Highway Heroes

by Joy K

The rest of the night passed uneventfully. JD slept the night through, as did Vin. Sleep didn't come so easy in the Larabee house - between the late night trip to get Ezra and the phone call from Nathan a couple of hours later, Chris wasn't ready to face the day, let alone the weary undercover agent.

Ezra was silent. Chris had steered the weary man through the motions of getting ready, and drove him into town. Ezra hadn't said a single word all morning, and from the looks of it, was suffering from a killer headache.

"Where's your Dry Cleaner?" he asked.

"Fifth and Wilcox." Ezra winced as if the sound of his own voice exacerbated his headache.

After a quick stop at the Dry Cleaner's and then the office where Ezra changed, Chris accompanied his agent to the courthouse. Standish didn't need a baby sitter, but Larabee felt the need to be in the courtroom today. His natural protective instinct made him want to be at the hospital with Vin and JD, but last night had made it abundantly clear that the team had suffered three casualties, not two, and Ezra needed the team's support as much as his physically injured teammates.

The courtroom was closed to visitors allowing only the attorneys, the defendant, the jury and court staff. Witnesses were kept in a separate area until needed. Ezra was in a different room to help protect his identity. His testimony was given on closed circuit television, disguised by darkness.

Chris sat in the darkened room watching his agent testify, calm and professional despite the headache he knew Ezra suffered. He shook his head with a smirk. It always amazed him to see Ezra transform into one of his undercover personas. There wasn't even a trace of a southern accent as he spoke, his statements simple and straightforward. Eddie Samuels to the core.

It made the blond briefly wonder if the drawl and fancy talk was just another persona for their benefit.

He half smiled as Ezra was Ezra in his testimony. He could hear the frustration creeping in to the defense attorney's voice as Standish danced around his attempts to trap him.

Ezra P. Standish. Chris was certain the P stood for 'Pain-in-the-ass.' His smirk widened as he heard the judge taking the defense attorney to task for trying to continue to allude to the rumors about Ezra's past in Atlanta. He had already ruled that it wasn't pertinent to the case and threatened the attorney with contempt if he tried to bring it up again.

Ezra coughed and covered his mouth, but not quick enough for Chris to miss the southerner's grin despite the darkened room.

The cocky smile stayed with the southerner as he was dismissed, gracing his face all the way to the parking garage.

As he approached Chris' truck, his step slowed, his shoulders drooped and the smile disappeared. Reality slammed home full force. Things may have gone his way in court, but his teammates lay in the hospital in serious condition. He rubbed his face with both hands waiting for Chris to unlock the doors. The headache he'd managed to push aside during testimony was now making itself known with pounding throbs.

He felt Chris' hand on the back of his neck, a huge show of support from a man who wasn't big on physical contact.

"You did great," Chris affirmed. "We're going to get through this," he added softly.

Ezra nodded but didn't meet his boss's gaze.

"Let's get something to eat and head over to the hospital," said Chris as he unlocked the doors with his remote.

"I'm not hungry," Ezra replied softly as he climbed into the truck.

Chris climbed into the driver's side and closed the door, pausing to take a good look at Ezra's pale complexion and the dark circles under his eyes. He was perfectly groomed, not a hair out of place, but his exhaustion was obvious. If this continued, he was going to make himself sick. He needed nourishment and rest.

Starting the engine, he put the truck in gear and pulled out of the parking lot. He wanted to head straight to the hospital and check on Vin and JD, but making sure Ezra ate something was just as important. Sheffield's was a little out of the way, but it was one of the Southerner's favorite restaurants and it seemed like a good idea.

He made a left at the next light.

Ezra's head jerked up. "Where are we going?"

"I said we were going to get lunch before going to the hospital," Chris answered.

"And I said I wasn't hungry."

Larabee kept his eyes on the road but smirked at the annoyed tone. At least it was a reaction. Maybe Ezra was starting to find his feet again.

"Well, I am, and since I'm driving..." He let the sentence hang.

Ezra looked out the passenger window and sighed.

"I'm buying," Chris offered.

"It better not be McDonalds," Ezra grumbled.

+ + ATF + +

Vin huffed out a frustrated breath. He ached everywhere and he couldn't even shift to ease the pain.

"Are you all right?" Josiah asked quietly.

"That's a @&#*$(% stupid question!" Vin growled.

Josiah stood and moved into the Texan's line of sight.

Vin closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them. "Sorry," he said.

"Nothing to be sorry for," said Josiah. "If I were in your shoes I'd be mighty frustrated, hurting... and maybe a little scared."

Vin's eyes darted away at the last word. Hell yes he was scared, but just like every one of Team Seven, he was reluctant to admit it.

"I hate the waiting," he finally whispered.

Josiah nodded.

"So they're gonna take JD to surgery pretty soon?"

Josiah nodded again, recognizing the diversion and knowing that Vin wasn't ready to open up about his fears or the "what ifs" of his injuries. He watched Tanner grimace in pain and try to disguise it. The big man reached over to the pain pump and put the control in Vin's hand.

"It doesn't help if you don't use it," he said quietly.

"I hate this stuff," Vin muttered as he administered his own pain medication.

Josiah hid his smile. He didn't want to do anything to deter Vin from using the pain medications.

"How do you think Ez is doing in court? Maybe you should go check on JD. Tell him I'm thinking about him and I'm sorry I can't get up there and see him."

This time he couldn't hide the smile. Vin's medication was definitely kicking in as the young man began to babble.

"I'll tell him, Vin," said Josiah, tucking Vin's sheet up over his shoulder. "You get some sleep now."

Vin briefly struggled to keep his eyes open, but the medication won the battle and he drifted to sleep.

+ + ATF + +

Chris had seen Ezra's slight smile as he turned in to Sheffield's parking lot. He'd also seen the questioning glance and the deep breath as Ezra seemed to pull himself together. The restaurant had been a strategic move on Chris' part. He hoped that maybe the comfort of a familiar place with favorite foods would help make the thought of eating more palatable, and he was fairly certain that the gentleman in the southerner would make him feel obliged to eat something since it would be rude to refuse when Chris was paying.

Ezra had greeted the host with his usual flair and they were escorted to his regular table. He chatted amicably with the host before reading the menu.

Maybe testifying in court and playing his undercover persona had given him the focus he needed.

Or not.

Ezra had perused for the past fifteen minutes a menu he knew by heart.

"You need to eat," Chris said softly, "or you'll make yourself sick."

"That is exactly what I'm trying to avoid," Ezra quipped with a smirk.

Unfortunately, Larabee knew there was more truth than humor in the statement. "Does anything sound appealing?" he asked.

"Well, anything with red sauce is definitely out."

Chris swore softly. That ruled out half the menu at the swanky Italian restaurant. And the entrée he was about to order. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't think..."

"It's all right," said Ezra. "You were trying to lure me to eat with comfortable surroundings."

"I'm that obvious?"

Ezra nodded with a smile. "Thank you," he added softly.

"Are you ready, Sir?" asked the waiter.

Ezra nodded to Chris to order first. He went with Fettuccine Alfredo and Ezra followed his order with a request for a house salad and bread sticks.

They ate their meal in relative silence. Ezra made a valiant effort at eating. He managed a few bites of salad and two bread sticks before he gave up and started pushing his food around.

He looked up when he sensed Chris staring at him.


Chris had a smirk on his face. "I was just thinking about Brewster. You had him running in circles."

Ezra grinned slightly. "I think the judge helped. If your only defense is that the witness' background is suspect, that hardly refutes the evidence."

"You're good, Ezra," Chris said sincerely.

Standish faltered. He wasn't sure what to do with the compliment and while it made him feel warm inside, it also made him uncomfortable.

"I know," he said sounding cocky, but the hesitation had been long enough for Chris to see that his words had been heard and acknowledged.

"You're also a pompous ass," Chris laughed.

"Thank you."

The grin on Ezra's face and the natural banter gave Chris more hope that Ezra was on the way up from the pit of grief and confusion of the past few days. He still had some serious issues to deal with, but it looked like with some rest he'd begin to face what had happened, not only to Vin and JD, but himself as well.

+ + ATF + +

Josiah approached JD's room. He had already seen him once in the morning, but wanted to check in on him before he was taken to surgery for repairs to his jaw.

"Hey," said Buck softly as he noticed Josiah's arrival. He and Nathan stood next to JD's bed. Buck was holding JD's hand and comfortingly running his thumb across the young agent's knuckles. "He's just about out."

JD blinked his swollen eyelids in an attempt to stay awake.

"Go to sleep, Son," said Josiah. "We'll be here when you wake up."

Nathan resisted the urge to check JD's monitors, instead focusing on his teammate. "They're going to take care of your jaw and get rid of that tube."

JD's eyes tracked to Nathan as he tried to resist the anesthetic.

"Vin sends his best," Josiah added. "And Chris and Ezra are on their way from lunch," he said, relaying the information he received in a phone call from the team leader, "but probably won't get here before they take you in. Chris says they'll be here when you wake up."

JD's eyes closed as the anesthetic won the battle.

"It's going to be fine," Buck assured, hoping he was telling the truth.

+ + ATF + +

Josiah returned to Vin's room, sitting with the sharpshooter as he slept. He noticed the same restlessness that Nathan had mentioned earlier. He rested a hand on Vin's shoulder and spoke soft reassurances until the young man stilled.

Vin wasn't the only one who hated the waiting. Nothing seemed worse than sitting helplessly at the bedside of a friend, a family member and being able to do nothing.

Unless, of course, you were the person in the bed.

Josiah wordlessly voiced a prayer for Vin who rested beside him, and for JD who was hopefully in recovery. He was about to add a wily southerner to the list when Ezra and Chris entered the room.

Seeing Vin was asleep, the three men stepped out into the hall so they wouldn't disturb him.

"How's JD?" Chris asked.

"He was supposed to be out of surgery about now," Josiah answered, checking his watch. "How'd court go?"

Ezra's smug grin appeared momentarily and Josiah chuckled.

"Ezra had the defense going in circles," Chris praised.

Josiah squeezed the back of Ezra's neck and gave him a playful push. "Good for you."

Standish regained his balance and straightened his jacket. The grin faded as he found he faced Vin's door.

"He's doing okay," Josiah said softly. "A little frustrated that he can't move yet, and a lot more in pain than he'll admit, but he's using the pain pump without too much encouragement. He fell asleep about an hour ago."

Ezra nodded. The guilt he felt was still evidenced on his face, but there was also resignation. He still felt the guilt, but the fact that he couldn't change the outcome was setting in and becoming reality. No amount of bargaining could change the fact that Vin was in a hospital bed looking at the possibility of paralysis and JD might have brain damage. He couldn't trade places with them and he couldn't fix things as if it had never happened.

"You wanna stay here or go up and check on JD?" asked Chris.

Ezra sighed softly. He really didn't want to do either. He cared deeply about Vin and JD but looking at them reminded him of his failure to...

To what? What could he have done differently?


"Sorry," he said, shaking himself from his contemplation. "Why don't I stay with Vin while you and Josiah check on Mr. Dunne. And then perhaps Josiah would like some lunch?"

Chris nodded in agreement. He watched as Ezra silently slipped into Vin's room, knowing full well that Ezra was hoping that Vin wouldn't wake up on his watch.

+ + ATF + +

The waiting room was a little more vibrant than it had been for the past few days. JD was in surgery now, but he had been awake and seemed to recognize everyone and that was great news. There was still concern over brain damage from the lack of oxygen, but hopes were high.

Things were changing in Vin's room as well. Much to Ezra's dismay, Vin had awakened during his "shift." Neither of them was really ready to face what had happened, so they chatted aimlessly about the weather, the court case, and anything else that didn't steer them toward the accident.

Eventually the room fell silent, both of them wondering about JD and hoping that he would be all right. Ezra glanced at his watch.

"Go," said Vin. "See how he's doing."

Ezra shook his head. "I'm to stay. Josiah said he would keep us informed. When he comes back I have to go pick up a prescription."

Vin took his words the wrong way. "I don't need a damn babysitter," he growled in frustration.

Ezra looked at him, slightly startled by the change in mood, but he said nothing.

His silence frustrated Vin even more. He needed to vent, he wanted a fight and Ezra just sat there. Usually Ezra was great to verbally spar with - he could debate circles around your argument and he didn't take it personally. But now he just sat there. Vin let out a string of curses.

Ezra sat in silence as Vin spewed his frustration. Vin needed to vent and Ezra felt he deserved to be on the receiving end of the anger. Under normal circumstances the southerner wouldn't stand for this kind of treatment, but these were far from normal circumstances and he felt Vin had every right to cuss at him and more.

Fortunately for everyone, Josiah walked in. He walked over to the bed and laid his hand on Vin's shoulder.

Vin's eyes flicked in his direction.

"I know you're hurting, but I could hear you clear down the hall," he chided gently.

"I don't care who the @#$^&*(% can hear me!"

"Yes, you do," said Josiah gently. "You know there are other patients who are hurting and need rest."

Vin closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths. He was angry and wanted the whole world to know, but Josiah was right. He didn't have a right to subject others to his frustration.

"Sorry," he said softly.

Josiah nodded and patted Vin's shoulder.

"Sorry, Ezra," said Vin.

When the southerner didn't answer, Josiah turned and looked. Ezra was gone.

+ + ATF + +

"Have you heard from Ezra?" asked Chris.

Josiah and Nathan both looked up from their computers. "I haven't seen him since before JD's surgery," said Nathan.

"I tried to call last night," said Josiah, "but his machine picked up."

Chris looked at the clock again. Ezra was more than an hour late. Undercover agents had more flexibility in their hours than most agents simply due to the nature of their job. When he was on assignment, he might go for days, even weeks without physically checking in to the office. When he wasn't on assignment, he was expected to be on time in the office, like everyone else. Ezra had a knack for intentionally arriving at the last second just to irritate Chris. He was known for pushing the envelope on timeliness, but he was rarely late. And this was beyond late.

"I'll try his condo," said Josiah.

"I'll call his cell," said Nathan.

"And I'll call Buck," said Chris.

Each man moved to make his phone call.

"Tanner's House of Torture," said Buck as he answered the phone in Vin's hospital room.

Chris could hear Vin in the background saying sarcastically, "Ha. Ha. Very funny."

"Hush, Junior," Buck said with a grin. "I'm on the phone. Hello?"

"Are you done?" asked Chris.

"What's wrong?" asked Buck.

"Has Ezra been there this morning?"

"Let me ask. I was up with JD until ten minutes ago," said Buck. "Vin, has Ezra been by?"

"No. Haven't seen him since yesterday. Said he had to go pick up a prescription."

"Did you catch that?" asked Buck.

"Yes," said Chris. "Prescription?"

"Prescription?" Buck relayed the question.

"How the hell should I know?" Vin replied grumpily. "He couldn't get out of here quick enough. It was probably just an excuse."

"Not a good morning?" Chris asked quietly.

"No," said Buck. "They took him for an MRI early, and he's been pissed ever since."

"It didn't go well?"

"Don't know yet, but I think bouncing him around set him off," said Buck. "His pain meds don't seem to be keeping it in check. They're looking at getting him something stronger."

Chris sighed. "How's JD?"

"Sleeping. The pain meds are working just fine for him."

"Hang in there, Buck," said Chris. "Josiah will be over in a couple of hours to give you a break."

"Talk to you later," said Buck.

Chris hung up the phone and stepped out of his office. "Anything?"

"Answering machine," said Josiah.

"Voice mail," said Nathan.

None of them voiced their concern, but all three were worried about Ezra's difficulty coping with the accident.

"Vin said Ezra told him he had to pick up a prescription," said Chris.

"For what?" asked Nathan.

"He didn't know," said Chris.

Nathan frowned. "I want to go check his condo."

Chris nodded. "I'll go. You two finish up this assignment."

Nathan looked at Chris, meeting his gaze. He really wanted to go, but as long as someone went to check on Ezra, it was all right. He gave a nod and turned toward his desk.

Chris had seen Nathan's concern, and knew that Josiah shared it as well. Ezra was a mess and they all wanted to help. "I'll call," he said as he stepped into his office and grabbed his jacket.

Twenty minutes later he was pounding on Ezra's door. After knocking repeatedly and getting no response, he used the key Ezra had entrusted to him in case of emergency.

"Ezra?" he called as he entered. Hearing no response he stepped inside. Ezra's jacket was tossed haphazardly on the back of the leather sofa. Mail was scattered across the coffee table and several coffee mugs littered the normally immaculate space, confirming Ezra's inner disarray.

Chris made his way to the southerner's room hoping that he had simply overslept. He'd been avoiding sleep in hopes to avoid his nightmares, but at some point the body would give in to its need.

He pushed open the door and saw Ezra sprawled on his stomach on the bed, face turned to the side and one arm dangling off the bed. A glass rested on its side on the floor beneath his limp fingers, water pooled on the polished hardwood. Chris's eyes drifted up to the nightstand and his heart stopped.

"No, no, no!" he cried as he ran to the bed.

An empty prescription bottle rested on its side on the table, like the glass on the floor. Only four pills remained, scattered across the nightstand, pointing to Chris's worst fear.


+ + ATF + +

"Ezra, wake up!" Chris called, slapping his cheek lightly. Fear surged through him. This couldn't be happening. Not Ezra. Not an overdose.

An unanswered alarm beeped persistently, attesting to Ezra's condition.

"Come on, Ezra. Don't do this." Getting no response he shook him roughly, rolling him onto his back. "Ezra!"

He wasn't sure his friend was even breathing. He paused long enough to watch to see the slight rise and fall of his chest. He was breathing, but it was shallow. "How much did you take?" he whispered before grabbing the phone and dialing 911.

"911. What's your emergency?"

"A possible drug overdose." Chris couldn't believe the words even as he said them.

"What's your location?"

Chris stumbled over the address, still trying to calm himself.

"Hold for a moment while I contact the authorities."

Chris held the phone with one hand and slapped Ezra with the other, striking a little harder with desperation.

"Sir, help is on the way. Is the patient breathing?" asked the operator.

"Yes," said Chris. He continued to try to rouse Ezra as the operator talked him through the situation and helping as much as he could until the paramedics arrived.

He slapped Ezra's face again, praying for a reaction.


The slurred complaint stopped Chris cold. "Ezra? Ezra can you hear me?"

"Go 'way," the southerner mumbled.

"No. You have to wake up," said Chris, setting the phone aside as he grabbed Ezra by the shirt collar and pulled him up into a seated position.

"How much did you take?"

"What?" Ezra was clearly out of it.

"Pills, Ezra. How many did you take?"


"Damn it, Ezra," Chris growled. He balanced Ezra with one hand and grabbed the pill bottle. Holding it in front of Ezra's face, he asked again, "How many pills did you take?"

Ezra blinked, stared at the bottle and blinked again. "One. She said just one."

"You only took one?" asked Chris incredulously. He looked at the bottle. Dr. Brady. If it was the same Dr. Brady he knew, she was a psychiatrist. The prescription was for 5 days, 1 pill per day. Four were still on the table.

"One," Ezra mumbled. "Couldn't sleep... took pill."

"When?" asked Chris, feeling both relief and anger.

"Three," said Ezra with a yawn, "thirty. Tired."

Chris set the bottle down and eased Ezra back down on the bed. He picked up the phone. "Ma'am, I'm sorry, but it was a false alarm. My friend took a sleeping pill in the middle of the night and I couldn't wake him."

"The paramedics will be there shortly," she said. "They're required to complete the call."

Chris understood. It was standard procedure to complete the call, and check and make sure things really were as claimed. It would be too easy for an angry husband to call back and claim his abused wife was just fine now. They needed to make sure the person was safe.

"I understand. Thanks for your help."

Chris ended the call and sank down to the floor, his back against the bed. His shaky legs didn't want to hold him up anymore. He ran trembling hands through his hair, trying to regroup as the adrenaline began to dissipate. He sat quietly for a couple of minutes, slowing his breathing until Ezra groaned.

He forced himself to his feet to check on Ezra. The southerner had pulled his blankets over his head.

Chris pulled them back. "Damn it, Ezra, I thought you tried to kill yourself."

"Off," Ezra mumbled.


"Off," Ezra growled covering his ears. "Off!"

It was only then, when things were calm that Chris realized the alarm clock was still beeping. He fumbled with it a moment before successfully shutting it off.

"Thank you," Ezra said softly, yawning again. "Do you honestly think I'd have set the alarm if I were going to..." he said as he pulled the covers over his head.

Chris shook his head and blew out a sigh. "Go back to sleep, Ezra."

He walked out of the bedroom and pulled the door mostly closed. Flipping open his cell phone he dialed the office.

"Hello, Josiah? Yeah, I found him. He's okay. Took a sleeping pill in the middle of the night and overslept. He was so out of it when I woke him that he didn't even gripe that I was in his condo. Yeah. I told him to go back to sleep. I'm going to hang around here for a couple of hours just to be sure everything's okay. Yeah. When you see the boys tell them I'll be by later."

As he ended the call, the paramedics were knocking at the door. "Sorry, guys," he said as he let them in. "I thought he'd overdosed, but he only took one pill. He just took it really late."

"We have to check him out," said the blond paramedic.

"His bedroom's this way."

Chris led the two men to Ezra's room. "The bottle's on the nightstand."

"What's his name?" asked the dark haired paramedic.

"Ezra Standish."

The blond checked the bottle. "Prescription for five, four on the table," he confirmed.

The other paramedic began checking Ezra's vitals. "Mr. Standish? Mr. Standish can you hear me?"

Chris grimaced. Ezra would not be happy.

"Mr. Standish?"

Ezra groaned. "Go away."

"I can't sir. I have to check you vitals."

Ezra's eyes opened wide as his mind registered the strange voice.

"What the hell..." the stare became a glare that found it's way to Larabee.

+ + ATF + +

"Hey, Kid," said Buck softly. "How're you feeling?"

JD's reply was unintelligible. The wires holding his jaw in place didn't allow for movement, which meant his speech was a mumble at best.

"Doc was pretty happy with your tests. Good thing you have all that empty space up there for your brain to bounce around in, or it could have been worse."

JD glared and gave Buck a one-fingered response.

"Well, you don't seem to be having a problem communicating," said Josiah with a chuckle as he entered the room.

"Ha-ha," JD responded but it sounded more like "mm mm."

Josiah smiled. "Glad to see you feeling better John Dunne," he said patting JD's arm.

JD tried to return the smile, but the effort made him grimace in pain. It would be a while before his injuries would allow that movement comfortably. His headache was almost unbearable, but he didn't want to use the pain medication pump. He needed to be clear headed to know his friends were here. He needed the assurance that Vin was okay, but he also needed the distraction from the trapped feeling of having his jaw wired shut.

"You all right?" Buck asked softly.

Tears filled JD's eyes. He was far from all right, but he knew he was safe.

He felt Buck put the pain pump in his left hand.

"Use it, Kid. I'm not going anywhere."

JD pressed the button for the pain medication and let his eyes slide closed as Buck's voice washed over him with some outlandish story of his exploits with Barbie in Vegas.

+ + ATF + +

The next few days seemed to be repeats of the previous as Vin and JD were heavily dosed with pain meds and spent the majority of the time sleeping. The main difference was that the remainder of Team Seven had to return to work full time. AD Travis had given them extra time off, but now that they knew JD and Vin would survive they had jobs that needed to be done. As much as they wanted to be with their injured teammates, they had a responsibility to chase down bad guys and protect the public.

Down two team members, their field work was limited, but there was always plenty of research and leg work to do behind the scenes. Five members of Team Seven did their best to stay focused, but the empty chairs were a chilling reminder. No one wanted to think about what might have been, but they also wanted to avoid thinking about what would be. Vin and JD, if they could return to work, would be out for at least eight weeks, and Travis wouldn't let them be down two men that long. They'd have to have replacements.

Chris looked at Ezra. He hoped it wouldn't have to be three replacements. Ezra was trying. He was here. He was on time, but he looked tired and lacked his normal grace and wit. His heart was not in his work, but it didn't seem to be with Vin and JD either. His visits to the hospital were few and far between. Likely because he still couldn't deal with the accident and the guilt he assumed over possibly aggravating their injuries. That wasn't like Ezra. Normally the undercover agent dealt swiftly with whatever confronted him. But not this time. Granted the circumstances were severe, but it made Chris wonder if Ezra had been undercover too long or too often; if he had allowed his agent to start to burn out. He watched as Ezra picked up his phone and answered a call. After a brief conversation, Ezra made his way toward Chris's office. Something was up.

+ + ATF + +

"No. You're on leave from field duty until you have a psych eval."

Ezra stared at Chris in disbelief. Another team needed his expertise, and more importantly, he needed the distraction of getting back in the saddle to keep his mind off Vin and JD. And now Chris was insisting that he needed a psychiatric evaluation before he returned to undercover work. He hadn't been injured. There was nothing wrong with him.

"This is about the pills," he said angrily. Though he had not said anything, it hurt him that Chris believed, however briefly, that he had tried to kill himself. It bothered him that Chris thought he'd even consider suicide, let alone carry out a plan. He had the pills because he was having trouble sleeping, nothing more. There was no need to see a psychiatrist.

"It's not about the pills, Ezra," Chris answered evenly. "I jumped to a conclusion. I know you weren't trying to harm yourself." He looked his agent straight in the eyes. "This is about the fact that you've been through a very traumatic event. Hell, we all have. But I don't think you're dealing with it."

"I'm fine," Ezra said curtly. "I wasn't injured. Team 3 needs my assistance."

"No," Chris reaffirmed. "Not until you pass a psychiatric evaluation."

"Then maybe it's time I took Mother up on her offer to visit her in Milan."

"Your choice, Agent Standish," said Chris. "But the evaluation stands, either now or when you get back from Milan."

"Fine," said Ezra. "I'll be going." He stormed out of the office, frustrated and angry that Chris couldn't see there was nothing wrong with him.

Chris watched him go, sighing as the hurting agent left. He had pushed him hard, but Ezra was refusing to see that he needed help. He hoped that Ezra wouldn't follow through with the threat to run off to Milan, but the southerner was pig-headed enough to do just that. He looked up as Josiah rapped on the door frame. Nathan stood next to him with a concerned look on his face.

"Everything okay, Boss?" Josiah asked.

Chris pinched the bridge of his nose. No. Nothing was okay, but that didn't change the fact that they needed to do their jobs. "I think I might have blown it with Ezra."

"He did seem a little unhappy when he left," said Josiah.

"A little?" said Nathan. "He just about ran over me."

"Come in," Chris said waving to the chairs. As they settled he continued. "He wanted to go on assignment with team three. I told him no. Told him he had to have a psych evaluation before returning to field work."

"And Ezra thinks that's pointless," said Josiah.

"Because there's nothing wrong with him," added Nathan.

Chris nodded. "He threatened to run off and join his mother in Milan." He rubbed his hands through his short locks. "I think he's going."

"You did the right thing, Chris," Josiah assured. "You couldn't let him go back to work in his state of mind. He has to be sharp, focused, at his best. He's so wrapped up in Vin and JD right now that he could be a danger to himself or his coworkers just because he's distracted."

Chris sighed. He knew he had done the right thing. He had to protect Ezra when the Southerner couldn't seem to see that he needed some help. With time Ezra would come to his senses and everything would fall back into place.

He hoped.

+ + ATF + +

Somewhere in the back of his mind he knew it had only been a few days since the accident, but to Vin the confinement in the hospital room felt like months. He sighed in frustration knowing that when he was allowed to leave the hospital, he'd still be confined in rehab.

That had been a battle. No one wanted him to go to a rehab facility. To a man, they had all offered that he and JD could stay with them. But it just wasn't practical. No one could be with him 24/7. They had jobs to do. And if push came to shove, he really didn't want any one of them to have to help him with the toilet. He didn't want to have to be 100% "Tanner Tough" for them every second of his recovery. He knew it was going to take all his energy just to get back on his feet. And he would walk. It didn't matter what the doctors thought. There was no option. He would walk.

"Hey, Junior."

Vin had to grin at Buck's greeting. The man had a way of lighting up a room when he came in.

"How's JD?" Vin asked.

Buck sobered a little. "He's gonna be okay, Vin. The doctor thinks his responses are good. He's optimistic that JD isn't showing any signs of..." Buck choked on the words, "brain damage."

Wilmington paused for a steadying breath. "The Kid is frustrated as hell, though. He can't talk. Can you imagine how hard it would be for JD not to talk?"

"Yeah, about as hard as me not walking," Vin growled.

"You can stop that right now," Buck admonished. "Feelin' sorry for yourself isn't going to accomplish anything."

Vin closed his eyes.

"Don't get me wrong, Vin," Buck added. "You've got every reason to be pissed off at what happened to you and JD. But the Vin Tanner I know wouldn't waste valuable energy feeling sorry for himself."

"Go to hell," Vin said angrily.

"Now, that's more like it," said Buck.

Wilmington just grinned at the string of curses that followed. Vin, like JD had a long road ahead of him and his anger and stubbornness would go along way in aiding his recovery.

Noticing Buck's smile, Vin grumbled, "Ah shut up, Buck."

Buck laughed.

"When yer done laughing at me, would you mind getting me a drink?" Vin said. "It's a little hard to reach the cup."

Buck picked up the cup, filled it with some water from the pitcher on Vin's side table, and held it so he could sip through the straw.

Vin drank his fill, then sighed.


"My pleasure," said Buck.

"How's Ezra holding up?" Vin asked. No one had actually told him how much Ezra was struggling, but he had a lot of time to think just laying in a hospital bed, and it was becoming obvious that Ezra was either avoiding them or not up to visiting.

"Well... Ez is running on his last cylinder," Buck said with a concerned frown. "He hasn't been eating much, probably not sleeping either. That boy is carrying a heavy load of guilt."

"Guilt?" asked Vin.

Buck shrugged a little. "I don't know. Seems like part of it is just that you two were hurt and he wasn't."

"He should be glad," said Vin.

"He feels responsible," said Buck. "Thinks maybe if he'd driven faster maybe this wouldn't have happened at all. Or maybe if he hadn't stopped."

"We would have made him stop," Vin said adamantly.

"I know that. And I know even though he doesn't think so, Ezra would have stopped to help, no matter what," said Buck. "But I think his biggest problem is he feels that he may have caused more harm to you and JD because he had to move you."

"Well, that's just stupid," Vin said bluntly. "He saved my life. He saved JD."

"We all know that," Buck agreed, "but Ezra was really rattled by this whole thing. Vin, he literally held JD's life in his hands. He had to rescue breathe for him."

Vin paused and closed his eyes. He had heard bits and pieces, but didn't know the whole story. "I don't remember much," he said softly. "I remember grabbing JD, but the guard rail ripped into my arm and I couldn't hold onto him."

Buck put his hand on Vin's shoulder. "It wasn't your fault, either, Vin. You gotta let it go."

"He's okay?" Vin asked again needing the reassurance that JD would be all right.

Buck nodded. "It'll take time." He reached over and grabbed a couple of tissues from the box on the side table and gently wiped the tears from Vin's cheeks. "I'm going to go grab a snack. That okay with you?"

"Thanks," Vin said softly.

Buck nodded to him and slipped out into the hall giving Vin a chance to regain his composure.

+ + ATF + +

Ezra woke to incessant pounding on his door. He was miserable. It was a monumental effort just to throw back his comforter and sit up in bed, but he knew if he didn't the infernal knocking would never cease. More than likely one of his teammates would find it necessary to break down his door. He didn't need any more trouble with his condo association.

Ezra put his feet on the hardwood floor, reflexively curling his toes at the cold. "Should have gone with the carpet," he muttered as he pushed himself wearily from the bed. The knocking ceased and he let out a sigh of relief, rubbing his forehead trying to ease the ache. He glanced back at the bed, craving its warmth, but he didn't want to chance falling back to his nightmare filled sleep.

The knocking started again and he groaned, moving reluctantly toward the noise, barefoot and clad only in his silk pajama bottoms. If he opened the door the pounding would cease and maybe the matching throbbing in his head would stop as well.

By the time he reached the front door, the knocking had ceased again. He looked out the peep hole. No one was there. He'd taken too long. Ezra leaned wearily against the door, resting his forehead on the coolness wishing the lethargy that seemed to consume his body would leave.

A sharp rap on the door made him jerk back as it reverberated through his head. Ezra let out a string of ungentlemanly curses. He looked out the peephole and saw Josiah. The look on Josiah's face brought reality crashing back in. Something had happened to Vin or JD.

Ezra unlocked the deadbolt and opened the door dreading the news.

"You're home," said Josiah.

The odd statement caught Ezra off guard. "Where else would I be?" he snapped.

"I don't know," said Josiah. "Milan, maybe?"

Ezra sighed at the confirmation that the team knew about his little tantrum with Chris. At least they didn't know that Maude had told him not to come. She'd heard the weariness and his cough and told him he shouldn't travel with an illness, which in Maude-speak meant, 'I don't want your germs.'

"Why are you here?" he asked Josiah curtly.

"Are you all right?" Josiah asked.

"What happened?" Ezra countered.

Josiah frowned slightly until it dawned on him what Ezra meant. "Vin's all right. JD's improving steadily. I'm here to check on you."

Ezra sighed and shuffled away from the door. "Why is it so hard for y'all to understand that I didn't fall off the overpass? I'm fine."

"Yeah," said Josiah accepting the unspoken invitation, entering the room and closing the door. "That's why you look like death warmed over."

"Perhaps I wouldn't look so bad if people weren't pounding on my front door at ungodly hours," Ezra said without conviction.

"Ezra, it's two in the afternoon."

Ezra looked up startled by the information.

We've been trying to call you all day."

"You could have left a message," Ezra answered.

"We did," Josiah nodded toward the blinking light on the answering machine.

"Turned off the volume," Ezra said with a shrug.

Josiah picked up the southerner's cellular phone from the coffee table and flipped it open. It was dead. "You might want to consider charging this sometime."

"Why were you trying to reach me?" Ezra asked bluntly. He was too tired to beat around the bush.

"I wanted to make sure you're okay," said Josiah. "When's the last time you ate?"

Ezra didn't answer. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples.

"You can't keep going like this," Josiah said gently. "You're going to land yourself in the hospital."

"I know," Ezra acknowledged quietly. "I'm going to take a shower."

Josiah watched his teammate shuffle away like an old man, surprised that Ezra hadn't argued that he was fine. Maybe things were turning around. He'd get him out of the house, get him to eat, take him to see Vin and JD, and then maybe see if he would stop at the clinic and get checked over.

+ + ATF + +

"Hear you think you're responsible for me being this way."

Ezra gulped, wishing Josiah hadn't dragged him out of bed. Finally someone had said it plain. Yes he was responsible, for Vin, for JD. It was his fault both were where they were. Nodding slightly, he said, "I can not begin to apologize..."

"For what?" Vin asked, cutting him off, "There's nothing to be sorry about, Ezra. Are you sorry for saving my life? For saving JD? Because that's what you did."

Ezra said nothing.

"Look at me," Vin demanded.

Slowly Ezra looked up at his teammate - his friend.

"Luck of the draw, Ezra. Maybe I won't walk again, maybe I will. That's up to me and the docs. What I don't need is to feel responsible for you."

"Me?" Ezra stammered, "How are you responsible for me?"

"You're feeling guilty because of me. That's a burden I don't want and I bet JD don't want it neither. So stop it." Vin took a deep breath, closing his eyes for a moment trying to control the pain. "I'm alive, JD's alive. Tell you what, if it'll help, when we get out of here, we'll throw you off a bridge."

Ezra ducked his head. Half of him wanted to laugh at the words, but the other half believed he deserved it. "I'm truly sorry, Vin. I wish you'd reconsider about Chuck."

"We've been over this, Ez," Vin countered. "I can't afford a private nurse."

"That's not the point. I want to pay..."

"It's exactly the point," Vin said angrily cutting Ezra off a second time. "You don't need me cluttering up your house for weeks. And your friend doesn't need to waste time driving me back and forth to therapy. The rehab center is best for now. Nobody needs to shuttle me back and forth. I'm right there and therapy is right there. And the insurance will cover it."

Vin looked at Ezra and sighed. He understood. He really did. He knew that Ezra just wanted the best care for him, but he didn't want Ezra to do anything out of guilt, especially misplaced guilt. And Vin didn't want to be on the receiving end of such an expensive gift.

"Thank you, Ezra... for wanting to do it," Vin said softly. "But the best thing you can do for me and JD right now is to go home and get some rest. You look like you're about to take a dirt nap."

This time Ezra did smirk at Vin's euphemism for death. "I don't plan to cash in my chips anytime soon."

Vin grinned back at him.

Ezra's smile faded. "Vin, If you need anything..."

"I'll call," Vin affirmed. "Go home, Ez. Take care of yourself."

+ + ATF + +

Josiah peeked into the waiting room. He had visited JD while Ezra was with Vin. When he went to Vin's room, Vin told him he'd sent Ezra home. Knowing that he was Ezra's ride, he figured the Southerner would find a place to wait.

Ezra was unaware he was being watched. He was slouched in one of the chairs alternately rubbing his forehead, then his neck.

Josiah sighed. Clearly it was no longer a case of "take care or you'll make yourself sick." Ezra was definitely coming down with something.

He stepped into the room. "Are you up to visiting JD?" he asked.

Ezra dropped his hand from his neck to his lap but made no other attempt to cover how lousy he felt.

"He's been asking for you."

"How can you tell?" Ezra said sarcastically.

Josiah growled. "I'll chalk that up to the fact that you aren't feeling yourself."

"Sorry," Ezra apologized, dragging himself out of the chair. "I didn't mean..."

"Ezra," Josiah interrupted, "Visit JD, then we'll stop at the clinic and get you home to bed."

Ezra nodded and followed Josiah to JD's new room. With his progress, JD had been moved out of ICU to a 'regular' room.

He peered around the door. "He's sleeping. I'll come back later," Ezra said softly.


Ezra pasted a smile on his face. "JD, you look considerably better than the last time I saw you."

JD mumbled something else that caused Ezra to raise his eyebrows. "I don't think I look that bad," Ezra countered.

"You understand him?" asked Josiah.

"Of course," said Ezra. "He said I look like sh... oh, wait, gentlemen don't use that word."

Josiah chuckled.

JD's cheeks started to pull into a smile, but the pain stopped him and he let out a little groan.

"I'm sorry, JD," Ezra said quickly.

JD waggled his index finger at Ezra indicating not to worry about it.

"Can I get you anything?" he asked.


"Well, I'm afraid we won't be able to get you out of here for a few days at least," Ezra said.

He touched JD's shoulder when he read the disappointment in his eyes. "Soon, JD," he said. "You're on the road to recovery."

"I don't want to cut it short, Son," said Josiah, "but Ezra's got an appointment at the clinic."

"You okuh?" JD mumbled.

"Just a bit under the weather," Ezra said. "I'll be fine."

Ezra scowled as Josiah tugged at his elbow. "Apparently it's time to go. Take care, JD. Do what the doctor says."

"Ha," JD said.

Ezra grinned.

"Bye, JD," Josiah said as he steered Ezra toward the door.

"You didn't tell me I had an appointment," Ezra muttered as they left the room.

+ + ATF + +

Strangers sat at Vin and JD's desks. Well, that wasn't quite true. Philip Deslin was communications specialist from Team Three, and Bill Taylor was Temporary Duty from Salt Lake and had worked with them once in the past.

"Phil and Bill," Chris muttered with a shake of his head. "How'd we manage that?" Both were good men, but they weren't Vin and JD. Chris gave a slight smile thinking about Buck's introduction. Wilmington made certain both men knew they were TDY, Temporary Duty. Josiah and Nathan hadn't been that much more welcoming. Josiah had been polite in greeting them, but quickly returned to his work without engaging in conversation. Nathan had definitely sized them up but other than a nod, he had not interacted with them at all.

And Ezra? Chris looked at the empty desk with a growl. The southerner had greeted the replacements, and like Josiah had returned to his work. He still looked awful, but when he had been called into the office, he had assured Chris he was fit for desk duty. Field duty was still out of the question until he completed the psych evaluation, but that was in process. Despite his assurances yesterday, today his desk sat empty. He was more than two hours late. The ringing of his phone brought Chris out of his thoughts.

"Larabee," he spat out.

"Difficult morning, Mr. Larabee?"

"Standish, where the hell are you? You're two !@#$$%^! hours late."

There was silence on Ezra's end of the phone.

"Well?" asked Chris.

"I need to take a sick day," Ezra said quietly.

"Are you hungover?" Chris accused, his frustrations over the tension in the office and JD and Vin's situation getting the best of him.

"I won't dignify that with a response," Ezra said flatly.

Chris took a deep breath, giving himself a moment to regroup. "All right," he finally said. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Would you be so kind..." Ezra hesitated.

"What?" Chris prompted.

"Would you mind asking Mr. Jackson to give me a call when he has some free time?"

Chris frowned at the request. He heard the hesitancy in Ezra's voice and knew that something was up.

"I'll have him call," Chris confirmed. "Get some rest."

He clicked off the phone and put the handset in the cradle. "Nathan!" he called.

+ + ATF + +

Nathan examined Ezra with a critical eye when the southerner opened his door to let him in. Ezra looked exhausted.

"You didn't have to come over," Ezra said.

"Yes, I did," said Nathan. "What's going on?"

Ezra shuffled slowly to the living room and lowered himself into his leather recliner. Nathan followed and sat down on the couch.

"I had just returned from a follow up with the doctor when I called the office," said Ezra. "Apparently Mr. Larabee forgot that I had a follow-up appointment this morning."

Nathan nodded. "How did it go?"

Ezra rubbed his throat. "I'm afraid it would be entirely appropriate for you to say, 'I told you so'."

"I wouldn't do that," Nathan said honestly.

Ezra smiled briefly. "The test results and treatment plan are on the coffee table. I wanted to talk to you because..." Ezra hesitated. He was not accustomed to showing weakness. "I'm very tired," he admitted quietly. "I'm not sure I took in everything the doctor told me."

Nathan looked at Ezra, both surprised and concerned at the frankness of the admission. Ezra's didn't usually ask for help and it worried him that there might be something seriously wrong. "May I?" he asked, motioning to the papers.

Ezra nodded and closed his eyes. He was so tired. His head ached. His throat was sore. All he wanted to do was go to bed and sleep forever. If his nightmares would let him.

Nathan was silent for a couple of minutes while he read the test results and the treatment plan. "So what do you want to know?"

"I thought I could return to work tomorrow, but..."

"That's not going to happen, Ezra," Nathan interrupted. "Just looking at you and this report I can tell you're going to be out a couple weeks, if not more. Mononucleosis is nothing to mess with."

"I should have listened to you at the hospital," Ezra said.

"No, Ezra," Nathan said, "I mean, yeah, you should listen to me, but you didn't get this since the accident. Mono takes 4-6 weeks to show up." He paused and made sure Ezra was listening. "So I guess I could chew you out for not taking care of yourself undercover," he teased lightly.

Ezra grinned, but it faded quickly. "I have no idea how I caught it."

Nathan shrugged. "It could have been as simple as touching something that someone infected touched. It doesn't have to be kissing."

Ezra looked up and saw the grin. "I suppose there will be no hiding this from Mr. Wilmington? I'm certain he'll take a perverse delight in the fact that I have the 'Kissing Disease'."

Nathan chuckled. "No doubt. But I'll try to keep him away until you feel a little better."

Ezra nodded his thanks and rubbed his neck.

"Throat bothering you?"


"Do you have anything on this list?" Nathan asked, holding up the treatment paperwork.

"I don't know," Ezra said wearily. "I don't remember what's on the list."

"Throat lozenges? Acetaminophen? Ibuprofen?" Nathan looked up from the list. "Popsicles?" he added with a grin.

"No gawd-awful medications?" Ezra asked.

"No. Mononucleosis is caused by a virus," Nathan said. "Antibiotics wouldn't do any good. Rest, fluids, lozenges or gargling for the sore throat, and no exercise."

Ezra raised an eyebrow at the last instruction. "No exercise?" Both the psychiatrist and the CISM team leader had recommended he keep up his exercise routine to relieve the stress he was under. Now his physician was saying no?

"Not for awhile," Nathan answered. "Worst case symptoms of Mono can be an inflamed liver or an enlarged spleen. Moving around too much puts you at risk for rupturing your spleen. And we don't want that."

"No we don't." Ezra agreed. He was quiet for a moment before he smiled and shook his head.

"What?" asked Nathan.

"The irony," Ezra replied. "You're giving me permission to sleep as late as I want and be a man of leisure. And yet, I'm in no position to enjoy it."

Nathan returned his smile. Ezra loved to play at being a gentleman and saying that gentlemen don't do menial labor. He laid the treatment plan back on the coffee table. "I'll bring over some groceries," he offered.

"You don't need to do that, I can..."

"You can stay in bed and rest," Nathan said. "Ezra, you've got to realize that you're going to be down, and I mean in bed until this runs its course. And you have to be very careful not to do too much too soon or you'll relapse. It's going to be at least three or four weeks before you're up to par."

Ezra cursed under his breath. He didn't like being sick, but it was even worse to know it would last weeks. "Are you sure?" he asked knowing full well that Nathan wouldn't have said it if it wasn't true.

"I'm sure. How about if I make you some lunch, and then you go back to bed?"

"I'm not hungry," Ezra replied.

"I know you're not, but you'll have to make yourself eat something until you get your appetite back." Nathan started to walk toward the kitchen.


He stopped and looked at Ezra.

"Am I contagious?"

Nathan nodded. "I'll have to look it up to be sure, but I think you can be contagious several months after you get it." Nathan saw the look and jumped in before Ezra could speak. "Don't worry about it. Mono is usually spread through saliva. As long as you don't share your food, a glass, eating utensils... or kiss anyone we should be safe."

"What about JD?" Ezra asked.

Nathan came back and sat down across from Ezra, realizing that the Southerner feared he had given the infection to JD when he rescued breathed for him. "Well, it's possible he could get it, but more than likely, he's already had it. Most people have it as a child and don't even know they have it. Most of the time the symptoms are mild and people just think it's a cold."

"How'd I get so lucky?" Ezra grumbled.

Nathan shrugged. "I'll tell JD's doctor that he's been exposed, but you can't be worrying about that. You need to rest and you can't do that if you're worrying over everything."

Ezra watched him go into the kitchen. Resting and letting everything go was easier said than done, especially since he still had nightmares every time he closed his eyes.

+ + ATF + +

Nathan returned to the office and filled Chris in on Ezra's condition. Chris winced when he realized he had indeed forgotten Ezra's appointment and chewed unnecessarily on his undercover agent.

Knowing that he'd be short another agent for a few weeks, Chris met with Orrin Travis and filled him in. After some discussion they agreed that trying to get a temporary undercover agent wasn't in anyone's best interest. There wouldn't be time to build the trust that was needed. For that matter, it would even take time to build trust with Phil and Bill. It grated on Chris that his team was basically demoted to second string - to back up all the other teams, but he knew it was the best option for everyone until Vin and JD were back.

If they came back.

Chris sighed. He couldn't allow himself to think like that. Vin and JD both would recover fully and be back to work in a couple of months. He put on his jacket and turned off the light in his office. It was time to go see Vin and JD. And maybe even Ezra on his way home.

+ + ATF + +

"You're in a good mood," Chris commented seeing the smirk on Vin's face.

Vin's grin broadened and he slowly turned his head toward Chris.

Chris returned the smile as Vin bobbed his eyebrows at the small movement.

"That's great Vin," he said.

"Never been so happy to be able to look at that scowl of yours," Vin quipped.

Chris slapped him on the shoulder. "So what's the doctor saying?"

"A couple more days here and then he'll ship me out to rehab," Vin answered with a sigh. "The swelling's coming down, but it's not where he wants it to be yet."

"You don't look too unhappy about that," said Chris.

Vin glanced over at the door. "Can you do me a favor?" he asked in a hushed voice.

Chris glanced over at the door, not understanding Vin's need for secrecy. "What?"

"Look at my feet."

Chris raised his eyebrows.

"Just do it," Vin growled.

Chris lifted up the blanket. "You've still got two."

"Ha, ha," said Vin. Then he focused in concentration. "Well?" he asked anxiously.

Chris smiled broadly. "Do it again."

Vin concentrated and wiggled his toes slightly on both feet.

Chris laughed.

"I'm really doing it?" Vin asked, breaking out in a sweat from the effort and the pain it evoked in his injured leg.

Chris nodded, easing the blanket back over his feet and attempting a manly swipe at the tears at the corners of his eyes.

"I wasn't sure," Vin said with a huge smile. "I thought I was, but since I can't quite see m'feet, I wasn't sure. Didn't want to say anything to doc if it was all in my head."

"Well, how about if we get him now," Chris said, grabbing Vin's hand and giving it a squeeze.

Vin nodded, with both relief and uncertainty running through him. He could move his toes, but he had a long road ahead.

+ + ATF + +

Recovery was a strange thing. Pain medications caused the patient to lose all sense of time, making it feel like time had passed quickly, but the stress of physical therapy made it feel like time stood still. For Vin and JD the next two weeks meant transfers to the rehabilitation facility, intense therapy, and release when they could take care of themselves as much as their injuries allowed.

By mutual agreement, Vin and JD would be staying at Buck and JD's condo to recuperate. Vin wouldn't be able to stay at his apartment until he could negotiate the stairs. The condo was more convenient than driving out to Chris's ranch, especially when someone was dropping by to check in on them during lunch hour. Originally the plan had been to stay at Ezra's, but they didn't want to take the chance of Vin or JD contracting mononucleosis, so the condo had been the backup.

In spite of his time in intensive care, JD was released first, with each of his team members, with the exception of Ezra learning how to clip his jaw wires in case of choking. A small set of clippers was in JD's pocket at all times, as well as a spare set on the coffee table just in case. His diet was a less than exciting array of pureed foods. Everything possible was made into a milkshake. Soupy mashed potatoes. Cream soups. Fruit smoothies. He had Buck working on a way to crush candy bars fine enough to be sucked through a straw.

Because of the danger of choking, JD needed someone with him 24/7, so Nettie Wells, Casey Wells, and Gloria Potter volunteered to trade off the first few days he was home, spending the days with him while Buck was at work. When Vin arrived four days later, the ladies still came to help, but didn't spend full days. They'd stay until early afternoon, then leave a couple of hours before Buck got off work, giving Vin and JD a little feeling of independence.

For Buck, Chris, Josiah and Nathan there was never enough time. Each of them were working long hours and trying to fit in visits to their recovering comrades as frequently as possible. They all were using their personal time allotments to run Vin and JD to appointments for check ups and therapy, and spending their free time in the evenings with the duo as often as possible.

For Ezra, the first couple of weeks passed quickly because he spent most of the time sleeping and was unaware of the passage of time. However, as he improved, time seemed to slow to a standstill. Days became filled with boredom and he had no energy to do anything about it. Surprisingly, his nightmares had lessened as Vin and JD improved. He still had vivid dreams, particularly about JD, but now he could at least reassure himself that JD was alive and on his way to recovery.

Vin had told JD about Ezra's guilt complex and the reason behind it. No one had told JD that he had stopped breathing and Ezra had saved him, evidently feeling that it was a detail JD didn't need to know, or perhaps wasn't ready to know. But Vin felt JD needed to understand why Ezra was having such a hard time.

It was JD's boredom that created a connection with Ezra in spite of the southerner being stuck at home. The first couple of phone calls were a comedy of errors. JD couldn't speak clearly and Ezra couldn't think clearly. JD's call had pulled Ezra out of a nap and he couldn't seem to grasp that it was JD on the other end of the line. He hung up on JD twice before Vin told JD to put the phone on speaker and he told Ezra who was calling. From that point on it became a game between the three. Ezra would call and try to time it when JD was sleeping, or vice versa. Just talking on the phone two or three times a day seemed to be the uplift they needed. Buck brought over Vin and JD's laptops and by the end of the week, JD had web cams set up so that they could actually see each other when they talked.

Buck was running late. He had dropped by to check on Vin and JD during his lunch hour, but had spilled coffee on himself. JD and Vin were dozing in the great room and Buck utilized the time to change clothes. He slipped into his black jeans and was still tucking as he moved back into the great room.

"Good lord, put that thing away!"

Buck spun around at the unexpected voice and tripped over the leg of the desk chair, sprawling on the floor.

He rolled over taking in his friends' laughter. JD was holding his mouth with his good hand, trying to contain his laughter, wincing at the strain on his jaw, but unable to stop snickering. Vin was chuckling and shaking his head. Ezra was grinning ear to ear on the video link.

Their smiles were worth a few minor bruises.

"You all right down there, Bucklin?" Vin asked.

"Laugh it up," Buck answered, feigning indignation. "I wasn't expecting to hear Ezra's voice." He stood up and finished tucking in his shirt and grabbed his jacket.

JD mumbled something, and Buck looked to Vin for interpretation. "He said we all dozed off and forgot the link was on."

"Well, at least you got some sleep," said Buck. "You ought to try this on Chris tonight when he brings dinner."

"Nah," said Vin. "We aren't stupid." He and JD started laughing.

Buck laughed with them. For the first time since that awful night, it felt like things felt like they were right again. Sure, Vin and JD weren't completely healed and Ezra was still sick, but all three of them were on the way back and it was just a matter of time before they were Team Seven again.



Author's Note: This circumstances of this story were inspired by a true event. The driver of the car was an acquaintance of mine. Unlike fiction, the two real life heroes died trying to save him. Their unfortunate deaths brought changes to the highways in our area. Fences and netting were installed on overpasses to prevent people from jumping or falling. Their loss continues to save lives today.