Notes: This is a sequel to No Excuse and it came about when Helen Chavez asked about the ring that Josiah wore in that story. This new story briefly explains its origins, while also dealing with the continuing aftermath of Josiah's actions in the previous story. It probably has a real predictable ending too but I couldn't think of anything else. It's best for you to read No Excuse first before tackling this.
Josiah sat in Chris's living room fiddling with the ring that sat on the middle finger of his right hand. He turned it round and round distractedly as he heard soft footsteps enter the room behind him. He heard a muffled gasp and then silence. The profiler knew that the new-arrival must be Ezra but he didn't look round to confirm his belief.
"I hesitate to ask this again, but may I be of assistance, Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra asked apprehensively after a quiet minute had passed.
Josiah flinched and stood up hastily, surprised at Ezra's continued presence. Even though he hadn't heard the man leave the room, Josiah had assumed that Ezra had again tried to avoid his company. For once, much to the big man's astonishment, he hadn't.
When Ezra saw Josiah rise from the chair, he automatically backed away anxiously. He had tried hard not to, but he had been unable to stop the movement. It was a reaction of pure instinct and fear. The big profiler stayed perfectly still, knowing it was going to take time for Ezra to be at ease with him again. The two men had behaved awkwardly in each other's company ever since the fight, if that one punch could even be classed as such, and the situation certainly wasn't improving.
It had been three weeks since the undercover agent had been released from the hospital. The man had taken a long time to recover from his potentially life-threatening injuries and, even now, he was still nowhere near fully recovered. On top of that, during the past week, Ezra had begun recalling the details of Josiah's attack on him and the profiler had found the dark-haired man wary of him ever since.
Until today, the smaller man had made a point of never being in the same room with Josiah on his own. Ezra had walked into the living room before realizing that Josiah was already there. The situation had a certain feeling of deja vu about it but Ezra had found that he couldn't turn around and walk away.
The undercover agent unconsciously lifted a hand to his face as he stared, almost fearfully, at the ring on Josiah's finger. A slowly fading imprint of the ring's pattern adorned Ezra's face like a tattoo and it was a constant reminder to the profiler of what he'd done to his friend. The smaller man snapped out of his trance-like state and looked up anxiously at the much bigger man before dropping his hand back to his side as if he'd been stung. Ezra wouldn't like to admit that he was scared of Josiah, but he was.
"Ezra? Maybe it's time we had a talk," Josiah suggested quietly, hoping he wasn't going to frighten the man away.
"Come on, son. Don't play dumb."
Ezra sighed. "I apologize. It's just an uncomfortable subject to broach."
Vin stomped into the room behind them, on the lookout for Ezra, but stopped dead when he saw the two men standing nervously face-to-face several feet apart.
"Hey, guys. What's going on?" the sharpshooter asked as he looked worriedly from one man to the other. He knew Ezra had been having a hard time facing Josiah and he could see that the man was already getting ready to bolt. As he continued watching the two men before him, the long-haired man had a feeling of stepping back in time too. In that previous instance though, when Vin had arrived on the scene, Ezra had been laid out cold at Josiah's feet rather than being upright and facing him as he was now.
It was still all a bit too familiar for comfort, despite the subtle differences.
"I'll leave you two gentlemen to talk," Ezra said anxiously before hastily leaving the room, just as Vin had predicted.
"Ezra?" Josiah called plaintively. "Dammit!"
"Josiah? What was that about?" Vin asked as he stepped toward the bigger man.
Josiah ran one hand through his short hair while standing hipshot, staring at the floor. "I was just trying to get Ez to talk to me. As you saw, I failed."
"Give him time," Vin advised quietly.
"How much time? We can't go on like this, Vin. You don't treat me like I just crawled out from under a rock but he can't even bear to be near me."
"You can't just expect him to forget, can you? He's only just remembered what happened so it's like it only happened to him yesterday, instead of over two months ago. I know he said he forgave you while he was in the hospital, but that was before he recalled the details." Vin patted Josiah's back before giving a few more thoughts on the reasons for Ezra's behavior. "Despite his smart-ass ways he's always been real insecure underneath. He sacrificed a lot when he joined our team but he finally learnt that he could depend on us, no matter what. He'd always coped on his own before, so for him to let us into his life was somethin' real special. He put his total faith in us, and I hate to say this, Josiah, but you dented that faith pretty badly. With the nature of his job he needs to have complete trust in us, and at the moment he don't have it. He's haunted by what you did."
Josiah nodded in understanding, hating to be the cause of such discord in the team. He caught Vin's eye and asked, "What about you, son? What do you think about me?"
"I trust ya, Josiah. What you did to me was just a lapse and I know it won't be repeated. As far as I'm concerned, it's in the past and that's where it'll stay. You're one of the most caring fellas I know and you've helped me out more times than you've hurt me."
Josiah smiled slightly in thanks. "What can I do to show Ez that he don't have cause to be scared of me?"
"I really don't know, big guy. Trust has to be earned; or re-earned in your case, Josiah."
The profiler nodded and sighed before wandering out into the yard while the sharpshooter disappeared to check on Ezra again. Every word that Vin had said about the ramifications of Josiah's actions had struck a chord with the big man. Josiah had never felt so depressed in all his life and he sighed as he remembered yet another reason to keep torturing himself about what he'd done. Although Vin was back at work again, Ezra had been condemned to suffer blackouts as a result of the serious head injuries he'd suffered. Josiah felt terrifically guilty knowing that he was the one responsible for that. There was absolutely no warning when an attack was coming. Ezra just dropped to the ground like a stone every time, so Chris had tried to ensure that the man was never left on his own. Vin and Buck were currently on watching duty, hence why the sharpshooter had been following Ezra around earlier. The attacks were now striking with less frequency, but until they had ceased altogether Ezra couldn't work. Nathan continually reassured all the men that the blackouts were just a temporary condition and would cause no lasting harm. When the attacks had first started, Chris had been concerned that it was the onset of epilepsy but the medic said no, it was post-concussion syndrome.
Josiah looked down sadly at the ring on his finger once more. It had now become a symbol of violence instead of the love in which it had been given. He sighed and began walking toward the creek but stopped when he saw Ezra and his new companion, Buck, strolling in the same direction. He stopped and headed off in the opposite direction instead, rather than trying to approach the man again.
When he returned after an hour of deep contemplation, he spotted Ezra sitting alone on the porch. The profiler looked through the kitchen window and saw Buck still watching out for the man's welfare, but this time from a distance. Ezra, he knew, had begun to get angry that he was never left alone so Chris had consented to a compromise. He had agreed that Ezra could have solitary time as long as he stayed in sight of his companion. So, in effect, Ezra could be off on one side of the yard while his constant shadow was on the other. Ezra had agreed to the concession, somewhat reluctantly, and this precise moment looked to be one of his allowed solitary times.
Josiah ambled toward him anxiously, hoping the man didn't mind being interrupted. "Ezra?"
"Josiah," the dark-haired man greeted nervously as he felt his whole body tense. He came out in a cold sweat and his stomach tied itself in ever-tighter knots as he watched the bigger man approach.
"Can I join you?"
Ezra nodded as he stifled the urge to run, taking comfort, for once, in the fact that Buck was watching over him. The undercover agent even turned round to catch the ladies' man's eye to plead with him to stay nearby. Ezra finally turned back to face Josiah after receiving an encouraging smile from his guardian angel.
The profiler sat down, leaving a bit of distance between him and Ezra, and began playing with his ring again.
Ezra's eyes were glued to it. "Mr. Sanchez? Where did you obtain your ring?"
The tall man looked at Ezra and sighed as he saw the mirror image of the ring's pattern on Ezra's flesh. "My sister gave it to me to say how much she loved me. I gave her one of the same design as well. She'd have been sick at heart to know it coulda killed ya, son. For a token of love it sure was lethal. I don't feel like wearing it anymore but it's all I really have to remind me of her."
Ezra broke his hypnotic gaze from the jewelry for a split-second so he could look up at Josiah when he heard the despair in the man's tones. "I wouldn't want you to halt wearing it just because of what occurred, and I'm sorry if my behavior is contributing to your feelings, Josiah."
"I can understand you not having much faith in me anymore," Josiah said as he sighed and shrugged. "Don't have much faith in myself neither."
"Josiah, you've never given me cause to doubt your friendship and support before this unfortunate incident. It's just that when I look at you now, I'm no longer sure if I can count on you not to harm me. Deep down I know I can, but I somehow can't believe it."
"You feel betrayed," Josiah observed quietly as he stared unseeingly at the ground by his feet.
"I honestly don't know what I feel, and for once in my life I cannot put anything adequately into words." Ezra sighed and shrugged. "I see Vin behaving normally around you and I wonder why I can't. I wonder what is wrong with me." Ezra grimaced, knowing he still wasn't expressing himself competently. He took a deep breath and tried again. "With my job I'm used to violence, but I never expected it to come from inside the team. I could always take comfort in the fact that I could relax in the company of those with whom I worked. Now I'm not so sure."
Josiah's attack had shaken Ezra to the core, and although he didn't blame Josiah for his actions, it didn't stop him being apprehensive whenever he set eyes on the man. The attack had been totally unprovoked and Ezra was always on edge anticipating another one from the man. He was scared to even cough in the man's vicinity in case it set him off.
Josiah looked at Ezra seriously and studied him quietly for a minute. "Do you think that you can ever forgive me, son?"
"Yes, I bear you no malice whatsoever now, but I just seem to have a deep-seated fear whenever I see you. I can't help it and I don't know how to prevent it."
"Dammit, Ezra. I feel terrible that I did this to you. I assure you that your life will always be safe in my hands. I know you may find that hard to believe, but it's true," Josiah said sincerely as he made moves to leave.
Chris walked into the kitchen and stood beside Buck as he stared out at the two uncomfortable agents on the porch.
"Are they okay?" the blond asked anxiously.
"Yeah, just talking things through at last, I reckon. They've been together for quite some time, which is real good. I thought Ez was gonna do a runner to start with. I actually saw his whole body tense up in preparation for a quick escape, but he managed to stand his ground and he's kinda relaxed a bit since."
"Sure hope that they can work together again or this could be the end of the team, Bucklin," Chris said, although he was pleased at the slight improvement in hostilities.
"Yeah, I know. I've never seen Ez so unsettled before, but we all know how hard he finds it being in Josiah's company at the moment. I can sure understand it too."
Later that day, Josiah walked to the barn where he knew that Chris was mucking out the horses.
The big man stepped inside and looked around him. He heard the sound of a shovel being scraped over the ground so he ambled over to the nearest stall to find the blond there working hard. "Chris? Can I have a word?"
The black-clad man looked up and then stepped outside to join his troubled friend. "Sure. What's on yer mind?"
"Thought as much," Chris said as he put the shovel aside and wiped his hands down his pant leg.
The big man shrugged forlornly. "I don't know what else I can do to sort things out."
The blond put a hand on the profiler's shoulder. "Josiah? Look, before today he wouldn't even be alone with you, no matter if one of us was nearby or not. That's an improvement, ain't it? You talked for quite some time from what Buck told me."
"Yeah, I know we did but I want so much for things to get back to how they were."
"They'll never be how they were, Josiah. Not completely," Chris pointed out truthfully as he studied the man's features quietly.
"I know and I truly regret that," Josiah admitted as he turned and left the building, still in turmoil. Despite talking to all his friends about what had happened, he never felt any better for it. Time will heal, they'd all said. How much time? he asked himself, as he had on many previous occasions.
"Anyone seen, Ez?" JD asked breathlessly after bursting into the kitchen during the afternoon.
"No, I thought you were s'posed to be watching him until supper. You'd swapped duties with Buck, hadn't ya?" Chris asked nervously as he rose hastily from his chair.
"Yeah, that's right. I've just lost Ez now, though," the kid admitted, knowing that Chris would be furious.
The black-clad man pursed his lips as his eyes flashed with annoyance. "Dammit, JD. We're keeping an eye on him for a reason.
You should take yer responsibilities more seriously. Where and when did ya see him last?"
"Out by the creek about a half hour ago."
"Shit!" the blond cursed, imagining all sorts of accidents. After what Ezra had been through recently, Chris hoped that nothing bad had happened to the man to add to his mountain of woes. "Everyone out and look for him. I know he was getting irritable because we were always watching him but I thought we'd sorted that out. You shouldn't have left it so long before telling us that he was missing, kid. God knows what's happened to him in the meantime."
The worried men hurried outside and the blond arranged for two of them to search the yard and outbuildings first, in case Ezra had found his way back home again. The rest headed to the creek to begin their search there.
Josiah walked upstream as he studied the surrounding countryside intently. The six men were keeping in touch by radio but after half an hour no one had called to say that the missing man had been found. The profiler couldn't help getting more and more anxious as time passed by and he began blaming himself, although he hadn't been the one to lose Ezra. His eyes darted back and forth as he desperately searched for the undercover agent and his eyes naturally kept finding their way back to the water. Josiah couldn't help but think he was going to find Ezra face down in the creek.
The profiler suddenly saw movement out the corner of his eye up by the waterfall that he was approaching. He switched his gaze upward and saw Ezra sat at the top, staring down hypnotically at the whirlpool beneath.
Josiah sighed in relief to find the man unharmed and he made his way quickly up the steep track to join him. The smaller man had his back to the path and showed no sign that he was aware of Josiah's presence. The undercover agent had been facing downstream when Josiah had first arrived so couldn't have missed seeing the profiler approaching. Just to be on the safe side though, Josiah made a lot of noise to alert the man that someone was nearby.
When Ezra finally looked round, the profiler said, "Ezra? You okay?"
"Fine," the smaller man replied as he stood up and stepped back slightly from Josiah.
"You scared JD, son. He's just gotten a telling off from Chris for losing you," Josiah said quietly, trying to sound lighthearted to keep his friend at ease.
"Sorry, but I needed some space. I felt terrifically claustrophobic for some reason, so I'm afraid I deliberately evaded Mr. Dunne's presence," Ezra admitted as he brushed the dirt from his pant legs and then rubbed his backside to get the feeling back in it. He'd been sat down for so long that he was numb in the lower half of his body. He bent his legs once or twice as they slowly began coming back to life. They started off just tingling with pins and needles but then began throbbing with pain as the blood circulated properly again.
"I'd better let the others know that you're safe. We've all been real worried about ya." Josiah pulled out his radio and turned away from Ezra to study the surrounding scenery. "Chris? Found him."
"Thank God. Is he alright?"
"Yeah, just felt stifled and needed time on his own, as we thought."
"Where are you?"
"At the waterfall. I'll bring him back now." The profiler kept the radio in his hand as he turned to look at his companion once more. "Come on, Ez. Best get back, I reckon."
Ezra nodded and indicated that he would follow the profiler back down the path. He felt much safer behind the man where he could keep an eye on him. He waited until Josiah was a little way ahead before deciding to set off after him.
"I hope Mr. Larabee wasn't too tough on young Mr. Dunne," the undercover agent said quietly, feeling guilty for being the cause of making the youngster a target for the blond's notorious temper.
"No more than usual."
The two men carried on down the slope and Josiah looked over his shoulder to make sure Ezra was negotiating the track safely. He was just in time to see the man topple sideways as he blacked-out once more without warning.
"Shit!" Josiah cursed as Ezra fell over the edge and headed toward the whirlpool. The profiler saw Ezra's limp body hit the water with a big splash and he waited anxiously for the man to resurface. He didn't. Josiah's nightmare about Ezra drowning was possibly coming true.
"Dammit. You ain't dying if I can help it, son."
The tall man dropped the radio and dived into the water away from the swirling eddy and went under the surface to try and trace Ezra. He wasn't immediately successful and had to come up for air before diving down again. His fingers finally touched cloth and he pulled on it, hoping it was Ezra. The whirlpool, though, was very reluctant to let go of its prize and seemed to be trying to claim the profiler as well. Josiah had real trouble getting Ezra away from the strong eddy but even though his own survival was being threatened, he wasn't going to give up. He finally broke free and swam rapidly to the surface with his boneless burden in his arms. Once Josiah's face reached the open air, he gasped and dragged much needed air into his lungs. The profiler then readjusted his grip on the unconscious undercover agent and headed toward the bank and safety. He felt truly exhausted by the time he got there and he found that there was no way he could manage to get the man he was holding out onto dry land first. The big man somehow found the strength to climb out while making sure he still kept a good hold on his friend. He then reached down and pulled Ezra carefully from the water. He lay the man down gently on the ground and after first clearing any water from his friend's body, made sure he was still alive. Much to his relief he was, although he sounded slightly wheezy and was only breathing shallowly. Josiah turned the man gently on his side and then ran back up the path to pick up the radio again.
"Chris?" he called breathlessly as he began coughing to clear his lungs of some lingering water.
"Josiah? Is that you? Are you okay?"
"No, Ezra had another blackout and fell in the whirlpool under the waterfall. I've gotten him out but I need help with him. He's breathing okay but he's still unconscious," Josiah said before drawing in a deep breath to fill his still aching lungs.
"Okay, we'll be there as soon as we can. Are you alright?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine but I'm worried about Ez."
Josiah put the radio away and took up position beside the prone agent again while waiting for Chris to come. His five friends arrived very quickly and Nathan immediately started to check Ezra over.
"Well done, big fella. You done real good in getting him outta there. You sure yer okay, Josiah?" Chris asked as he moved to stand beside the big man who remained sitting beside Ezra.
"Yeah, but that whirlpool sure has a drag on it and I had real trouble getting us both away from it," Josiah said as he put a finger in his ear to try and get his hearing back properly. "That's the first time that I've actually seen Ezra collapse and I expected him to feel dizzy or somethin'. I know you said he didn't, and you explained exactly what happened during an attack, but it still frightened me all the same."
Their attention was then drawn to Nathan as they heard the medic say, "Ezra?"
The undercover agent opened his eyes slowly and coughed weakly as he cleared the last of the water from his lungs. Unfortunately, he saw Josiah first of all. "Get away! Get away from me!" he yelled as he tried to sit up. He'd been dreaming about the fight and seeing Josiah there had made him think that it was happening for real.
"Ez, Ez, calm down," Nathan said softly as he moved so that Ezra could see him. "Just take it easy. Josiah ain't hurt ya; he saved ya. You had another blackout."
"Oh no, not again," the undercover agent mumbled forlornly as he shivered.
"'Fraid so," Nathan replied kindly. "You collapsed and fell in the water. That's why one of us is always with you, Ez. You shouldn't have gotten rid of JD 'cause you coulda died, Ez."
Ezra wiped a weary hand down his face and then looked up at Josiah. "Sorry, Josiah, and thank you for saving my life."
"That's okay, son. Let's get you back to the house and dried before you catch yer death," the profiler said with an understanding smile. He could see that his friend's pale, wet skin was covered in goose bumps and he knew for himself how cold the water had been.
"I'll carry him, pard," Buck offered as he stepped forward quickly. He didn't think that Ezra would feel happy for Josiah to carry him just at the moment. The ladies' man took off his own jacket and put it over his friend's chest before lifting the soggy, quivering undercover agent into his arms. He held the man close and hoped that his own body warmth would help to heat his friend up a bit.
Ezra was always very tired after a blackout but he was even more so this time because of his drenching. He felt half-asleep already but just as he was about to doze off totally, he'd shiver and wake himself up again.
"I'm sorry, Chris," JD said as he watched his roommate deal with Ezra.
"Yeah, I know, kid. Don't beat yerself up over it but learn from it, okay?" the blond said as he handed over his own jacket for Josiah to put round his shoulders to keep out the cold.
"I sure will."
Once Buck had settled his burden comfortably in his arms, the six walking men turned as one, and headed home. By the time they reached the house, Ezra was fast asleep like a baby in Buck's tender grasp. The tall man took him straight upstairs and removed Ezra's soaking clothes before drying him off and putting him to bed. The man didn't wake, despite Buck's ministrations, which showed just how much Ezra had been affected by events. Buck stayed in the room to keep an eye on his friend to make sure that he didn't develop any other symptoms because of his watery fall. The smaller man, though, slept soundly until late evening before finally stirring and opening his eyes with a groan.
"Hey, pard. Feel okay?" the ladies' man asked as he leaned forward with a smile.
"Slightly sick," the bed-ridden man replied after a small pause while he considered his answer. "What happened?"
Buck patted the man's arm. "You fell in the water after passing out and Josiah saved you. Do you remember?"
"Well, it all seems rather like a hazy nightmare at the moment and I can't remember any details at all. They're there at the back of my mind but I just can't bring them to the fore." The man sighed. "I hate passing out like this, Bucklin. It's so draining, and I don't like being such a burden to you all." Ezra sat up and frowned as he suddenly remembered something about his fall. "Did I make a fool of myself by shouting at Josiah? I have a vague memory that I thought he was hitting me again."
"Don't fret, Ez. You did yell at him but yer still coming to terms with what he did, so he don't blame ya."
"I'd better speak to him," Ezra said as he climbed out of bed and slowly put on some dry clothes.
"Easy, Ez. You sure you should be getting up?" Buck asked, thinking the man still looked pale.
"Yes, thank you for your concern but I'll be fine," Ezra said as he made his way downstairs with Buck following anxiously behind.
Ezra wandered through to the living room and moved to stand beside Josiah, who rose as soon as he saw the undercover agent.
"Mr. Sanchez? Can I apologize for shouting at you earlier? I'm afraid my mind had latched onto previous events during my blackout and as you were the first person I saw, it unsettled me."
"Don't apologize to me, Ez. I feel awful that yer condemned to suffer these attacks because of me hitting you." Josiah turned his gaze on the man and asked quite seriously but with the ghost of a grin, "If I let you hit me, would it make ya feel any better?"
"No, Mr. Sanchez, it would not," Ezra replied, unable to hide his smile at the offer he'd just received. He suddenly realized that for the first time he was beginning to feel a bit more relaxed in the man's company. He hoped that it signaled an improvement in conditions and that things would carry on progressively upwards. He'd been down and out for too long, he decided.
It still took several weeks, but finally Ezra's attacks ceased altogether. During the time after his fall, his relationship with Josiah had slightly thawed too, although it was not back to how it used to be. The undercover agent vowed for that to change.
He was given the all clear by the hospital and eagerly turned up for his first day back at work. He immediately sought Josiah out and took him to one side. "Mr. Sanchez? I am sorry that things have been so awkward between us. I want to put it all behind us, if you feel that you can. What is in the past is over and done with so we shouldn't dwell on it. I feel I need to start afresh, and what better day than today?"
Josiah smiled and nodded in agreement. "I'd like that, son. You weren't the one who started all this, Ez. I won't ever forget what I did to you, or Vin, but I'm glad you feel we can still work together and hopefully be friends again."
"I have always valued your friendship, Josiah, and certainly I don't want to lose it," Ezra stated as he patted the profiler's back. "There's just one thing I need to rectify, though. I see that you have stopped wearing your ring. Please put it back on. Your sister gave it to you and it's not right that you feel that you can't display her token of love," Ezra said as he looked at Josiah's hand before transferring his gaze to the man's face.
The tall man stayed silent for a minute before nodding and smiling. "Whenever I look at this ring it will remind me of my sister but it will also keep a rein on my temper," Josiah said as he took the ring out of his pocket and slipped it back onto his middle finger.
Ezra smiled and held out his hand, which Josiah shook firmly to cement the new beginning.
"Let not the sun go down on thy wrath," Ezra said.
"Amen to that, brother Ezra."