Sunday - 1412 hours – Larabee Ranch

I'm not sleeping, but don't feel like making the effort of opening my eyes. The sofa isn't as comfortable as my bed, but it's better than the hospital. I shift slightly and feel dampness on my cheek. Dear Lord, I'm drooling. How juvenile. I don't feel up to turning the pillow over, so I have to settle for shifting slightly.

I hear Vin and JD talking softly and some sporting event playing on the television, and I allow the sounds of normalcy to wash over me. I need things to be normal, routine, settled. I don't think I could have lasted another day in the hospital. I'm eternally grateful to Josiah for making the doctor see the light.

The funny thing is it was not what Josiah would choose. I know that he wanted me to stay in the hospital and get the professional care I need both physically and to deal with my, uh, aversion to hospitals, but he also knows I'm not ready physically to battle that emotional trauma. He convinced the doctor, and the psychiatrist the doctor had called to consult, that the best option for me was to go home and to recover physically so I would have the strength to deal with the fear. Surprisingly, they agreed.

I have absolutely no intention of dredging up old memories no matter how healthy I am. I cannot fathom how there could be any benefit to making myself go through the slow painful death of my father as infection brought on by a simple operation ate away at him day by day. There's no benefit to remembering how my mother died a little every day with him while their little boy stood on the fringes not really understanding more than his father's pain and his mother's anger. All I truly understood was that my father went into the hospital fairly healthy and the hospital stole him from me.

"No!" I jolt myself awake with my cry. And then I groan. My chest hurts.

I hear Vin say, "Welcome back" and I'm grateful he doesn't ask about my cry. I sigh and try to make myself more comfortable.

I ask JD about his knee. He tells me he's fine and asks about my shoulder. I tell him I'm fine.

Liars. All three of us.

Loud voices in the kitchen alert me to the rather boisterous arrival of the rest of the team. Usually JD is involved when there is that much racket.

The four of them come in and practically surround JD. They all have grins like the Cheshire Cat.

I chuckle as JD assumes that he did something wrong. Even the innocent wilt under their scrutiny.

I have to move. I've been in the wrong position too long and my chest and shoulder are protesting. Unfortunately, without the use of my arm, it is very difficult to sit up.

I listen as I struggle and my heart swells. JD took down Timmons. Everyone has been teasing him for days about tripping over his feet, and our youngest took down Timmons.

Nathan is at my side and helps me sit up. It hurts, but I smile as everyone praises JD for a job well done. It's good to see him do well and to see everyone recognize him for it. I still need to tell him how much I appreciate knowing he is there in the surveillance van and relaying information to the rest of the team.

I listen to the laughter and lean back against the couch. It may not be my house, but it certainly is home.

I have come back again to where I belong;
not an enchanted place, but the walls are strong.

~ Dorothy H. Rath

Tuesday – 1045 hours – Larabee Ranch

“When hell freezes over! There ain’t no way Wilmington!”

“Now, Junior,” he says, and I know what’s coming. He’s gonna give me some crap about Nathan saying to put the ointment on.

“Nate says I’m supposed to put this on now, and I ain’t gonna get Nathan pissed with me.”

“Chris’ll do it,” I say crossly.

“Chris isn’t here and it needs to be done.”

Damn. I really don’t want Bucklin commenting on my prowess or lack there of, and I know that’s what he’ll do. Damn.

“Vin, I’ll be good. Promise,” he declares. “Scouts honor.”

Bet he wasn’t a scout.

I growl in frustration and start to slide down my britches. The silk feels real nice on my skin. Leave it to Ez to think of something like that. I found out real quick like that sweat pants and road rash don’t go well together. The material pulls at the wounds. Ez heard me bitchin’ about it and loaned me a pair of his silk pajama pants.

Buck whistles and I groan. I knew he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Here we go.

“Damn, Junior,” he says, “That’s gotta hurt. No wonder you’re always moanin’ and groanin’ about having to wear the safety harness.”

“Buck…” I warn.

“Woo-wee! If that harness had been just a bit to the side…”


“…these bruises from the straps would be right…”


“… and then…”

I drop my face and resign myself to the inevitable.

But he surprises the hell outta me. He squeezes my forearm reassuringly, and then without uttering another word, he proceeds to put the ointment on my scrapes with the gentlest of touches.

“All finished,” he says softly, and I finally look up and meet his gaze.

“Thanks,” I mumble.

He helps me pull up my britches and I’m totally humiliated. He takes me into one of those Buck hugs, being careful of my shoulder and I just stand there, leaning my forehead against his chest.

“Didn’t mean to embarrass you,” he says.

“Yeah, you did,” I counter.

He chuckles.

“Just thought it would make it easier,” he explains.

“Then why’d you stop?” I ask, pulling away from the hug.

“Hell, Junior. I was in shock,” he says, and I realize he’s not done with torturing me. “I ain’t ever seen someone blush all over.”

I growl and shove him away with my good arm and make my way back to the living room, listening to him laugh.

Remind me again why I wanted to be a part of this?

I ease into my recliner. Ezra has dibs on the matching recliner now, and JD’s moved to the couch. It’s easier for Ez and I to get out of the chairs on our own without killin’ ourselves, than off the damn couch.

Unless Larabee puts the footrest up. I know he does that on purpose since neither one of us can maneuver the release mechanism. Chris better be watchin' his back right along with Bucklin.

Ez seems to be sleeping. He does that a lot. The blood loss and surgery took a lot outta him, and I’m sure being stuck in the hospital didn’t help any. Can’t tell if he’s really sleepin’ though. He tends to keep his eyes closed and I understand that feeling. Ez and me are alike in a lot of ways. We both refuel by being alone. Can’t do that when everyone has to do everything for ya, and you can’t go off on your own. So Ez just closes his eyes and pretends we’re not here. A little hard to do that with this bunch.

JD’s bored. Bored and JD is not a good combination. He’s running the channels on the TV, not settling on anything more than a few seconds.

“Cease and desist!”

I laugh. Ez was faking it.

JD turns up the volume slightly and keeps right on flipping channels.

Ezra opens one eye and gives him a death glare.

It’s a whole lot more effective, Ez, if you use both eyes and if ya look like you could do something to back it up.

JD ignores him.

Ezra sighs and tries to move. He grabs his chest and curses. Damn, Ez, that wasn’t gentlemanly.

“You find this funny, Mr. Tanner?”

Turn that glare somewhere else.

I shake my head. I don’t want to be in the middle of the explosion that is going to occur soon.

I really don’t know what they were thinkin’ when they decided the three of us should spend the days together out here while we recover. Two of us is bad enough, but three? Well hell, that’s just asking for a disaster.

I roll up a little wad of paper one handed and stick it in the end of my straw. Putting the other end to my lips I take aim.


JD brushes the side of his face. He looks at me with raised eyebrows. War has just been declared. I nod towards the TV and JD, in kindness to his fellow invalids, mutes the sound. Then he picks up some paper and starts his own arsenal.

It ain’t fair. The kid’s got two good hands.

We keep it quiet but the war is in full swing, me shooting at JD and Him shooting at me. JD misses and his spit wad sticks on Ezra’s bunny slipper. Why he’s still wearing the things, I couldn’t tell you.

JD and me look at each other. We’re both thinking the same thing, I’m sure of it.




Direct hits. One on each side of Ezra’s face. He brushes lazily with his good hand.

We both grin and reload.

After a few more shots, we’re both real disappointed that he’s still just lying there, snoring softly.

It ain’t any fun if he doesn’t get pissed off.

"He ain't gonna like that," says Buck with a laugh. He puts a glass of water on the table by my chair and then does the same for Ezra and JD.

"He doesn't seem to mind," quips JD and then he takes another shot and it's a direct hit – right in Ezra's ear.

Uh-oh. That got his attention. He jerks and I grimace with him. I know how much that hurts. He brushes his ear and looks at the paper clinging to his finger. He scowls at JD before brushing the papers off of his face. He turns the glare on me as well.

But he doesn't say anything. He struggles to his feet, and excuses himself, heading down the hall.

And I wonder if we pushed him too far.

Buck follows him and the bedroom door slams.

Damn. It was supposed to be fun.

Buck comes back a few minutes later and puts the footrest up for me. Says I should get some rest, and he's right. He goes over and adjusts JD's pillows for him and JD sinks back.

"I didn't mean…" says JD.

"Hell, Kid. Ezra's fine. He's just tired," says Buck. "He just wants a nap. You could use one, too."

JD rolls his eyes.

Just when I feel myself startin' to drift off, I hear something. I open my eyes to check out the noise, and I see Ezra standing over JD. I have to laugh as he sprays JD with whipping cream. He turns toward me and I realize I'm helpless.

Buck is a dead man. He was in cahoots with Ezra when he put my footrest up. There is no escape and I sit there and laugh as Ezra douses me with Redi-Whip. The smile on his face is worth the sticky mess.

I swipe a streak of whip cream off my face and lick it off of my fingers. "I like chocolate better, Ez."

"I'll try to remember that for next time," he says with a laugh.

"Wanna set me free so I can clean up?" I ask nodding toward the release mechanism for the footrest.

"Not on your life," he says.

I laugh. I wouldn't trust me either.

Tuesday – 1103 hours – Larabee Ranch


I'm surrounded by juveniles.

All I was asking for was a little peace and quiet. And what does Mr. Dunne do? He raises the volume. I do my best to ignore his childish behavior and try to sleep in spite of the noise.

For all the good it does me. I doze off and wake up with a spit wad in my ear. And then I discover my face has been liberally decorated with the soggy bits of paper.

I've had enough. I head for the bedroom to lock everyone out, slamming the door for emphasis. Moments later Mr. Wilmington is knocking at my door, and I'm already feeling foolish for my own childish behavior.

When the knocking persists, the seed of revenge is planted. The first step is to lull Buck into thinking he is safe from retribution for the bunny slippers. I don't know why I'm still wearing the gawd-awful things, other than the fact that no one will retrieve any better footwear for me and my feet are freezing. I think they all enjoy the fact that I am stuck with slippers befitting a child.

I open the door for Buck and I let him give me the "They were just fooling around" speech. I tell him that I understand and that I need his assistance getting even.

"What do you want me to do?" he asks.

I ask for his assistance in containing the culprits and lulling them into a false sense of security.

He agrees and I smile. He has no idea who is being lulled into a false sense of security.

The revenge of the bunny has begun.

I take the opportunity to wash up while he prepares Vin and JD. It still takes me an extraordinary amount of time, but if I exercise extreme caution, I can care for most of my own needs. A drastic improvement over the past couple days. With any luck, I'll be able to go home soon.

I lie down and rest for a while, until Buck returns and raps lightly at the door. He has the aerosol whip cream I have requested and informs me that both Vin and JD are snoozing. Then he makes himself scarce, but I don't think he's gone too far. He's been charged with keeping us in line today, and he doesn't want to incur the wrath of Nathan or of Chris.

Some might think that I would be inexperienced with practical jokes, but the art of spit wads was not restricted to public schools. Boarding schools offer a great deal of boredom and create the need for resourcefulness.

I approach Mr. Dunne and start with his ear. Only fitting since he desecrated mine. I have to move quickly, knowing the sound alone will awaken him. He comes up sputtering as I coat his face and I step out of range. I hear Vin laughing and turn with an evil smile.

He is trapped in the chair and I show no mercy, making sure to liberally cover his face.

He laughs and eats some of the whip cream, telling me he prefers chocolate. Then he asks if I'll help to liberate him so he can clean up.

I'm no fool. Not a chance.

Buck comes in with a wet towel for both of them and we all laugh as they attempt to clean up.

I settle back into my chair and before I know it, each of us, Buck included, have straws and are making a spit wad design on the ceiling.

Somehow I don't think Mr. Larabee will appreciate our artwork.

Serves him right for trapping us in the recliners.

Besides, if we work it right, Buck will be the one that catches the fall out. After all, he is supposed to be in charge.

Thursday – 1800 hours – Larabee Ranch

Seven days is six too many. We've had some fun mixed in with the harder times, but now we're jist getting on each other's nerves.

JD went back home and got to go to work for a couple days, but with my arm strapped to my chest, I still ain't going anywhere.

Ez isn't fairin' much better. He's got a bit more freedom with his arm, but he's still got a bit of infection and Nathan's harpin' on him all the time because he's using it too much.

Ez is getting really short tempered with the constant attention. He ain't sleeping well. He's been having nightmares about getting shot. I've had a few myself, 'cept mine are about falling.

I'm sittin' here in the kitchen trying to find some space alone. I just yelled at Josiah.

I yelled at Josiah.

'Course that was after I bit Ezra's head off and growled at Chris. And I told Nathan what he could do with that damn ointment.

I get up and slam the chair up against the table and go out the back door. I know everyone will be pissed, but I have to have some space. I need to be alone without someone holding my hand and doing everything for me.

Thursday – 1805 hours – Larabee Ranch

The back door slams and I grimace. Vin and I aren't the only ones who are short tempered and chewing on each other. Chris and Buck are bickering; Nathan and Josiah are having a heated debate. JD's just sitting on the couch looking bewildered.

"Shut up! Just shut up!"

Everyone stops and stares at me. I'm shocked at my behavior, but I'm just so tired. My head hurts.

"I want to go home."

No one answers.


No one knows what to say. We all know that I still can't take care of myself, but maybe it's time I go home and hire a nurse.

Nathan starts to speak, but Josiah puts a hand on his arm and stops him. It's Chris who finally speaks.

"If that's what you really want."

"It is," I say, but it isn't what I want. I just want it all to be over and to have everything back to normal.

I see the disappointment and hurt on everyone's faces and I take the coward's way out. I retreat to my room and close the door.

No one follows.

I lie on the bed hoping for sleep, but all I can do is think. I've been doing a lot of that recently. The house is eerily quiet and I know it's because of my little outburst.

I'm ashamed of myself, and I hate that. Why does it matter so much what these men think of me? Why do I hold so tightly to the team? Mother would be appalled at how lax I've become, of how many people I've let inside my walls.

The look on JD's face is haunting me. He sees our friction as a threat to the team.

It isn't.

Team Seven isn't that fragile. We're different people with different views and sometimes those opinions are expressed loudly and forcefully, but that is what makes us work as a team. We balance each other.

I sound like Josiah.

I dozed for a while, and had planned to stay in this room for most of the evening, but my body has other ideas. It's humiliating to need someone else to care for your most basic needs. I open the door and walk quietly to the living room. It seems a lot farther away than it was when I left. Of course with my body aching like it is, it’s a wonder I can get there at all. I stand in the doorway. It takes only a moment before everyone is looking at me.

"My behavior was deplorable," I say softly.

"Hell, Ezra," says Buck, "So was mine."

"And mine," says Nathan.

I smile as Chris and Josiah chime in, too.

JD just smiles.

"Mr. Jackson?" I say, and Nathan gets up before I have to complete the sentence, sparing me the humiliation of asking for assistance with my needs.

When I return to the room a few minutes later, I can see that Chris is slightly agitated.

"What's wrong?" I ask.

"Vin's missing," says Buck.

Everyone is concerned, but I'm certain he hasn't gone far. He's found a place to be alone. I envy him.

I just hope he hasn't fallen or hurt himself.

I watch as the team goes into action in search of our missing teammate. Chris orders JD and me to stay in the house as the search moves outdoors. Everyone heard the backdoor slam before I had my little outburst.

It would be almost comical if they weren't so worried about Vin. Buck and Josiah search the barn; Chris wanders toward the pond. Nathan goes around to the front of the house. JD follows him. He's pretty good with those crutches now. I settle down into a chair on the porch and put my feet up on the porch rail.

I don't have the energy to search, but I don’t need to. He's hiding in plain sight.

Thursday – 1930 hours – Hill behind the Larabee Ranch House

"Vin? What are you doing up here?" Chris asks as he sits down on the rock next to me. "We've been looking all over for you."

I quickly turn my face away and rub my shirtsleeve over my eyes. "A man can't be alone when he wants?" I challenge.

"Not when he's still recovering from being wounded."

"I wasn't wounded," I growl testily. I'm tired of feeling smothered by all my friends' attention. I appreciate their concern, but I'm used to dealing with difficulties on my own, and all the well-intentioned help is simply crowding me.

"Okay," says Chris, "then not while he's recovering from being hit in the back of the head and thrown off his perch and left dangling from his safety line thirty feet off the ground after smacking into the face of a brick wall. Is that more accurate?"

I smirk and look down the hillside to the ranch house. I can see Buck, Josiah, Nathan and JD checking around the yard, the house, the barn, likely looking for me. Ezra, however, is sitting on the porch with his feet propped up on the rail - in bunny slippers.

I might accuse Ezra of not caring, except for the fact that he's staring straight at me and Chris. He located the object of his search and somehow didn't feel like informing the others just yet.

When he salutes me, I can't help but laugh. Ezra, understanding the need for freedom from attention, is obviously giving me a little more time before he tells the others.

"What?" asked Chris, and then he sees what I'm watching.

He laughs as JD sits down beside Ezra and waves at us. Buck, Josiah and Nathan are still searching.

I shift to ease the ache in my leg. It wasn't quite ready for my hike, but I'm not ready to go back. I turn my attention back to the sunset. Chris sits with me for a few minutes, not intruding, not distracting, but simply being there.

"I was feelin' crowded," I try to explain.

"I know," he tells me. "Between the hospital and the house, you've been penned up for a week. I'd be going nuts too."

"Doesn't give me the right to take it out on the rest a' y'all."

"Nope," he says. "But being family does."

I smile to myself. Family don't have the right to vent their anger on each other, but I know what he means. It's a safe place – and we all can growl and sometimes even hurt each other without anyone else walkin' away.

When the sun slips below the horizon, Chris asks if I'm ready to go back and I nod. When I stand, he has to steady me. My leg has stiffened up on me. We look down on the house and I laugh. Five guys are sitting on the porch with their feet on the rail.

"There's family for ya," I say. "All of 'em sitting around bein' lazy."

Chris smiles and we make our way down the hill.

Thursday – 2015 hours – Larabee Ranch

Dinner starts off as a quiet affair. Vin and I have managed to put quite a damper on everyone's moods. It didn't help at all to find that we're having steak for dinner. As if I could cut it one handed. I look up at Chris and I swear I can detect a hint of a smile. I nudge Vin and he sees it, too. Chris is getting too much enjoyment out of our humiliating moments. Not that I blame him. We have given him plenty of reason in the past to even the score.

However, this time the joke is on him. Buck grabs my plate without asking and cuts my steak for me and JD does the same for Vin - another piece of the plan to lull Buck into a false sense of security. He thinks I have forgiven the bunny slippers because he is being so helpful. JD is helping because we've cut him in on the plan for revenge.

When the time is right, we will strike as a team.

I glance at Vin. He's smiling sheepishly at Josiah, and Josiah is grinning. It appears their angry words are now water under the bridge.

I wish I had that gift. Vin seems to be able to communicate so easily with a look or a smile, and receives the forgiveness he seeks. I'm somehow compelled to babble on and on, dancing around the subject before I get to the point. IF I get to the point. Admitting I am wrong is not my forte, and it's not something I am in the habit of doing. Yet, I find myself in that very position too often with these men.

I sigh and push my food around on the plate. I seem to have lost my appetite. And my headache is threatening to drown out all other sounds with its incessant pounding.

J.D. tells some awful joke and everyone laughs. Soon the tension is gone and we are once again enjoying the banter of brotherhood.

"Are you okay?" Nathan asks me, keeping his voice low while the teasing continues. "You haven't eaten much."

I push my fork into a piece of steak and bring it to my mouth just to prove him wrong. But I can't do it. My stomach just won't handle it. I return my fork to my plate and let out a small sigh. I look at Nathan, pleading for him not to push the issue. Maybe this once he’ll hear the plea in my expression.

His hand goes to my forehead without a thought, testing for fever.

I'm going to have to take lessons from Vin in communicating with a look.

"Nathan?" I hear Chris ask, and I know that everyone is watching now.

I really don't feel well. Not well at all.

"He's got a fever."

"I'm fine," I counter. Even I can hear the slight panic in my voice. I don't want to go back to the hospital.

The tension is back, and I know it's my fault again. I hate that my weakness is the cause.


Here it comes – the words I don't want to hear.

"This isn't anything to mess with," says Nathan.

I know he's right, but I can't go back to the hospital. Especially not because of an infection.

I close my eyes and focus on controlling my breathing.

"I know that…" Nathan is stymied for words. He's trying not to embarrass me. "I know it's hard, but you can't fool around with infection. You could get very sick or you could…"

He stops mid-sentence, but I fill in the blank. I know better than anyone what infection can cost. I look up and see Josiah holding up a hand to hush Nathan and now I'm sure he's pieced together the reason behind my aversion to hospitals.

"Nathan," he says, "would an urgency clinic be able to check Ezra over, so we don't have to go all the way in to the hospital?"

I really feel unwell. As much as I don't want to be in a hospital, I'm terrified that it may be the very place I need to be. I look at Nathan, hoping that he'll compromise and settle for the clinic.

Nathan nods. "But if they say he needs to be hospitalized, we go."

I close my eyes. I wonder if Josiah's God will hear me if I pray.

Thursday – 2032 hours – Larabee Ranch

I'm scared. Ezra really doesn't look good. He did a real good job of hiding how bad he was feeling up until a few minutes ago. No wonder he lost his cool with everyone before supper.

Nate's in full hover mode. He's taking Ezra's temperature now, and I'm glad it's not me. I don't mean that. I mean, I'm glad it's not me, but I'm not glad that Ezra is sick.

Hell. Nathan just said Ezra's temp is 102.8, and even I know that isn't good.

All the guys start scrambling around, but trying to look casual, trying to look like they aren't as scared as I am. It's more than being worried about how Ez will handle being stuck back in the hospital. It's the realization that just when we're startin' to think that things are gonna be fine, that this ain't over and we could still lose Ezra.


I watch Chris put on his jacket and grab the keys to his truck, and then he stops. He looks at me, then JD, and then back to Ezra. I can see his uncertainty, and even if no one else sees it, I can see he's scared, too.

Buck brings a blanket from the bedroom and Josiah grabs a coat for Ezra. And poor Ez is just sittin' there at the table looking embarrassed. And miserable. He doesn't even protest when Josiah slips his arm in the sleeve for him and drapes the coat over his other shoulder.

I get up and move to get my jacket.

"No," Chris says. "I know everyone wants to go, but there's no use in you or JD aggravating your recovery by sitting in a waiting room for who knows how long."

"He's right," Nathan agrees. "I'll go."

"And I'll drive," says Josiah.

Chris looks like he wants to argue, but he backs down. It makes the most sense that Nathan and Josiah go. That way Buck can take JD home. And Chris? Well, I'm sure he's not going to want me here alone.

"Shoes," Ezra's distress is obvious and brings everyone's attention to him. "I need shoes."

Surprisingly it's Buck who takes pity on him. Poor Ez has to be mortified that he's going to be going out in public in sweat pants and a tee shirt as it is. He can't cope with the bunny slippers anymore.

Buck goes into Chris's room and comes out with a nice pair of leather slippers. He kneels down beside Ezra and quietly removes the bunny slippers and replaces them with Chris's.

"There ya go," he says softly. "I'll save the girls for later." He picks up the bunny slippers and steps back as Josiah and Nathan help Ezra to his feet.

We all follow them, stopping on the front porch as they escort Ezra to Josiah's Suburban and help him inside. No one moves until they are out of sight. Then we slowly go inside, each of us quiet, with our own thoughts.

We didn't finish eating, but no one feels like it now. I sit down in a recliner, and JD sits on the couch and drops his crutches on the floor with a clatter.

"Sorry," he says.

Chris starts cleaning up the dinner dishes, needing something to do to keep him busy.

Buck sits down next to JD. He's still holding the bunny slippers.

Thursday – 2117 hours – North Denver Urgent Care

The ride to the clinic seemed to take forever, but the waiting to be seen seems even longer. I pull the blanket tighter around me as we wait.

Why is it that when one has a temperature, you feel so cold?

Josiah drapes his coat over me even though I'm wearing my own and I'm wrapped in a blanket. I don't have the energy to thank him.

Nathan is over at the reception desk talking to the nurse. He motions toward me rather animatedly. If I hadn't already been frightened, that movement in itself would have scared me. Nathan understands the stresses of the medical staff and is normally very calm and diplomatic in his dealings with them. If he is waving his arms, it must be bad.

God, if you can hear me…

"How are you doing, Ezra?" Josiah asks.

I give him the evil eye for asking a stupid question, but it seems to have no effect. Must be the fact that I can barely hold my head up.

I must have dozed off because Nathan just woke me up and walked me to the exam room. Josiah wanted to come, but he stayed in the waiting room. I feel foolish enough with Nathan escorting me, but I realize that he is thinking a lot more clearly than me, and he will be able to communicate the intricacies of my surgery and recovery that I can't seem to keep in my head.


I look at Nathan. "The doctor asked you a question."

Uh, could you give me a clue what it was? Then I don't have to sit here feeling stupid.

"He wants to know what your symptoms are."


That was an intelligent answer, Ezra.

"I have a headache."

"Any pain in your wound?" the doctor asks as he removes my bandage.

"No more than usual," I tell him.

Then I wince as he checks the wound. Why they insist on prodding sensitive areas is beyond me. He tells Nathan that it looks good and it's healing well.

Now I'm really confused. If it isn't infected, why do I feel so horrible?

Nathan wonders the same thing, but at least he voices the question.

For the next few minutes the doctor interviews me, asking all manner of questions. I wish he'd stop. My head hurts. My throat is scratchy. I ache all over.

He looks in my eyes, my ears, listens to my breathing, checks my glands. He has an assistant draw blood, takes my temperature and does a throat culture. I shudder just thinking about that procedure. It is most unpleasant to have someone swab your throat. The doctor tells me to lie back on the table and rest for a while.

I close my eyes and rest, and I hear Nathan tell him what medications I'm on. Isn't it odd that the very thing that irks me most about Nathan is the very thing I appreciate now? Because he's hovered over me the majority of the past week, he can succinctly provide the doctor with the information he needs to know. Well, except for the things I have kept from him.

Now I wonder if those little omissions are the reason I'm here.

The door closes as the doctor leaves to check on another patient while we await the test results. I feel Nathan pat my ankle. He must think I'm asleep because he whispers, "You just rest. I'm going to talk to Josiah."

The door closes, and I'm alone.

I cough and wince at the pain it causes in my chest.

I wish I knew what was wrong.

Thursday – 2330 hours – Larabee Ranch

I'm watching the second hand go around on the clock in Chris's living room. It's been three hours since they left, but it feels like days.

Buck half-heartedly suggested that he would take JD home, but JD put a stop to that real quick like. He hollered at Buck and told him that the only place to be right now was together and that Buck could go home if he wanted, but he wasn't budging.

Kid's got grit. It's sad that he seems to be the only one who can say that we're family and need each other.

Chris is sitting in his recliner now. I think he cleaned and polished everything in the kitchen. He looks like he's watching TV, but he's got the cordless phone in his hand, clenched in a death grip, waiting for it to ring.

Buck's petting an ear on those damn bunny slippers. I'm sure he don't even know he's doing it. It's like a little piece of Ezra and he's clinging to it. I'm sure he's thinkin' about what he could'a done different, what he missed. If he'd just been a little more observant that maybe he could'a prevented Ezra going back to the hospital.

I know I am. I'm also questioning whether we really helped him by bringing him home when we did. Yeah, it eased the panic attacks, but…


"You're shoulder bothering you?"

I'm startled by Chris's question.

"You're rubbing it."

"It's okay," I answer automatically. I didn't realize I was rubbing it.

"No more lying," He snaps.

I cringe. I know he's upset about Ezra, and that maybe if Ezra had told the truth about how he was feeling, then maybe things wouldn't be where they are now. I hear that. I understand that. But I'm not a touchy-feely share-everything type of guy and I'm not gonna complain.

I sigh, knowing that despite my feelings, the guys need me to be honest right now. 'I'm fine' just won't cut it.

"It's sore," I confess softly, "but no more so than it has been."

"Do you need anything?" Buck asks.

I shake my head.

No. Just like the rest of you, I just need Ezra to be okay.

Friday – 0320 hours – North Denver Urgent Care

I've lost all track of time. I know I finally succumbed to sleep, although I don't know how that's possible considering how worried I am.

I hear Nathan urging me to wake up, but my body doesn't seem to want to cooperate.

"Come on, Ezra," he says. "It's time to go home."


Did he say home?

I focus all my energy on clearing the cobwebs and trying to figure out what is going on.

I hear Josiah chuckling. It's the sweetest sound.

It means I'm not dying.

"Home?" I manage to mumble.

"Yes, Ezra," Nathan confirms.

"What's wrong with me?"

"You have a cold – a virus," Nathan says.

I have a cold? I have a stupid cold?

Somehow this is the funniest thing in the world to me and I begin to laugh. Or perhaps it's hysterical relief.

Josiah mercifully wraps me in a hug, hiding my face against his shoulder when the laughter becomes tears.

"Let's go home," he says softly.

I know that the next few days will be physically miserable, but right now I don't care because I have the next few days.

I'm getting maudlin.

Mother would be horrified.

It must be the drugs.

Friday – 0330 hours – Larabee Ranch

The phone rings and everyone jumps, jolted fully awake by the sound. Chris fumbles with the phone, trying to turn it on.

"Larabee," he says.

The three of us focus on his face, trying to read what he's hearing by his reactions.

There it is. I fall back against the chair in relief when I see the quirk of a smile.

"That's good, Nathan. Real good. No. Bring him here. I don't care. We've already been exposed. Bring him here."

Chris listens for a few minutes and then says goodbye and hangs up the phone.

"Well?" Buck demands.

"His wound is healing fine." Chris shakes his head. "He's got a cold. He's got a damn virus."

We all breathe our relief and then laugh at ourselves for thinking the worst and having it turn out to be a simple cold.

"Must'a been that kid," I say.

"What kid?" asks JD.

"There was a kid with a cold in the waiting room," I duck my head, slightly embarrassed, "when we took our little walk."

"Don't even think it," Larabee warns.

"What?" I ask.

"It's not your fault. This is no one's fault but Jason Timmons. None of it."

I nod. I know it. I just hope you're listening to yourself, Cowboy.

"They're on the way back,” Chris says. “Ezra wanted to go home."

"Seven days is a long time," I say.

"Said he didn't want to make everyone sick." Chris chuckles. "Nathan told him that was bull. Everyone was already exposed so he'd have to come up with a better excuse."

We all laugh.

"Josiah convinced him to give it a couple more days until he can really take care of himself."

"Good," I say. I glance over at Buck. He's smiling and givin' JD another noogie.

It’s a wonder the kid’s got any hair left.

One Week Later – Thursday – 0830 hours – Team Seven Office, Federal Building

I'm sitting at my desk for the first time in two weeks. There are a lot of loose ends to wrap up – expense reports, incident reports, meeting with the Prosecutor's Office. Despite the paperwork, I'm glad to be sitting here.

I start my computer and sip my latte while I wait for it to boot up.


Vin is munching on the pastry I purchased for him. It isn't the day of a raid, but it was something I felt the need to do today. JD must have had similar thoughts, since he brought a box of donuts.

It's good to see Vin doing so well. His shoulder is healing and the therapist says that he is progressing quickly and will have his full range of motion in no time. The scrapes on his face are healing over and it won't be long until they aren't visible at all. I'm sure the rest of his scrapes are healing as well, but I would never ask. He's far too embarrassed by the whole thing. He offered to return the silk pajamas I loaned him, but I had seen the look of enjoyment of the feel of the fabric and told him they were a gift.

Josiah and Nathan are discussing something from a file folder. This whole situation has taught me a greater appreciation for both of them. I don't know how Nathan handles the stress of his teammates being injured and having such a great responsibility for not only keeping us alive until the paramedics arrive, but for following up on our care as well.

I feel badly that I didn't keep him informed of my true condition. It wasn't any different than any of the others would have done. We all use "I'm fine" as a way to keep our privacy or to refocus the attention elsewhere, but I know that my omissions caused everyone undue stress when it was discovered I had a fever. If I had told him earlier how poorly I felt, well, it wouldn't have prevented the illness, but it could have eased the shock. I know he felt responsible, that he should have foreseen the problem, but he is only human and I did my best to keep it from him. It isn't his fault.

Josiah and I spent some time together after I went home. I know he was struggling with idea that he may have liberated me from the hospital too soon. I'm so glad for his sake that it was only a virus and not a post-op infection. Well, I'm glad for my sake as well, but it's Josiah I'm thinking about right now. He spent his off hours at my condo making sure I was eating properly. I know that he wanted to talk to me, but both of us were struggling with the proverbial "elephant in the middle of the room" due to what he overheard during my hospitalization. After two days of skirting around it, we spoke briefly of my father and he encouraged me to talk with a counselor. I knew he would, and I know it's best, but I am still hesitant. Perhaps with a little more time I will consider that risk.


JD is sitting at his desk drumming his pencil on the edge of the desktop. He is fully involved with his 'music,' almost dancing to it. It was a pleasure to see JD get his accolades for a job well done. He is a good agent and slowly he is becoming more aware of that fact. His lack of bragging about his accomplishment proved it. He didn't need anyone else's approval because he knew within himself that he did it right.

Now if he could just do something about that nervous energy.

As if on cue, Buck hits him with a Nerf basketball, interrupting the drum solo.

"Knock it off, Buck," he complains.

"That's what I was tryin' to do," Buck shoots back at him.

JD rolls his eyes. "See if I help you the next time your computer has a problem."

"JD," Buck whines teasingly, "You'll help me. You know you will. I'm irresistible."

JD grabs his throat as if he's choking.

Vin snorts and nearly does choke on his pastry.

Josiah's voice rolls across the room. "You know, Buck, if JD weren't choking on that, he'd be saying –"

He pauses for the rest of the team.

"Hooey!" everyone chimes in.

Buck covers his heart with his hand as if he's wounded and he falls on the floor.

I shake my head. Buck may be the class clown, but he has a big heart and a protective streak a mile long. However, that will not stand in the way of paybacks. Operation Bunny will soon be in full motion.

Mr. Larabee comes out of his office and leans a hip against the doorpost. He folds his arms across his chest and attempts to look stern. He clears his throat and Buck scrambles back into his chair and feigns working.

Chris has shouldered a heavy responsibility with this team. Not many team leaders would take three injured members of his team into his home while they recuperate. But then, not many teams are like Team Seven. We're, uh –


I don't know why it's so hard to hold on to that word.

Chris shakes his head and growls, "Meeting in the conference room. Five minutes."

As soon as Chris steps back in his office, Buck rolls over in his office chair and gives JD a noogie. Josiah and Nathan return to their previous discussion and Vin grabs another donut.

I smile.

Teammates. Brothers. Family. These words were once entirely foreign to me, but now they are becoming a part of my vocabulary, a part of my life. When I hear JD's drumming, Buck's teasing, Josiah's philosophizing, Nathan's hovering questions, Vin's quiet humor or Chris's grumbling about damages to his house, or wasting time in the office, or the exorbitant amounts on my expense report, it is then that I know that -

I am home.

The family -
that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape,
nor, in our inmost hearts,
ever quite wish to.

~ Dodie Smith

Comments to: jkersteter@aol.com
November 2003