Blood, Sweat and Tears

by Hombre

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+ + + + + + +

The undercover agent’s therapy sessions were multiplying by the day and Ezra now had the added task of trying to talk again. Over the past week, he had started to make noises, like groans when frustrated, and Dr. Peel thought it would be a good time to begin. They started him off with basic things sounds like ‘aaaah’, and now he had managed that they could really get down to business.

Ezra sat down opposite the female speech therapist, Kate, and she spread out some cards in front of him.

“Ezra? Can you point to the picture of the cat?” she asked after letting the injured agent study them for a while.

Ezra reached out a shaking left hand and with an outstretched finger pointed to the correct card. He didn’t seem convinced that he’d chosen correctly and he looked at Kate apprehensively.

The woman smiled and nodded in praise. “Great. Now, can you find the card that has the word ‘cat’ printed on it?

The undercover agent studied the cards again and bit his lip nervously. He then indicated the card nearest him.

“That’s right. Well done, but now comes the hard part. Can you say it? C.A.T.”

Ezra opened his mouth slowly. He was saying the word in his mind but his vocal cords just wouldn’t comply. There was quite a long pause before any sound emerged from his mouth.

“G…G…C,” Ezra stuttered helplessly as he turned bright red in embarrassment. Cat, cat, cat. Say it, Standish, dammit, say it.

“C.A.T.,” the therapist said again phonetically, trying to get Ezra to progress onto the next letter.

I know how it’s spelt, you cretin. I’m not an imbecile, Ezra thought to himself angrily. I really want to say it, but I can’t. I just can’t.

Chris watched as Ezra clenched his left hand loosely into a fist as if he wanted to hit someone. The injured agent unclenched it and then began fidgeting incessantly. Ezra continued to stutter the first letter of the word, unable to go any further. The blond looked at his friend’s face and knew he was going to go ballistic at any moment.


The undercover agent started looking around the room in a panic as if seeking an escape route. He then began breathing rapidly and felt hotter and hotter with each passing moment. Finally, he just started shaking his head as he tried to push the cards away from him, indicating that he’d had enough. He growled deep in his throat and it became louder and louder, sounding like a subdued yell. He attempted to get up from the table but he lost his balance and toppled off the chair instead. He landed with a thump and seemed slightly stunned by his rapid descent.

“Ez?” Chris said as he dropped to his knees beside him. The blond had reached out when he saw the man falling but he hadn’t been able to catch him in time. “You okay?”

What the hell do you think?

Chris looked at his friend and reached out to pat his back but the blond heard Ezra hiss in pain and felt him trembling.

“Ez? You hurt?” the blond asked worriedly as he pulled up Ezra’s shirt and saw the cut. The unfortunate agent had caught his back on the chair seat when he’d fallen and the resulting cut was now bleeding profusely.

“Let’s leave it there, shall we?” Chris said sharply to Kate as he indicated the damage.

“Sure,” the woman said as she stood and left quickly.

Chris ran his hand up and down Ezra’s arm to try and calm him down. He couldn’t imagine how his friend was feeling right now, but he was definitely more than frustrated by the look on his face.

“It’s okay, Ez. Let’s get you cleaned up.”

Ezra stared at the blond in distress and Chris saw two tears escape his eyes.

“Don’t cry, Ez. I know it’s hard but you’ll be talking again in no time.”

You don’t know anything! the undercover agent yelled internally.

Ezra shook his head violently again, pulled away from Chris’s grasp and actually hit him on the shoulder awkwardly with his forearm. Chris didn’t flinch or complain but watched as Ezra started crying silently. The blond leaned forward and pulled the man into his arms.

“Shhh, Ez. If you wanna hit me again, feel free. You need to let out your frustration. I understand.”

As he spoke, Ezra hit him on his back, causing the last word that Chris uttered to sound distorted. The injured man then hit him again but only half-heartedly. Chris pulled his friend back so that he could see his face and he noticed that Ezra was smiling slightly.

“Better?” he asked wryly.

Ezra lifted the corner of his mouth and shrugged. For the moment.

Chris wiped the tears from his friend’s cheek gently and smiled. He then called a nurse, who saw to Ezra’s back while Chris went out to get some fresh air.

“How’d he get on?” Buck asked when he met the blond in the parking lot.

Chris sighed and ran a hand through his hair dejectedly. He shook his head and shrugged. “Not at all well, but it was only his first session.”

“What happened?” the ladies’ man asked quietly, seeing how strained Chris looked.

“He just got real upset, Buck. You imagine how it must be for him. A man who is so good linguistically, reduced to having to learn to speak again. He got so frustrated that he couldn’t even say the word cat. He didn’t get any further than the first letter and he didn’t get that right to start with. He hit me, ya know?” the blond admitted as he flicked a look at the tall man.


“He hit me in fury. He’s inside that shell, Buck, and he’s trying so hard to get out,” Chris said as he lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply.

“Did he hurt ya?”

Chris shook his head and tapped some ash off his smoke. “No, he hasn’t got much power in his arm.” The blond shrugged. “He got so mad that he fell off his chair and hurt his back. He seems to take one step forward and three steps back, doesn’t he?”

“Jeez,” Buck said.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra continued with his hand and speech therapy sessions over the following week and he also started practicing in his own room too. It kept him occupied when he was alone, and even though he quite often wore himself out in the process, he was determined to work hard in order to regain full movement. He set himself up at the table by the window so he could work while looking at the activity outside. He missed the hustle and bustle of outdoor life. Although he was kept busy, he missed being able to do what he wanted when he wanted. He was trapped inside the building as well as his body. At least he could now communicate verbally, although nowhere near properly.

“Ez? What ya doin’?” Vin asked when he saw his friend clenching and un-clenching his fists awkwardly.

Ezra looked up from where he sat in the chair by the window. “Ex…ex…,” he stuttered, unable to finish the word. He found that it was one of the hardest words to get out. There were way too many x and s sounds to handle.

“Exercising, are ya?”

“Y…y…es.” Ezra nodded decisively as he continued moving his hands.

Vin watched quietly for a few minutes, not wanting to interrupt while his friend was concentrating so hard. Ezra, though, finally stopped what he was doing and began looking round the room instead.

“Can I help?” the sharpshooter asked. He wasn’t sure what he could do, but he needn’t have worried; Ezra had it all planned.

“P… up…p…up th…thi…th…ings.”

“You wanna practice picking up things?” Vin guessed.

Ezra nodded and smiled. He fancied a change of activity and he was pleased to have company while he did it.

“Okay, let’s see what we can find.”

Vin looked round the room and frowned. He emptied a Styrofoam cup and put it on the table and then picked up an orange from the fruit bowl and added that too. He couldn’t see anything else the correct size so he turned back to Ezra and raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“That enough?” the sharpshooter asked.

Ezra nodded and immediately got to work. Vin sat on the bed and watched as Ezra tried over and over again until he’d picked both items up successfully with his left hand. He then attempted to use his right hand too, but he just couldn’t manage it. He seemed unperturbed though, much to Vin’s relief, and went back to working on his left hand. The injured man repeated his exercise several times until he inevitably tired.

“Great, Ez. You did real good,” Vin praised as he patted Ezra’s shoulder.

Ezra looked up and smiled happily, still relying on facial gestures rather than speaking in most instances.

+ + + + + + +

Vin walked into Ezra’s room again the next day.

“V…V..Vin,” Ezra stuttered in greeting.

“Hey, Ez,” the sharpshooter said in delight. “You said my name. That’s great.” Vin sat down next to his friend at the table and smiled broadly.

“B…B…B.” Ezra scowled and clenched his jaw angrily before taking a deep breath and trying again. It was so annoying that he knew exactly what he wanted to say but just couldn’t get it out.

Even though Vin knew what the man was going to say, he didn’t attempt to interrupt Ezra. The injured agent needed to say things for himself, no matter how frustrating it was for him. He waited patiently and watched as Ezra formulated the word he wanted in his head again.

“B…Buck?” the undercover agent finally said.

“He’s coming in later, Ez. He’ll be right pleased to see ya, I reckon.”

Ezra nodded but then began fidgeting. He liked having visitors, but conversation was so hard that even after a few minutes things became awkward.

The sharpshooter seemed to be able to read Ezra’s thoughts. “Game of cards?” Vin asked quietly, hoping to keep the man occupied while also exercising his hands.

Ezra smiled and nodded at the suggestion, so Vin found the extra-large cards that Peter, the therapsist, had provided. He dealt and Ezra reached out and took the set that Vin handed him and he put them on his lap. He couldn’t hold them in his hands and the table was a bit too high for comfort, so his lap would have to do as a storage place, although it was hard to keep them balanced there. Vin waited patiently and the game began once Ezra signaled that he was ready.

The undercover agent fumbled his cards every so often while trying to pick one up. He finally knocked the whole lot off his lap and whimpered angrily as he stared down at the scattered pile on the floor. He reached out and carefully gathered them up one-handed but his left hand ended up trembling non-stop.

“Had enough, Ez?” Vin asked quietly, seeing his friend’s distress.

Ezra shook his head negatively as he bit his lower lip in concentration and anxiety. He tried tidying his cards again into a neat pile but the sharpshooter decided that he needed to help his friend out.

“Okay, but let’s find something that’ll keep the cards together for ya.”

Vin looked round the room and saw a box, complete with lid. He removed the lid and quickly tore off two of the adjoining sides. The corner left behind after the removal of the other sides made a suitable place for Ezra to store his cards safely.

“Here ya go, Ez. Get on the bed and sit up against the headboard,” the long-haired man instructed.

Vin pulled a spare pillow from the closet and put it on Ezra’s knees. He made a hollow in the middle and put the box lid in the dip. The box sloped nicely so that Ezra could reach it without difficulty.

“See, you can put the cards in the bottom corner and they won’t fall down,” the sharpshooter pointed out. “You can slide each one out as you need it without disturbing the rest too much.”

Vin put the cards in place and Ezra smiled in understanding.

“All set?” Vin asked as he sat down opposite his friend again.

The undercover agent nodded and the game started again. It still took ages for Ezra to move each card with his shaking fingers but he got on much better than before.

Buck walked in and smiled at the once familiar scene. “Hey, guys. Who’s winning, or shouldn’t I ask?”

“Oh, it’s fairly even,” Vin said.

“I…I…I’m win…win…,” Ezra stuttered in disagreement as he looked at the ladies’ man meaningfully.

“Bet you are, pard. Vin’s just too embarrassed to admit it,” Buck said with a grin as he winked at Vin.

“S…S…Sssnap!” Ezra said while grinning broadly as he put down the final winning card.

“Well done, Ez,” Vin congratulated as he saw the matching card. The quiet agent then picked up the scattered cards and began to shuffle them.

Ezra yawned loudly all of a sudden and rubbed his eyes, looking set to fall asleep sitting up. He hated being tired all the time. When he had visitors he liked to try and stay awake, but this time he just couldn’t.

“You’ve worn him out, Vin,” Buck said as he ran his fingers through Ezra’s hair gently.

The ladies’ man moved the box and pillow out of the way and watched as Ezra lay down. He pulled the covers up and smiled as the tired man fell asleep almost immediately.

“He been okay?” Buck asked quietly as he watched Ezra and smiled.

Vin nodded but shrugged too. “Yeah, once we sorted out the box for the cards. He couldn’t keep them balanced on his lap and he dropped them all, but he didn’t give up though. He picked them up and started again. He’s really trying but he tires so easily.”

“Yeah, I know, pard.”

Vin looked up at his friend and whispered, “He said my name, Buck. Said yers too.”

Buck heard the emotion in his young companion’s voice. “Did he? Terrific. He’s really improving, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, never thought I’d see the day.”

“None of us did, pard,” Buck replied as he patted Vin’s back in comfort. “Sure seems a mite more talkative, don’t he?”

Vin nodded. “Just wonder how long it’s going to be before he asks how he got to be hurt like this.”

Buck had been thinking the self-same thing recently. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, pard. No need upsetting him beforehand,” he replied sensibly.

The sharpshooter sighed and nodded again, wondering how his friend would take the news when they did tell him.

+ + + + + + +

Ezra was having a day when his brain wasn’t working adequately. For some reason, its messages just weren’t getting through to his body fully. He looked up at Vin in anguish because he knew exactly what he wanted but just couldn’t communicate his desire properly. All he could do was keep repeating the first letter of the word he required.


Vin really couldn’t decide what his friend wanted to say either. One letter could be the start of so many things and, for all he knew, Ezra could be trying to swear. Vin didn’t interrupt to begin with, but when Ezra became flustered, he intervened. He tried a few suggestions, but Ezra got increasingly upset when each one was wrong. Neither the undercover agent, nor sharpshooter, ever thought of trying to act out what Ezra wanted. If they had, it might have helped things and would certainly have narrowed the options.

The injured agent eventually began howling and somehow managed to swipe his left arm sideways in a fit of pique. For a split-second his brain functioned properly but before he could say the word he wanted, he’d lost transmission again. His swinging arm, meanwhile, carried on with its journey and made contact with a cup, which was sent flying to break on the floor.

Vin stood quickly and put a hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “Hey, hey, that’s enough, Ez. Can you write the word instead?”

Of course I can’t! the injured agent yelled angrily in his mind.

Ezra shook his head vehemently and knocked the writing implements out of Vin’s hand with his wildly swinging arm. His limbs were acting on impulse and seemed to have developed a life of their own. He looked furious as he continued shaking his head negatively at Vin’s suggestion.

The sharpshooter sighed. “Oh, Ez. I’m sorry that I don’t know what ya want. I oughta’ve known better than try to get ya to write.” Vin sat beside his friend and put his arm round him to try and comfort him. He just didn’t know how to solve Ezra’s problem at all.

Ezra looked across at Vin and began to cry plaintively. He hated it when his body wouldn’t obey his brain. He found it humiliating and very upsetting.

JD walked into the room soon after and saw that Ezra was crying. “What’s up?” he asked as he looked back and forth at each man anxiously.

“Ez is trying to say something but can’t get it out and I don’t know what to do,” Vin admitted.

JD turned to Ezra and considered the injured man. “What did he manage to say?”

“Just the letter ‘f’.” Vin shrugged, thinking that the kid would have no more success than he’d had in guessing the word.

“Fruit,” JD said in a matter-of-fact tone. “He wanted some yesterday when I was here and he enjoyed it. What do ya fancy, Ez? Selection like yesterday?”

Ezra nodded eagerly and brightened up no end. JD smiled and left on his errand, happy to get to the bottom of what Ezra wanted so quickly. The undercover agent, meanwhile, turned to Vin with a wince that conveyed how sorry he was for his behavior.

I’m truly sorry, Mr. Tanner, Ezra apologized silently.

“It’s okay, Ez. No apology necessary,” Vin replied, reading Ezra’s face, as he helped the man settle back on the bed. “I don’t know why I didn’t think of food as an option.”

JD came back with the requested items and placed them on the nightstand beside Ezra. “There ya go, Ez. Banana first?”

Ezra’s eyes gleamed as he licked his lips in seeming agreement. The younger man peeled it and then held it while the undercover agent tucked in enthusiastically.

“Enjoy that, Ez?” Vin asked with a laugh when his friend has finished eating.

Ezra nodded and belched contentedly.

“Guess that’s a yes,” JD giggled.

+ + + + + + +

Another two months had passed and each day had been filled with various therapy sessions. It seemed never ending to the undercover agent, but at least he was beginning to feel as though he was improving.

Nathan sat out in the rehabilitation facility’s garden on a bench in the sun because he’d been told that Ezra was out there somewhere with his therapist. The medic sat back and took pleasure in feeling the sun on his face. The garden was full of the scent of roses and Nathan breathed in the heady aroma as he sighed contentedly.

Half an hour passed by before he saw movement to his left and he turned to see his friend strolling toward him. Ezra seemed to be moving quite well but much slower than normal. Although his legs hadn’t been affected as a result of the accident, it had still taken time for him to get his co-ordination and strength back. All the work he’d done in the pool had paid dividends though. The injured man had been increasing the length of his walks recently, having only been able to do a few steps when he’d first started his therapy.

Ezra caught sight of Nathan and lost concentration momentarily. He veered sideways, almost stumbling, and his therapist quickly grabbed his arm and straightened him out. Ezra stopped and regained his composure before starting off toward Nathan again. He concentrated hard on putting one foot carefully in front of the other and watched the distance shorten between him and his friend.

“Zz…ig zz…zag,” he said as he came to a halt in front of the medic with a smile. The agent spoke in a childlike way, through no fault of his own. He unconsciously cut out all unnecessary words so that he could communicate adequately. The end result was a childish dialogue, but as long as it got the job done, who cared? The fact that he was actually beginning to string words together was all that mattered.

“Yeah, sorry if I put you off. You were doing real well before that, Ez. I was watching you.”

“T…t..tired n..n…n…now.” Ezra always tended to stutter more when he was tired. Speaking required total concentration at all times and that on its own tired him out. The fact that he was doing physical exercise too was sometimes more than he could cope with.

Nathan smiled up at his friend in understanding. “I can imagine. Let’s get you back to your room, shall we?”

Ezra nodded, so Nathan stood and took up position on the other side of this friend from Jeff, the therapist. The medic held out his arm and Ezra looped his left arm through slowly and leaned against Nathan like he was a crutch.

“All set, then?” the medic asked as he patted Ezra’s hand gently.

“Y..yes, rrr…ready,” Ezra said quietly as he tightened his grip on Nathan’s arm as best he could.

The three men started walking slowly toward the building. Ezra’s pace got slower the further he went but he refused Jeff’s offer of a wheelchair. They entered the side door at a snail’s pace and went along the hallway to Ezra’s room. Nathan and Jeff lowered him onto the bed and first took off his shoes before removing the rest of his clothes and putting on his pajamas.

Josiah ambled in just as Ezra lay back on the pillows with a loud contented sigh. The profiler moved up to the bed and smiled in greeting when he caught Ezra’s eye.

“W…w…walked,” Ezra said earnestly as soon as he saw him.

“Did you? That’s great, son,” Josiah said, detecting the real pleasure in his friend’s voice as a result of his accomplishment.

Ezra nodded and took a deep breath. “W..w…..w…walked m..m..miles. W..w.ore out”

“Really?” Josiah replied with a laugh as he ruffled Ezra’s hair in delight. “We’ll have to buy you a new pair then.”

“Red,” the undercover agent stated decisively with a firm nod of his head.

“Red ones? Have to see what we can find, Ez.”

Ezra’s eyes shone as he smiled back at the big man. He really felt upbeat for once and he couldn’t contain his good mood.

“See you tomorrow, Ezra,” Jeff said as he waved.

“B…bye.. bye,” Ezra replied in farewell as he waved too.

After watching his therapist leave, the undercover agent turned his gaze to the window and thought back on his walk. He sighed in contentment as he moved his attention to the water jug by his bed. He licked his lips in anticipation of tasting the cool liquid and then lifted his eyes to meet Josiah’s before licking his lips again.

“Thirsty, Ez?” Josiah asked, guessing the man’s desire without the need for words.


“You’re as thirsty as a fish? Lordy, you’d better have some of that water that you’re staring so hard at.”

Josiah filled a glass and held it while Ezra drank noisily. The young man let out a loud sigh when he’d drunk his fill and then wiped his mouth on his forearm when Josiah took the glass away.


“W…w…wet,” Ezra agreed with a lopsided grin.

“Good. Reckon he coulda drunk the sea dry, Nate,” the profiler said as he exchanged amused glances with Nathan. It seemed that Ezra still had his sense of humor, if nothing else, and a sense of humor was half the battle in circumstances such as these.

“Reckon yer right,” the medic laughed.

Both men sat beside the bed and kept their friend company until they were eventually thrown out in the late evening.

+ + + + + + +

The following day, Ezra had another speech session scheduled.

“Hello, Ezra. How is it going?” Kate asked as her patient took a seat opposite her. She studied him critically and smiled.

“F..fine.” Ezra nodded as he clasped his fingers together anxiously. He found the speech sessions the most nerve-racking and embarrassing. He tried to put his concerns to the back of his mind and concentrated on speaking as best he could. He couldn’t afford to let his mind wander at all, even though he wasn’t going to use his usual fancy language.

“Ready to start then?”


Kate smiled again as she tried to relax her patient. She knew from previous experience how much Ezra dreaded these sessions.

“Okay, well why don’t you begin by telling me what you’ve been doing since we last met?”

Ezra paused for a moment while he went over in his head exactly what he wanted to say. When he was ready he took a deep breath. “Sw..wim..ming p..pool. L..lots of swim..ming pool. I..I can n..n…nearly swim now,” he informed her proudly.

“Terrific. Anything else?” Kate said encouragingly.

“I had s…saus..sages yesterday. I l..liked them,” Ezra admitted with a grin. It may seem an odd thing to mention but it had meant a lot to the undercover agent.

“Why? What was so special about them?” Kate asked curiously, wondering why sausages had made such an impression.

“I’d a..almost f..for..gotten what they tat..tasted like. They w..were nice.”

“Great. Have you been outside in the fresh air this week?”

Ezra nodded in pleasure when he remembered his session with Jeff the day before. He felt a sense of freedom when he was allowed outside. The sounds of the birds, and even the traffic, were enjoyable after being in the confines of the medical facility for so long. “Y..yes. W..we w…w..walked in the g..gard..den.”

The therapist was pleased with Ezra’s progress. She had wanted to see how he was putting words and sentences together, and he was doing it well. She smiled and then continued with the regular aspects of the session. Ezra relaxed considerably the further the therapy session continued, which was a great improvement.

“Kate? How’d it go?” Nathan asked once Ezra had gone back to his room. The medic had hovered about in the hallway waiting for the session to end so that he could talk to Kate.

“He’s trying very hard and it’s beginning to show. He still stutters but not nearly as badly as last week. I’m really pleased with his progress. From what I’ve heard from his physical therapists, he may be able to go home sooner than we thought. He’s astounded us, he really has.”

Nathan felt his eyes fill with tears. They’d all been praying for a miracle and maybe it had just happened. He knew that Ezra had been getting itchy feet lately. The undercover agent spent most of his spare time sitting by the window in his room staring out longingly. The man had also taken to wandering round the building as best he could. So much so, that Nathan had been getting concerned that Ezra may well take the extra step and head off for home by himself. The undercover agent had a loathing of all things medical and always tried to escape at the first opportunity. To have been incapacitated for so long must now be wearing on his nerves, and now that he was more mobile he was likely to take things into his own hands. Hopefully he would now be leaving officially.

“You okay, Nate?” Buck asked when he met the medic in the hallway ten minutes later.

“Yeah. Ez may be able to come home soon.”

“Really?” the ladies’ man said in surprise. “That’s terrific. Do we know when?”

“No, but Kate thinks real soon.”

+ + + + + + +

The doctor obviously agreed. He thought that Ezra might improve more quickly if he was surrounded by familiarity and friends. Ezra would still need regular therapy at the rehabilitation center but he was improving daily. However, Dr. Peel only set a date for Ezra’s release when he was happy that his patient was steady on his feet and stable enough to cope.

On the given day, almost two weeks later, Chris turned up to collect his friend and he hurried inside the building.

Dr. Peel had been awaiting his arrival and caught him in reception. “Hello, Chris. I just want to say a few things before you go to pick up Ezra.” The doctor studied the blond and smiled. “Ezra’s still going to need help with a lot of things. He can’t dress himself or go to the john without assistance. Anything that calls for awkward movements with his hands is going to cause trouble. His left hand shakes badly although its movement has improved immensely. His right arm has regained half movement but he still can’t rely on it to work at all times. Are you sure you’re happy to cope with this?”

“Yes, I’m positive that we’ll manage fine. We just want him home ‘cause these last five months have been torture on all of us.”

“Okay, well good luck and we’ll see Ezra when he comes back for his therapy sessions.”

Chris hurried along to Ezra’s room. “Ready to come home, Ez?” the blond asked when he found Ezra waiting in the hallway.

“Ye..yes,” Ezra replied eagerly, almost bouncing up and down in excitement. He could hardly sit still and he’d been up since the crack of dawn in readiness.

The blond smiled at his friend’s eagerness. “Come on, then. All the guys are waiting for you at the ranch.” Chris picked up the man’s sparse belongings and took him out to the Ram.

The journey was spent in silence as Ezra drank in the scenery. He felt as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. He was free!

“Hello, Ez,” Buck greeted on their arrival at the ranch.

“Mr. W..Wilm...mingt..ton,” Ezra stuttered as he stepped up onto the porch.

“Come inside, Ez. Let’s get you settled.” Chris took him along to the bedroom that he’d assigned the man. He’d chosen the one opposite his so that Ezra could find him if need be in the night.

“Arnie,” Ezra said suddenly as he looked out the window into the yard.

“What about him, Ez?” Chris asked in confusion.

“Wh..where is he?”

“He’s out in the barn, I reckon,” the blond replied with a shrug.

Ezra turned and walked slowly out of the room and past his curious friends. He headed across the yard and stepped inside the barn while calling the canine’s name. Arnie saw him and ran to meet him excitedly with a loud, welcoming bark.

Ezra smiled and bent down to greet the dog. “Hello, Arnie. I d..dreamt about and I’ve m...missed your ch..cheeky grin.”

His friends, who had all followed behind, laughed. Ezra and Arnie had a very close friendship and Ezra was the one that the dog always ran to first. It seemed only right that Ezra would return the favor after such a long time apart.

+ + + + + + +

That first night at the ranch, Ezra woke in the early hours and struggled out of bed to go to the bathroom. His bedroom door had closed and he reached out his shaking left hand to open it. The door handle was metallic, shiny, and round in shape. Ezra tried to grip it but his hand slipped without moving it at all. He began to feel panicked and claustrophobic so he pounded on the door desperately.

Chris heard the banging and hurried to his friend’s room and opened the door. “Ez? You alright?” he asked when he saw the upset man standing inside awkwardly with crossed legs.

“C..could..dn’t op…pen d..dd..door,” Ezra stuttered as he wriggled uncomfortably.

“Well, you’re out now. Where were ya goin’? Bathroom?” Chris asked as he patted Ezra’s back in comfort. The man’s body posture and crossed legs was a dead giveaway as to what he wanted to do.

Ezra nodded and set off with the blond. They returned later after seeing to Ezra’s needs and Chris wedged the bedroom door open.

“There ya go. It won’t shut now,” the blond assured kindly.


Chris helped his friend get back into bed and then turned out the light as he hoped that Ezra would now sleep until dawn. Chris headed back to his own bed and lay awake for a while in case Ezra still needed him for anything. After an hour of silence, though, the blond fell asleep.

The next morning, Chris went to Ezra’s bedroom and looked inside to find Ezra perched on the edge of the bed.

“Ready to get dressed?”


Chris sorted out what was needed and first took Ezra’s pajamas off. He picked up Ezra’s boxers and put them on the injured agent carefully. He added each layer of clothing until Ezra was fully dressed. He kept things simple: boxers, sweatpants and t-shirt.

“Okay, let’s get you washed and shaved,” the blond said as he escorted his friend along to the bathroom.

Washing and shaving someone else wasn’t easy. Although Chris had, of course, washed Adam, his late son, he’d never had to shave anyone before. He was glad that he had an electric shaver because he’d have hated to attempt the job with a blade. He completed the task successfully and next cleaned Ezra’s teeth awkwardly before combing his hair so that it was at least tidy.

The undercover agent would have liked to have done the tasks for himself but knew he wasn’t up to it. No matter his friend’s good intentions no one ever cleaned teeth, or shaved, in the same way, or as well as, you did yourself.

When all the ablutions were complete, Chris took Ezra down to the kitchen for breakfast. This was going to prove to be the routine for weeks to come for the two men. All the other men, though, did take turns to help take care of Ezra so that Chris could catch up with things at work and at home.

At the weekend the whole group converged on the ranch to take pleasure in being together again. It had been a long time since they’d been able to do so and it was the highlight of their week. They took things easy and didn’t crowd Ezra, letting him find his feet and allowing him to spend time with whom he wanted.

+ + + + + + +

Another week passed and Chris sat down beside his friend in the living room as he wondered how the man was going to react to what he had to say.

“Ez? We’ve all gotta go to work from Monday to help out on a big case. I’ll only be gone for the afternoon on the first day but after that I’ll have to be away all day. I’ve arranged for Mary, Rain and Nettie to come stay with you while I’m gone.” Chris looked at Ezra to see how he was reacting and the injured agent didn’t look overly happy.

The three ladies concerned had been only too pleased to offer their services when Chris had approached them the day before. They often helped out in times of trouble and the blond trusted them to take care of Ezra properly. Well, Chris could hardly not

trust one particular lady, because she happened to be his girlfriend. Mary was blonde, beautiful and sassy and worked as a freelance journalist. The two lovers enjoyed a turbulent relationship because they were both headstrong individuals but they did have a lot in common. Both had lost loved ones to murder and each had helped the other to get their lives back on track.

The next invited lady, Rain, was Nathan’s girlfriend and was a nurse at Mercy hospital. She had met Nathan when he’d been an EMT and it had been love at first sight. The two were usually inseparable.

Last, but by no means least, was Nettie. She was the oldest of the trio: well past retirement age. She’d become known to the team through Vin. The sharpshooter had lived on the streets for years after his mother had died until Nettie had taken him in during his teens. She loved him as her own and had now become a matriarchal figure to the rest of the team too. She spoke her mind forcefully but she was also kindhearted and caring. She had definitely developed a soft-spot for the undercover agent although it wasn’t always plain to see.

“You’ll be okay with them, won’t you?” the blond asked when Ezra remained silent.

“ I h..h..have a ch..choice?” Ezra muttered darkly.

“I thought you liked them,” Chris replied, slightly miffed at Ezra’s reaction.

The undercover agent faced Chris and could see that the blond looked a bit upset. “I, b..but N..Nettie’s bossy, Rain t..t..talks non..nonstop ab..about Nat, and M..Mary’s f..f..ffussy.”

Chris laughed at Ezra’s explanation. “Is it really so bad?” he asked.

“Y..yes,” Ezra said in horror. He sighed and asked, “W..why all th..three c..c..coming?”

“Well, Nettie is the only one of them available fulltime but I don’t think she can cope with you on her own. What if you had a fall? I’m not sure she could get you up again without help. So Mary and Rain will be here with her, either together or one at a time depending on when they have to work, so that I know you’ll be okay. Do you understand?”

“Y..yes, but th..there’s only with n..n..norma..mally,” Ezra replied, still querying the arrangements.

“Well, I can cope with you on my own and I’m happy to do so, but when I’m not here I want you cared for by more than one person. I’d just be less anxious at work if I know that you’re being looked after well, okay?” Chris shrugged and turned serious. He really didn’t have any other alternative. “Well, it’s too late to change plans. You’ll just have to suffer their company.”

“T..tort..turer,” Ezra grumbled.

“Oh, Ez,” Chris said indulgently.

+ + + + + + +

Monday arrived much too fast for Ezra’s liking. He kept himself occupied during the morning by doing a few exercises with his hands but his mind was full of the prospect of his forthcoming female company. Time passed quickly and before he realized it, it was lunchtime.

“Hungry, Ez?”

“A b..bit.”

“Okay, well tuck in,” the blond encouraged.

He ate a few of the sandwiches that Chris passed over and washed them down with a mug of tea. The blond then took Ezra along to the bathroom to see to his bodily functions before settling the man in the living room. Ezra sat on the couch, scowling unhappily as he waited for his carers to arrive. Chris, meanwhile, began running round collecting what he needed for work.

“Hello, Fancy-pants,” Nettie greeted with a grin as she stepped in from the kitchen.

The undercover agent looked up in distaste. “Oh, V..v..viper-t..t..tongued harpy.”

Nettie’s grin widened at the insult. “Now, now. Is that any way to talk to your nurse? I can arrange all sorts of treatments for you if you don’t talk nice.”

Ezra smiled sourly as he looked around for a way to escape.

“Mary and Rain will be here any moment,” the elderly lady informed him sadistically.

“Oh,,” Ezra replied sarcastically.

“See you later, Ez.” Chris said as he hurried into the living room with a pile of papers held precariously in his arms.

“If I”

Behave, Ez,” the blond chastised.

Ezra’s bottom lip pouted as he sighed. The rest of the day stretched before him like a hundred years and his stomach dropped at the prospect. He looked up in dismay as his other two guardian angels walked into the room as promised.

“Ez has got out the wrong side of bed, Mary. He’s real grumpy,” Chris warned as he exchanged looks with the blonde.

“We’ll soon cheer him up,” Mary said a bit too enthusiastically for Ezra’s liking.

You’re the c..cause,” he muttered just loud enough for them to hear.

“He’ll need help with going to the bathroom, okay?” Chris said as an afterthought.

“Sure. We’ll take care of everything,” Mary assured him.

Chris nodded his head and left them to it. He hoped he wouldn’t have to pick up the pieces when he got home.

Ezra’s blood seemed to have frozen after hearing Chris’s last comment. Mary help me with going to the bathroom? I think not. I’m not displaying bits of my anatomy to colleagues’ girlfriends, no matter the reason. The most they’ve ever seen is my bare chest and that’s how it’s going to remain. Ezra had damaged the two most important things he possessed: his speech and his dexterity. To have the added humiliation of needing to be helped with the basics of life was truly hard to bear. In the rehabilitation facility he’d had to tolerate it, but he dreaded it with people he only knew as acquaintances. He would allow his friends to do anything for him, but not anyone else.

Ezra stayed where he was for half an hour while the three women fussed about the room. He groaned as it all became a bit claustrophobic for him, so he wandered outside into the yard to get some fresh air and peace and quiet. Arnie spotted him straightaway and came lolloping over to sit at his feet. Ezra sank down on the porch slowly and patted him gently.

“’re luck..cky, Arnie. You can away.”

“Ezra?” an agitated female voice called.

The undercover agent sighed and watched as Arnie did indeed scamper off. Ezra then turned round in trepidation to see what his jailor had to say.

Nettie came out onto the porch and crossed her arms haughtily. “What are you doing out here? You’ll catch your death. Come inside this minute.”

“I..I’m f…f..fine,” Ezra replied, his stutter increasing in agitation.

“I’ll be the judge of that.”

Ezra rose meekly and went back inside the kitchen. He wasn’t going to push his luck too far at this moment, but things might change if the chance arose. He didn’t get very far before yet another guardian pounced on him. As soon as she saw him enter the room, Mary approached and felt his brow, much to Ezra’s annoyance. She was as bad as Nathan.

“N..n...not s..sssick,” he grumbled, hardly getting out his words adequately.

“Well, we aim to hand you back in the same condition that Chris gave you to us. We’re not taking any chances,” Rain said with a glint in her eye.

Ezra didn’t quite like the way she looked at him and he wondered what the three women had in store. He switched his gaze to Mary and Nettie before returning to Rain. The ladies stood in a semicircle in front of him and he felt trapped.

“S…sm…moth..ther..thered,” Ezra whispered.

Nettie sighed and her heart melted when she realized that Ezra’s stammer was increasing significantly. This was the first time that she’d seen the agent for a long time and she couldn’t help but compare this stuttering man to his previous self. Although she liked to tease him, as he did her, they were secretly respectful of one another. To outsiders it may not appear so, but their potentially hurtful comments were all taken in good part. Nettie just couldn’t get used to seeing Ezra like this though. He was a shadow of his former self.

She sighed again and gave in. “Alright, Fancy-pants, I can’t stand seeing such a handsome man so depressed. Let’s compromise. You behave sensibly, but stay inside the house. Amuse yourself as you want, within reason, and we won’t harass you.”

Ezra narrowed his eyes and nodded before setting off to the living room. He turned on the television after a few attempts and then flopped on the couch dejectedly.

Nettie nodded in satisfaction. Perhaps now that his leash had been loosened a bit he’d behave himself. The three women sat in the kitchen chatting and drinking coffee. They could hear the sound of the television in the other room and so relaxed slightly. After half an hour had gone by, Nettie decided to check on their charge. She wandered through and found the television on but Ezra gone.

She pursed her lips angrily. “Damn the man. Girls? He’s gone. Search the yard and house.”

The three ladies searched unsuccessfully and met up in the kitchen worriedly. Ezra was a slippery customer at the best of times but Nettie had hoped that his current condition would have limited his notorious escape attempts.

Never assume, she thought to herself.

“Shall we call Chris?” Mary asked as she looked at her companions.

Nettie shook her head in exasperation. “No, I have a feeling that Ezra will turn up just before Chris is due back. He knows just how far to push things.”

She was right. Ezra ambled in with Arnie at his heels late afternoon as if nothing was wrong.

“Just where in the hell have you been?” Nettie asked ominously as she stood with hands on hips. She instinctively blocked his movements as he tried to step round her. She wanted an answer to her question no matter what.


The elderly lady felt her temper slipping. He really was the most irritating person sometimes. “I know that. I want to know where?”

“W…w..walk..king,” Ezra replied as his face turned red on seeing how mad Nettie looked. In truth, Ezra had been sitting by the creek. He hadn’t the strength, or energy, for walking around too much. He’d worn himself out just walking to the creek in the first place.

Nettie scowled. “We had an agreement that you wouldn’t leave the house. Chris will not be happy, young man, when I tell him.”


“Don’t care about what, Ez?” Chris asked as he stepped into the room. He detected the strained atmosphere and wondered what he’d walked in to. Something had obviously happened between the four occupants of the room.

Ezra spun round as he heard the blond’s voice and he almost lost his balance as a result. He flailed his arms about wildly and Chris reached out a quick hand to keep him upright. The blond then looked at Nettie curiously, wanting an answer to his question.

“What’s been going on?” he asked insistently when no one spoke.

Rain sighed and admitted, “Ezra’s been gone for most of the afternoon.”

“What? Is that true, Ez?” Chris asked sharply as he turned his attention back to his agent.

Ezra lifted the corner of his mouth awkwardly and nodded. He then waited quietly for the expected storm from the blond. It came.

“Why? You knew I needed to be at work. I have to know that you’re safe while I’m gone,” Chris said angrily, unable to help himself as he still kept a firm grip on Ezra’s arm.

“I…I w..w..wasss s.s.ssafe,” Ezra said in a slightly slurred voice.

Chris sighed when he heard the state of his friend’s language. He was definitely very upset judging by his inability to be clear. Chris let go his hold and backed off because he knew better than to carry on with his tirade right now.

The oldest lady put a hand on Chris’s arm and diverted his attention to her instead. “It was our fault, Chris. We were overbearing and when we gave him space he inevitably disappeared. I didn’t think he’d be up to doing a Houdini act though.”

“Nor did I and I’m sorry, Nettie. It won’t happen again, will it, Ez?”

Ezra shook his head sadly as he shuffled from foot to foot. He was too tired to argue and all he wanted to do was go to bed.

“See you tomorrow then, Ezra,” Mary said as she patted his back in comfort.

Chris saw his guests off the premises and then returned to the kitchen to find Ezra sitting at the table looking exhausted and worried. The injured agent expected Chris to really let rip now that he didn’t have an audience.

“You okay, son?” the blond asked softly instead.

Ezra shrugged and wouldn’t look at his friend. He regretted his actions but he didn’t feel that he had a choice at the time. He may have been cowardly but there were some things he just wasn’t going to stand for; being taken to the john by one of the three ladies was one of them.

“Where did you go?”

Ezra glanced briefly at his companion, not understanding why he wasn’t yelling at him again. “Creek. Arnie c….c..came. H..had m..m…my c..cell. Was s..s..sssensible and sssafe.”

Chris nodded even though he knew that Ezra wouldn’t have been able to handle the cell if he’d needed to. Ezra’s hands still shook badly when trying to do things that required real effort or were fiddly. The blond decided not to press the man any further right now though. It would either result in a hissy fit of gargantuan proportions, or Ezra would cease to be able to speak at all because of his upset.

“Okay, we’ll speak tomorrow. Let’s just eat and then get some rest. You look kinda tired and I know that I sure as hell am.”