up and saw that Ezra was awake and shifting in bed stiffly.

“Hello, Ezra. Feel okay?”

Ezra nodded but, while looking at Chris, he rubbed his eyes with his left hand awkwardly to get his message across.

“You still tired?” the blond asked softly.

Even the word exhausted doesn’t come close to how I feel right now. Ezra nodded at the blond and yawned.

“Did you enjoy the pool though?” Chris asked as he gently stroked Ezra’s hair.

Ezra nodded and smiled before falling asleep again. Nod and smile, nod and smile. That’s all I ever seem to do.

+ + + + + + +

Now that Ezra had started his swimming sessions, he also began intensive therapy on his upper limbs. The therapist arrived in his room the next day and sat on the bed beside Ezra.

“Hello, Ezra. I’m Peter. Did Dr. Peel tell you that I was coming?”

Ezra nodded. Yet another new name and face to remember. It was all becoming a bit too much to handle.

“Right, let’s see exactly what you can and can’t do with your hands. Can you pick up the ball with your left hand?” Peter asked as he set the item down on Ezra’s lap table.

Ezra reached out his barely controllable limb and lowered his hand over the sphere. He attempted to grasp the item but he was unfortunately clumsy and the ball rolled away. He tried to catch it but his hand wouldn’t obey the instruction.

Dammit. Will I ever be able to play cards again, or even scratch my backside? he wondered angrily. I feel so helpless not being able to do even the simplest things.

“Okay, never mind.” Peter captured the ball and held it out. “Take hold of it like this instead, Ezra.”

He helped Ezra turn his hand over and then placed the ball in his palm. Peter could feel Ezra’s hand shaking and he knew that his patient was tiring despite the fact that the session had only just begun.

He decided to carry on anyway. “Now close your fingers around it. See how tight you can squeeze it.”

Ezra wrapped his fingers slowly closer but the ball still had room to roll around. It slipped out over his wrist when his hand wobbled badly and it fell to the floor and bounced under the bed. He hissed angrily and clenched his jaw.

“Alright, let’s forget that for now.” Peter maneuvered Ezra’s right arm for him so that it rested on the table. The therapist held out his own hands with fingers extended. “Can you squeeze my fingers?”

Ezra reached out and got hold of the digits awkwardly with both hands. His left hand tightened nicely after a lot of effort but his right hand hardly moved.

“Can you manage any tighter with your right hand?”

I really don’t think that I can and I truly cannot bear the thought that I may never recover. My hands are an essential part of my being. If I can’t even move them properly, what is going to become of me? He shook himself mentally. There is no room for negative thoughts, Standish! Just get on with it and believe that you will get better. There is no other way.

Ezra tried to follow the therapist’s instruction but Peter didn’t feel any difference. Peter looked at Ezra and smiled encouragingly, sensing his disappointment.

“Okay, fine, Ezra. That’s a good start. I’ll just do a bit of massage on your hands and leave it at that.” Peter worked gently on each hand and talked to Ezra softly in an attempt at encouragement. He could see, though, that his words were not having the effect he had hoped. He patted Ezra’s shoulder when he’d finished and said, “See you tomorrow.”

“How’s he doing?” Buck asked when Peter walked out into the hallway after the session.

The therapist took Buck out of Ezra’s hearing before speaking. “He’s very weak in his right hand. He can hardly grasp adequately so he’s gonna need a lot of therapy. His left hand is much better already, although it’s nowhere near back to normal.”

Buck sighed as he studied his shoes for a minute. “Have you any idea how long it will take for him to get back to normal?”

Peter shrugged. “Everyone’s different. Weeks but maybe longer. It’s hard to say.”

“Poor Ez.”

“Don’t be too downhearted. His left hand, as I said before, is coming on well. The strength and movement in it is a bit erratic but that’s to be expected. Hopefully the improvement to that hand is a portent of things to come. We’ll have daily sessions with him, so I’ll keep you updated.” Peter patted Buck’s back before walking back to his office.