Blood, Sweat and Tears
Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3 | Page 4 | Page 5
+ + + + + + +
Doc? Chris asked when the doctor appeared six hours later.
Hello, gentlemen, Im Dr. Blane and Ive been looking after Mr. Standish since his admission. Hes just been moved to ICU after having extensive surgery to stop the massive internal bleeding that he suffered. The tall man sighed. Im afraid hes scored poorly on the Glasgow Coma scale and as a consequence is classified as being in a deep coma. Hes got multiple injuries because of the impact of the accident but Im sorry to say that his head injuries are by far the worst.
Is he gonna live?
Its still not certain, Im afraid, but were doing all we can for him. Hes very poorly and lost a lot of blood. Weve repaired all the internal damage to his body but he could develop complications later on. We noted that hes already lost his spleen and that means his immunity to infections is lowered, but well be watching him very closely. Hell be on life support for the foreseeable future until he can breathe on his own. His lungs were damaged because of the crushing effect of the trunk around him and hes broken quite a lot of his ribs too.
The six men exchanged nervous glances and stayed silent for a few seconds while they digested what the doctor had just said.
The blond was the first to shake himself back to the moment. Can you tell if his injuries are a result of the wreck only? Was he hurt before the accident? We think he was attacked, Chris asked, knowing it was a hopeless question.
Cant tell, the man replied with an unhelpful shrug.
Whats the Glasgow Coma scale? JD asked as an after thought, not caring if he was the only one who didnt know.
The doctor turned to face him and smiled sadly. It measures the level of consciousness and responses in patients. As I said, Ezra scored almost at the bottom of each section, which means hes showing hardly any responses to stimuli at all. That classifies him as being in a coma rather than just lightly unconscious.
JD nodded gratefully at the explanation. Hed rather know what everything meant rather than just assume.
Can we see him? Chris asked.
Sure, Dr. Blane said, knowing the men wouldnt like to be split up and made to visit their friend one by one. He was willing to bend the rules this time, but he would certainly restrict them later on.
The six men hurried along to their friends room and huddled round the bed anxiously. Ezras skin was mottled with bruises and cuts and he was exceedingly pale. He was on a ventilator via his mouth, and there were several small pads stuck on his chest to monitor his heart and respiratory rate. There were also a few IVs inserted in his arms, one of which measured his blood pressure. The resulting machines and equipment needed to monitor the injured mans condition surrounded his bed like sentries on guard duty.
Buck stood in front of one of the machines and studied its readouts intently. His eyes followed the line which signified Ezras heart rate as it made its way across the screen. It peaked whenever Ezras heart pumped and the ladies man stared at it hypnotically as he listened to the accompanying beeps. He switched his gaze and looked at the numbers that were displayed on the monitor. He knew that they recorded Ezras blood pressure but his eyes, for some reason, wouldnt focus on them properly. He sighed and turned his attention to the bed instead, just as Josiah sat in the chair beside it.
Hey, Ez. Cant imagine how ya felt in that trunk, son. Know how bad you can be affected as a passenger in any vehicle. Being in the dark like that musta been dreadful, Josiah said as he sat beside the man and held his hand gently. He was careful not to dislodge the lead that was attached to Ezras index finger, which monitored the oxygen saturation in the agents blood. The profiler wondered whether he should actually move away. There seemed to be so many things he could get tangled up in, what with the IVs, the pads on Ezras chest and the urinary catheter. It would be so easy to accidentally disconnect something important.
Doc? Can you say how long till he wakes? Buck asked worriedly as he kept his gaze firmly fixed on Ezras battered body.
The doctor shook his head sadly. Theres no way of predicting how long hell remain unconscious. The brain is still one of the bodys most mysterious organs. We did do a CT scan and it shows evidence of intracranial bleeding, which could be worrying. Hes being monitored closely to be certain that the bleeding doesnt reach the point that surgery becomes necessary, though. Well just have to wait and see how he progresses.
Ez? There are a lot of people waiting to see ya. Dont keep us waiting too long, Vin said as he held Ezras hand gently after hearing the doctors report.
The doctor grimaced and said to Chris, I wanna warn you that there is the possibility of brain damage after the injuries he suffered. The longer he remains unconscious, the greater the possibility, Im afraid. Well only know for sure when he wakes. Some patients suffer seizures as a result of their head injuries and I just want you to prepare for that event so that you arent too upset if it should happen. Dr. Blane then shrugged before continuing with his list of warnings. As for his lungs, they should hopefully recover fully but theyre going to take time. If he remains in a coma, though, well have to move his position in the bed every couple of hours to stop bedsores developing because they can be a serious risk to his health if they become infected. Hell also have to be fed via a tube if he doesnt wake soon but hopefully hell rouse sooner than we expect, he said with a hopeful smile.
The doctor then walked out of the room, leaving behind some frantic men. He didnt even wait to see if they had any other questions for him. Hed said as much as he could say anyway.
Id better let Travis know, Chris said, shaking himself back into a functioning mode.
Wait, Chris. I checked on why Marty was out. He was released early cause of good behavior, Vin informed his friend quietly.
Shit. Good behavior, my ass, Chris snarled. Someones gonna hear about this, believe me. The blond then wandered out of the hospital and pulled out his cell phone and called AD Travis.
His boss answered almost immediately. Travis.
Sir? Can I come and see you about Ezra?
Travis detected the fearful note in the blonds voice and he frowned. He was totally unaware of the undercover agents latest predicament. The other agents had been so worried when Chris had found Ezra that theyd left the office without saying where they were going or why.
Sure, come now, Travis said.
Okay, Im on my way.
The black-clad man hurried to his Ram and set off to the office. He felt cold, shivery and sick and had real trouble concentrating on what he was doing. He finally pulled into the parking garage and parked in his usual spot automatically before making his way up in the elevator. He then strode along the hallway and knocked on his bosss door with a shaking fist.
Chris pushed opened the door and walked to the desk looking furious.
Travis looked up and saw the blonds expression. Take a seat, Chris. Whats this about?
The blond cleared his throat and refused the chair in favour of stalking round the room. Ezras in a coma and may have brain damage. He may not even live.
Travis was clearly shocked and he took a few seconds to answer. What? What happened?
Chris told him what he knew.
Damn. Im really sorry, Chris.
So you should be, the blond snapped, before giving his boss a piece of his mind. He knew he was treading on thin ice but he was past caring. If youd given him more support, we may have been able to prevent this, sir. You didnt even consult me over how I wanted to deal with Ezra when Kenny was killed. You rode roughshod over me, Chris said, his temper near the breaking point as he thought back to the wreck.
Travis bit back a sharp reply, trying to placate the blond instead. He knew that with Team7 the phrase cut one and they all bleed was particularly appropriate, and it certainly seemed to be the case in light of Ezras current injuries. Im sorry you felt that, Chris, but in my opinion Ezra was not in the correct frame of mind for doing any sort of work, so there was no point in him being here. Look, Chris, I know youre upset but as I thought, Ezras problem was personal, not work-related. I just cant allow you, or your men, to take time out when its a problem at home like this.
I dont care. He needed help and we were forced to near enough abandon him because of your orders. He deserved better and its nearly cost him his life. It wasnt kids, as you thought. It was Marty, whod almost killed him once before, if you remember. Ezra was damned right in his gut reaction. He knew that it was something serious, but all we did was send him home to fend for himself all day. Marty was a cunning bastard and he certainly wasnt going to let Ezra get away with standing up to him and getting him jailed. We shoulda been told that he was let out early.
Travis definitely wasnt going to allow Chris to talk to him in such a way, although the older man did feel a few pangs of guilt. Rein in your temper, Agent Larabee, or youll likely regret it. Remember who youre talking to.
Chris took a deep breath, knowing he was pushing his luck.
Travis softened his stance slightly when he saw just how strained Chris looked. Look, Im sorry that this happened, Chris. Take till the end of the week to get things sorted with him. I cant let you take more time than that, though. Travis winced. Ill try and find a replacement to take over from Ezra for the time being, but I need you all back next week, no matter how he is, okay?
The blond nodded, his temper waning. Yeah, well be here. Just need to be with Ez right now. Hes real sick.
I understand and I am sorry, Chris. Keep me informed of his condition.
Chris went back to his own office and closed the door. He knew that he had to call Maude, Ezras mother, and pass on the bad news so he sat down in the chair behind his desk and put in the call.
Maude? Its Chris.
Mr. Larabee. What can I do for you? the lady asked. She was currently in the offices of her global company in Washington. She ran a chain of casinos and betting shops and her life revolved around money.
Ezras been seriously injured and the doctor isnt sure if hes gonna recover. Hes in a coma and may have brain damage, Chris said quietly as he fiddled with the phone cord.
I see, Maude said calmly. Keep me up to date with his condition, wont you?
The blond was totally thrown by the womans seeming indifference to her sons injuries. Arent you coming to see him? he asked in confusion.
There seems no point, does there? He wont know if Im there or not and I have a very important business deal that I cannot abandon.
Hes your son, dammit. Your only son. What if he dies? the black-clad man asked angrily. Maude could be such an uncaring person sometimes but hed expected more from her in circumstances such as these.
Then I shall come to his funeral. The only thing I ask is that you dont ask me to watch him die, Chris, Maude said, showing some emotion for the first time.
Chris finally understood why she wouldnt come and he could hear the hitch in her voice as she spoke. He shook his head, slightly ashamed at letting go of his temper earlier. Im sorry, Maude. I thought you didnt care about him.
Of course I care, but as you must know Im not very good at playing happy families. I love Ezra dearly but I cant bear the thought of losing him. I find hospitals such terrible places and I couldnt bear to sit beside Ezras bed waiting for him to die.
Chris sighed. Okay, I understand. Ill call you as often as I can, but please try to come at some point. Well be there, too, so you wont be on your own with him.
Thank you and I will try to come. Ill see how I feel when Ive come to terms with what youve just told me.
Speak to you later then, Chris said as he put down the phone and ran his fingers through his hair. He knew everyone reacted differently in times of crisis but for Maude not to even want to say goodbye to Ezra, if he should die, was beyond Chriss comprehension.
Josiah wandered into the office half an hour later. He saw Chris staring into space in his own office so he went to check on his boss to make sure he was alright.
Chris? You okay?
Yeah, called Maude but she aint gonna come.
What? the profiler exclaimed in surprise.
The blond looked up at his friend and grimaced. She dont wanna watch him die. She seemed so uncaring to start with but I could hear she was trying not to cry later on. I didnt wanna force her to come but I let her know that I was angry at her decision.
Well, Ezra and Maude have always had an unconventional relationship. I couldnt even say how Id react if a family member of mine was gonna die. Im not sure if I could be there when they passed away so its not an uncommon reaction. She may well change her mind when shes thought things through, the tall man said reasonably.
Thats what she said. I sure hope she does come, for Ezras sake, if not her own.
+ + + + + + +
As the days passed, Dr. Blane indicated that he was more positive that Ezra would survive, although in the days following his admission Ezra had suffered several bad seizures, which worried his friends no end. The doctor reassured them that, as hed previously said, it was entirely natural, but they were still immensely pleased when the episodes finally abated. It became obvious, though, that it was going to take quite some time for the injured man to stir from his coma.
Ezras friends had to return to work because of Traviss previous order but they visited the injured agent whenever they could.
AD Travis, as agreed, had arranged for a replacement agent to take over from Ezra. Chris met the newcomer first and had quite a lengthy conversation with him in his own office before introducing him to the rest of the team.
Guys? This is Jake who gonna be our undercover agent.
Nice to meet ya, Vin said.
Yeah, it is, isnt it? Jake said with a sneer as he looked over the group of men slowly.
The quiet sharpshooter was taken aback by the reply but he decided to ignore it in case Jake just had a weird sense of humor.
Im Vin Tanner and Im the sharpshooter on the team. Vin then turned to Josiah. This is Josiah Sanchez, and hes our profiler.
Hello, Jake, the big man said as he shook his hand, tightening the grip deliberately.
Jake winced when it felt like his hand was stuck in a vice. He looked up at Josiah to find the man smiling at him while arching an eyebrow as if challenging him to say something out of turn, which Jake wisely didnt. Chris watched the interplay between the two men with interest. When Josiah finally let go of the grip on Jakes hand, the blond intervened and continued introducing the rest of the team, finishing with JD.
This is John Dunne, although we all call him JD. Hes our computer expert.
The new undercover agent looked the youngster up and down with a scowl. Jeez, they recruit from kindergarten now, do they? Yer just outta diapers, aint ya? Jake said, in a tone that showed he wasnt joking.
It aint age that matters, its knowledge and expertise, JD shot back.
If that was true, Id have Traviss job by now, Jake retorted shortly as he turned on his heels and set off to an appointment with AD Travis.
Is he for real, Chris? Vin asked. Seems a bit full of himself.
Yeah, I know, but give him a chance to settle in. I know that first impressions are usually correct but maybe hell mellow, the black-clad man replied with a shrug.
Like you, ya mean? Buck said with a loud laugh.
Very funny, stud. Chris shook his head unhappily. Well, Jakes here to stay so well just have to make the best of it. The blond had to admit that he hadnt been too impressed with Jakes demeanor either, but he didnt have much choice in the matter.
+ + + + + + +
Days passed by with no improvement in Ezras condition at all.
Doc? What do the tests say now? the blond asked two weeks later when he caught Dr. Blane in the hallway.
The doctor smiled, pleased that he could give a bit of good news for once. Hes definitely showing improvement on the Coma scale. Hes on his way back but it could still be days, weeks or even months before he wakes fully. Were going to start trying to wean him off the ventilator too over the next few days to see if he can breathe on his own. Once hes come off that we can maybe start thinking about moving him out of ICU.
Thanks. Thats a bit of a silver lining anyway.
Chris wandered along to see Ezra and bumped into a nurse in the doorway of his room. Is he okay?
Yes, Ive just given him a bed bath and a shave, so he looks clean and tidy for you, if nothing else.
Thanks, thats great.
The blond stayed for a short time with his unconscious agent and then headed back to the office to update his men. They got their hopes up after hearing the news but unfortunately, the improvement in Ezras condition was so gradual as to seem miniscule. Two more weeks passed by with no sign of him waking, but as the doctor had predicted he was now free of the ventilator and was in a private room outside ICU.
Chris hated that Ezra was left alone sometimes for days on end. He tried to get his friends to visit every day, not that it took much urging, but inevitably there were times when no one was free. Ezra had been on his own for three days when Nathan and JD put aside a few hours one evening to stop by the hospital.
Hey, Ez. Sorry we havent been to see you recently. I feel real bad about not being able to visit every day. We really miss you and there isnt a day goes by, an hour that goes by, that the boys dont mention your name, Nathan said.
The medic sat beside the bed while JD headed toward the window to look out at the scenery. The two men stayed in those positions for half an hour, not talking to one another, although Nathan kept up a one-sided conversation with Ezra. The youngest agent turned back to ask the medic a question about something hed just said, but frowned when he saw Ezras left hand move. He looked at his friends face quickly and watched as his eyes opened and closed.
Nate! Nate, he opened his eyes and moved his hand, JD called urgently as he took a couple of strides toward the bed, his heart beating hard in excitement.
He reached out his free hand and stroked Ezras cheek gently in the hope of getting some response. Nathan, meanwhile, stood up and leaned over Ezra. The injured agent made no other moves so Nathan sat down again and watched Ezra closely. The injured man opened his eyes again a few minutes later and Nathan got to his feet hastily.
Ez? Ezra, look at me, Nathan urged loudly.
Ezra didnt focus his eyes or acknowledge Nathan at all.
Nate? Whats wrong? JD asked as he shuffled from foot to foot anxiously.
Nothing, kid. He just aint out of his coma yet.
But he opened his eyes, the youngster objected. For him it was cut and dried: if you opened your eyes, you were awake.
Yes, but it was just a random movement. It can happen, not very often, but it does, kid. Theres nothing to worry about, Nathan said gently, seeing the doubt in JDs face.
The doctor came in and smiled at the two visitors. Everything alright?
Nathan looked up and nodded. He opened his eyes and moved his hand, but he aint awake. He didnt focus on me when I spoke to him so I guess hes just moving randomly.
Dr Blane nodded and checked Ezra over quickly. Yeah, thats sounds about right.
So hes okay? JD asked worriedly as he stared at the doctor with wide eyes.
Well have to wait until he wakes totally to gauge that for sure, but theres no deterioration in his condition if thats what youre worried about.
JD sighed in relief and sat beside his friend again. Thank God.
+ + + + + + +
Later the next day Ezra opened his eyes again. Chris was with him because the rest of his men were helping out at work on a rush case. The blond stood up and leaned over his agent and this time Ezra looked at him and blinked.
Hey, Ez. Glad youre back with us. Do you feel okay?
The undercover agent blinked again as he tried to focus on the blond. He then opened his mouth to reply to his friends question but no sound emerged.
Chris frowned in concern. Squeeze my hand, Ez, he ordered as he clutched Ezras left hand.
Ezra moved his fingers slightly but didnt grip properly. Chris smiled at him in relief and squeezed his hand in comfort after giving it a quick rub.
Speak to me, Ez. Just say my name, the blond pleaded, hoping that he would be obeyed.
Ezra took a deep breath but was again unsuccessful in uttering a sound. He found he couldnt even groan, but he really wasnt bothered about finding out why right now. He was too tired and disoriented, and he just couldnt get his brain to work properly.
The blond, though, felt his own heart begin beating rapidly again in fear. Dont worry, Ez. Ill just get the doc. Dont go back to sleep. Chris went to the nurses station and a call was put out for the doctor.
Dr. Blane strode along the hallway after receiving the page and he met an agitated Chris outside Ezras door. Whats up?
Hes definitely awake but although he kinda moved his hand he didnt seem to be able to talk to me, the blond informed him frantically.
Okay, leave him with me. Can you go to the waiting room and Ill let you know what I find?
Chris nodded and headed to the waiting room while a thorough examination was carried out. Chris didnt even have the energy, or the will, to call his friends; he was too worried about his injured agent to think straight.
Why didnt Ezra talk to me? he wondered.
The blond paced up and down the room and then headed out into the hallway to see if the doctor was in sight. His temper was building with each minute but still no one came to update him. He went back inside the waiting room irritably. Sit down, stand up, pace around. That was the pattern for the whole time he was alone. His stomach tied itself in ever tighter knots and he kept coming out in cold sweats as he contemplated why the exam was taking so long. The blond was in the waiting room on his own in this state for two hours.
Dr. Blane finally arrived and he took a seat wearily beside the black-clad man.
Well? Why did you take so long? Chris demanded angrily as he clenched his fists fearfully.
Dr. Blane sighed. He hated giving out bad news. It never got any easier, no matter how many times he did it. Mr. Larabee? Ezra was in a coma for a long time, as you are of course aware, and that was a sign that all might not be well with him. Some patients wake with no ill-effects at all despite appalling injuries, but Im afraid in Ezras case there are a few problems. He cant speak, has very limited movement in his right arm, and his left hand has been slightly affected too.
The blonds anger was extinguished like a blown-out flame. Will he improve or will he be like this forever? Chris asked in a whisper; his world suddenly shattered as he thought of Ezras impairments.
I really cant say yet. Well only know after the next few weeks to months. Hes gonna need extensive physical and occupational therapy whatever happens. Im sorry that it isnt better news. What I can say is that now hes awake we can begin trying to get him to eat. Well start him off on ice chips first, and if he can handle those, well remove the tube that weve been feeding him through up to now. Because he cant use his hands properly, though, it will mean that hell have to be fed by someone else.
Chris nodded and headed outside in a daze. Things just seemed to be getting worse and worse. The blond stared up at the night sky and looked at the twinkling stars. It was usually an awesome sight but right now it held no interest to him at all. He took a few minutes to settle his nerves and then pulled out his cell to call his best friend.
Vin answered after a few rings but was met with silence. He frowned when he heard the unsettled breathing on the other end and he shivered in fear. He knew exactly who it was and why he was calling.
Chris? Whats wrong? Whats wrong with Ezra?
The blond pulled himself together and sighed. Um...He woke, but hes...not alright. Hes got some disabilities and the doctor doesnt know if hes gonna get better. I dont know what to do, Vin.
Shit. Are you at the hospital now?
Yeah, Chris replied in a shell-shocked tone.
Ill cancel my class and come now. Vin ran self-defence classes for women every week, but not tonight. He could hear the real despair in Chriss voice and wanted to support him as best he could. Hell, hed have cancelled the class anyway after hearing such bad news about Ezra.
Vin arrived at the hospital quickly and went straight to Ezras room where Chris now was.
Chris? You okay? he asked as he studied the usually unflappable blond. Chris was usually good in a crisis, he never panicked. He was the one always giving support to the rest of them, but not today it seemed.
No, I feel numb, the blond mumbled.
What happened? Vin asked as he sat down and rubbed Chriss back gently.
Chris looked at Vin and told him exactly what was wrong with their friend. Ez woke but he cant talk and has got real limited movement in both his left hand and right arm. It aint right that he should be hurt like this. It aint right, Vin. That fucking bastard Marty. If he wasnt already dead Id fucking kill him myself. Chris sighed and rubbed his face. I just cant take it in. I keep hoping Im gonna wake up to find its all just been a nightmare.
The sharpshooter momentarily couldnt catch his breath after hearing the news. After a while, he managed to murmur, Jeez, Chris. What did the neurologist say?
The blond shrugged half-heartedly. Not much. Wait and see. Thats all he ever fucking says. I dont think they hold out much hope for a full recovery, Vin.
Ill call the others and give em the bad news, Vin said, seeing that his friend wasnt up to the task. Neither was he, but someone had to do it.
The sharpshooter wandered outside, still coming to terms with what hed just learned. He took a deep breath once he reached the open air in an attempt to calm himself down. He then made his way to a wall that surrounded the parking lot and leapt up onto it to sit and dangle his legs. He pulled out his phone and stared at it for a while before punching in Nathans number.
Nate? It aint good news about Ez, bud.
Time stood still for the medic; his blood seeming to freeze in his veins. Whats happened? he asked, almost resignedly.
He came out of his coma while Chris was with him but he cant speak, and his right arm and left hand have been affected.
Nathan bowed his head sadly. Damn, Ill come.
Vin rubbed a hand down his face and sighed in despair. Can you let the others know? Cant face telling em.
Sure. Hows Chris feelin?
The sharpshooter sighed again and shook his head. Real upset. I think he was so glad when Ez woke that its hit him twice as hard when he was told that all werent well. I cant imagine how it was for him.
Okay, Vin, Ill be there as soon as possible.
Vin went back inside the hospital and saw that Chris seemed to have snapped out of his non-functioning state. The blond looked up at him as if seeing him for the first time.
I just called Nate, Vin informed him gently. Hes gonna call the others.
Chris nodded as he rubbed a hand down his face wearily. Thanks, bud. Id better let Travis know whats going on too, I spose.
He made his way outside and pulled out his cell so that he could call his boss at home. Although it pained him to say it, there might not be any choice in what happened next. None of his men liked Ezras replacement, even though theyd tried hard to find something good to say about the man. So far, though, theyd been unsuccessful. Maybe they hadnt tried hard enough, counting on the hope that Ezra would be back. Now that may never happen.
Chris punched in Traviss number and sighed. Sir? Jake might have to become a permanent employee on my team.
The older man frowned. What do you mean?
Ez woke but things dont look good, sir. He may never recover fully.
Jesus, Im sorry to hear that. How do you want to proceed?
The blonds mind was still in turmoil and he really didnt know what to do for the best. All he did know was that his men needed to be with Ezra throughout his recovery: if he did recover. Chris cleared his throat. Nothing much we can do ourselves. Hes gonna need therapy for months to come so well just have to play it by ear. If we need time to be with him, can we have it? We just cant abandon him.
Travis knew that it was time to make some concessions. I wouldnt expect you to. I need you to finish the case youre on, but after that well see what can be arranged. I cant just give you all time off now though. I still need you here.
Chris nodded. I understand, sir. I really appreciate you considering it anyway.
Nathan and the rest of the team arrived just as he finished the call and the group wandered inside together. They got an update from the doctor and retired to Ezras room in silence. None of them could come to terms with what theyd just been told.
Do ya think its temporary, Chris?
I dont know, Buck, but I sure hope so, the blond said quietly as he rubbed his face. Why do they keep asking me what I think? Ive got no fucking idea about whats gonna happen to Ez. He sighed. Im their boss, so of course theyre gonna look to me for reassurance, but I just cant give them any this time.
You okay, pard? the ladies man asked as he watched the emotions flicking over Chriss face like clouds on a windy day.
No, I just cant believe that this has happened. Chris stood up and walked to the window. His mind returned to the conversation hed just had with AD Travis. Their jobs seemed inconsequential at the moment but he passed on to the others what the man had said. Travis wants us to finish the case were on, but after that I dont know whatll happen. He didnt give me a proper answer but I hope hell let us be here most days in turn.
Good. Hate to think that we couldnt be with Ez through this, Josiah said as he looked round the group of men, seeing the devastation on each face.
Vin nodded in relief too and went to sit beside his injured friend. Ezra, though, stared at the ceiling and didnt move or look at him.
The sharpshooter frowned sadly. Hello, Ez. Were all rootin for ya and well help ya get better, bud.
+ + + + + + +
Chris walked into Ezras room the day after his friend had first stirred. Hed updated Maude on her sons condition, but it seemed that the women still had no intention of visiting. The blond was saddened by her attitude and he vowed to give his friend all his support to make up for the lack of his mothers.
There was no response to begin with but then Ezras head turned toward Chris with a jolting movement. The black-clad man winced at the sight but noted that the injured agent seemed slightly more alert although still very groggy.
Good to see ya, bud, the blond said as he reached out a hand and touched Ezras cheek gently.
While Chris talked, the injured mans head continued to move in robotic fashion as he looked round the room.
Get used to the sight of this place, Ez. Youre gonna be in here for a while, Chris said quietly.
The doctor came in at that point and smiled at the blond. How are you, Mr. Larabee?
Chris sat down beside Ezra and shrugged. Still aint sunk in about how hes been affected. Cant sleep for thinking about him. The blond reached out and took hold of Ezras hand gently.
I know its hard for you, and it will be difficult to remain positive, but you must for Ezras sake. At least while youre visiting him. Can you do that? Dr. Blane asked seriously.
Sure, Chris agreed, although it was going to be a hard task.
Dr. Blane smiled and moved to check Ezras condition. He wrote the results on the chart at the bottom of the bed before leaving the room. Chris had watched the medics movements distractedly but now he was alone again he stayed beside Ezra, who had dozed off again, and watched him sleeping. The blond, for once, wasnt in the mood for pacing about. He wanted to retain physical contact with Ezra to show his support.
Buck wandered into the room half an hour later. Hey, pard. Whats happening?
Not much. He was sorta awake when I got here but thats about it. I cant get used to seeing him like this. I know hes been in the hospital for weeks, but it just hits me anew every time I see him.
Yeah, we all feel the same, pard. Buck walked to the window and stared out unseeingly. We all need to pull together, Chris. Support each other, while also helping Ez. Its the only way.
The blond nodded as he flicked his gaze toward Ezra just as the man stirred. Yeah, I know, but I dont even know if he recognizes us, Buck. Cant tell whats going through his mind at all. Hes like a stranger who just happens to resemble our friend.
Buck turned back and saw Ezra look toward him at the same time. Hey, pard. Nosey as usual, I see. Cant have a conversation without you listening in, can we?
The mustached man smiled and moved to the bed. He sat down and reached out to hold Ezras other hand. The undercover agent stared at the tall man in total confusion so Buck smiled again and ran his fingers through his friends hair.
The undercover agent just continued looking at Buck, not showing any other responses at all. The ladies man sighed and exchanged glances with Chris.
Get some rest, Ez, Buck said quietly.
The injured man closed his eyes while Buck stayed beside him, holding his hand. Buck waited until Ezra was asleep before speaking again. He certainly didnt want his friend to hear what they were discussing this time.
Cant help but think about the future, Chris. Whats gonna happen if he dont improve?
The blond flicked a worried glance at his oldest friend. He then shook his head and looked down at his hands. God knows, Buck. I guess I havent even considered it. Dont want to either.
May have to, pard, Buck pointed out quietly.
I know, and that terrifies me.
Maude sure as hell wont take him in. She hasnt exactly made much of an effort to visit him, has she? She didnt even come when we werent sure if he was gonna live. She dont want much to do with him normally but if he stays like this, shell disown him.
I dont know about that, Buck. I cant think shed be that heartless although I agree with you that its strange that she hasnt come to see him. If Ez doesnt improve well just have to cross that bridge when we come to it: if we come to it. Chris sighed as he sat back wearily to continue the vigil.
+ + + + + + +
Ezra had to be left on his own for a few days while the rest of the team finished the case that they were in the middle of. Today, though, should hopefully see an end to it. The agents had real trouble focusing on the task ahead, wanting to get it over with as soon as possible.
The team congregated a short distance away from the bar where Jake would be meeting Trent, a notorious drug dealer. Chris looked round the group and settled his gaze on the replacement undercover agent. He still wasnt convinced that the man knew what he was supposed to do.
Jake? Remember to get Trent talking about the drugs consignment. We need to know where its heading, okay?
Yeah, I know what Im doin. Youve told me enough times, aint ya? Jake retorted angrily. He stood with hands on his hips challengingly.
Chris scowled at the belligerent agent. Ezra wouldnt talk to me like that.
Jake took a step closer to the blond. Yeah, well I aint him and Im sick to death of being compared to him.
Cut the attitude and just do your job, will you?
Im trying to, but you seem to think I need wet-nursing every fucking step of the way. Jake almost sneered as he turned abruptly and headed off toward his meeting place with Trent.
Jake was arrogant and didnt take kindly to being given orders and it was quite likely that he and the blond would come to blows one day soon. They seemed to grate on one anothers nerves like sandpaper on skin.
Asshole, Chris said, thinking that hed never worked with such a disagreeable man before.
The rest of his team exchanged knowing glances and spread out to take up their allotted positions, unquestioningly. All the men were becoming highly irritated with Jakes behavior and it made for an uncomfortable working environment. They had once been a cohesive unit, but since Jakes arrival they had fallen apart. That was probably more to do with Ezras accident than anything else, though. This was no time to be thinking about such things, though, so they shook themselves back to reality.
Jake, meanwhile, made his way to the bar muttering under his breath after his altercation with Chris. He pushed through the door and stood inside for a moment while seeking out his prey.
Hey, can I buy you a drink? Trent offered when the agent appeared at his table.
Jake nodded as he studied his opponent. The man seemed to be alone, which was good. Hed expected at least six henchmen to be there too, but it sure made his job a bit easier that the man was alone and outnumbered by ATF agents. Sure, and then well get down to business, Jake suggested.
Trent bought Jake a whiskey and then sat down opposite him in the sparsely populated bar. Josiah wandered in a few minutes later and, after buying a drink, took up position at the other end of the room where he could watch events unfold. The profiler had chosen the particular booth he was in because of a strategically placed mirror. The reflective object gave him a good view without Trent realizing that he was being observed. It was the perfect setup. At the moment it didnt look as though the meeting had started, so Josiah sat back and pretended to doze.
Cheers, Jake said to Trent as he took a quick sip of his drink. How long till you get your next consignment in, then?
Why not before? Ive got buyers waiting, the agent replied, sounding irritated.
Im dealing with another batch at the moment, so youll have to wait, Trent snapped. Hes one of my best buyers so I aint gonna inconvenience him on account of a young upstart like you.
Is he anyone I know?
Jake scowled at not being told the buyers name. He started off on another tack, hoping for a bit more success. How big a network have you got? Local or what?
Why do you want to know?
I dont like dealing with penny-ante outfits. Wheres your current consignment going?
Trent sat up and leaned forward, looking angry. He pointed at Jake to emphasize his words and make sure the man understood that he wouldnt take any sass from him. Look, fella. I dont like all these questions. If youre gonna do business with me you keep your mouth shut. You dont need to know about my other deals. Trent then narrowed his eyes suspiciously. You a cop?
Jake shook his head as he fiddled with his glass awkwardly. No, I just like to know who Im dealing with, he replied, not sure how to proceed. He was out of his depth and it was beginning to show.
The agents body posture told Trent all he needed to know and the man blew. Bullshit. The deals off. I dont trust you.
Come on. Give me a break, Jake said as he looked round the bar and settled his gaze on Josiah, who was still watching events through half-closed eyes.
Trent followed the direction of Jakes eyes and scowled. Thought you worked alone? Who the hells he? the dealer asked angrily.
Who? Jake asked as he hastily looked back at Trent.
The man you just signaled, his agitated opponent stated while getting up from his chair.
Shit, Chris cursed from where he was listening outside. Everyone move in.
Trents suspicions were now heightened and he punched Jake, knocking him out of his chair. He then drew his gun and aimed unerringly at Josiah.
Youre fucking cops.
Josiah threw himself under the table just as Trent fired at him. He heard the bullet ricochet off the table leg near his head and he came out in a cold sweat at the closeness of the shot. Trent then moved to aim the gun at Jake, thinking that hed dealt with Josiah for the moment. The profiler, though, looked out from his hiding place and saw that Jake had still not managed to draw his gun. Trent was positioned in such a way as to not allow Josiah to shoot to wound. The big agent was concerned that he would miss if he attempted that method, and as Jakes life was in the balance Josiah felt that he had no choice but to shoot, and shoot to kill.
Nathan burst in the front door and saw that the situation was now under control. He turned his attention to Jake. You stupid bastard. You never look at your backup. Thats a basic error that even a new agent wouldnt make. You coulda got Josiah killed, he ranted.
Buck hurried in and pulled the furious medic away from Jake. Leave it, pard. He aint worth it. Josiahs okay.
No thanks to him.
Nathan fought to get rid of Bucks hold on him but the ladies man pulled backwards and forced him up against the wall. The medic finally signaled that he wouldnt resist anymore so Buck let go. The mustached agent hovered nearby in case Nathan decided not to let matters rest, but the younger man turned his attention to Josiah instead and went to make sure that he really was alright.
Jake? Get outside and wait for me there, Chris ordered angrily after hed witnessed Nathans reaction.
The undercover agent whirled round and moved to within inches of the blond. Jeez, I aint a schoolboy.
You coulda fooled me. Get outside and keep yer mouth shut, Chris shouted.
Jake narrowed his eyes but sensibly kept his lips buttoned before storming out while clenching and unclenching his fists furiously.
Josiah? You okay, big guy? the black-clad man asked once the cause of his irritation had left.
Yeah, fine. Bullet came a bit too close for comfort, though.
The blond nodded in understanding and then turned his attention elsewhere. Buck? See to this mess and get back to the office when youre done, Chris ordered before heading outside. Jake was, inevitably, nowhere to be found. Bastard.
Chris knew exactly where the man would be going: to get his version of events to Travis first. Chris hated sneaks.
The blond turned round and grimaced at Vin. Hes gone telling tales. Jeez, Im gonna bust his fucking ass. Hell be scrubbing floors in the john if I have my way.
The sharpshooter nodded in agreement. Dont let him get the better of ya, bud. Travis dont need to see ya rantin and ravin about him.
Chris nodded and then hurried to his Ram as he tried in vain to calm down. He drove back to the office and headed straight up to see Travis. Jake had, as suspected, already seen the man. The unhappy blond was given the go-ahead to enter his bosss office, so he opened the door and strode purposefully in.
Travis looked him up and down and then nodded. Right, take a seat and tell me what happened from your point of view.
Chris told Travis exactly what had taken place and then added, Jake is not suited to work with my men. He isnt even worthy of cleaning their shoes. He makes basic errors and couldve got Josiah killed today. His questioning technique leaves a lot to be desired too and I dont have the time to teach him; shouldnt have to teach him. If hes told you that todays fiasco is all down to us then hes a damned liar. I dont usually have to send my men in to rescue a trained agent because hes made stupid mistakes, the blond said, feeling his temper nearing breaking point.
Travis shook his head sadly. I hate to say this, Chris, but I have been worried about how your team has been working since Ezras accident. Your minds arent where they should be.
I disagree. Theyre right where they should be: with Ez.
The older man sighed and pursed his lips. Hed expected that answer and he hated to have to do what he was going to. Well, I beg to differ. When you are working, your mind should be on the job. You give me no choice but to stand your team down from active duty and send Jake back to his old job. I want you on desk duties only, okay? You obviously dont get on with Jake and theres no one else I can call in to replace him either. Get yourselves sorted out and take care of Ezra between you. I expect a proper days work out of you all but Im not risking sending you out into the field in the near future. You can take over the work of the research team. Theyre all field agents too so they can take over from you until Im sure youre fit to resume your jobs. Maybe I shoulda done that first off.
Chris bowed his head, knowing Travis was right in his actions. Research work wasnt his cup of tea but if it helped them to be with Ezra more, thats all he cared about. Sorry, sir. Well work as you want and well work well.
I know you will, Chris. At least being on desk duty will mean you can always spend time with Ezra. Maybe its for the best, Travis said, putting into words what Chris had just been thinking.