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This is a prequel to Complications. Posted 16/2/05. Couldn't find a beta, so all mistakes are mine!
Thanks must also go to Aimless who suggested this fic
Ezra strolled out onto the porch of his cabin and stretched luxuriously. He let out a contented groan at the movement as he closed his eyes and enjoyed the sensation of his muscles being extended.
"Oh, lovely," he mumbled.
"First sign of madness, you know, talking to yerself," a familiar Texas-drawling voice commented in amusement. "I've always thought you were a coupla cents short of a dollar, and now you've just confirmed it."
The insulted man's eyes snapped open in surprise to find Vin and JD in front of him on horseback. He hadn't heard the sound of their approach at all and he looked from one to the other of them in confusion.
"Just what time do you call this?" the ex-army man asked with a grin as he looked at his watch meaningfully. He held the reins in one hand while leaning his forearm on the saddlehorn, and he lounged in the saddle and watched his friend in amusement.
"The reasonable hour of ten in the morning," Ezra replied as he barely stifled a yawn.
"Jeez, we were up at six and have just finished a two-hour ride. You've missed the best part of the day," JD said as unzipped his jacket, having become quite warm after his energetic exercise. "Beautiful sunrise."
"I prefer starting the day in a more sedate fashion," the green-eyed man admitted as he scratched his chin and then his right armpit.
"A downright lazy fashion, if you ask me," Vin drawled with a grin as he reached down and patted his horse's neck gently. He looked his friend up and down, taking in the pajama pants and bare chest, and he shook his head in despair. "You ain't even shaved or dressed yet," he pointed out as he flicked his hand in his friend's direction, just in case the man had forgotten about his lack of attire.
"Each to his own," Ezra retorted as he lowered himself down onto the porch and then leaned back against the hitching rail post. He arched his eyebrow and sent an annoyed look in his friend's direction. "And may I say that the shaving comment is a bit rich coming from someone who goes round with a constant day's growth of beard. Pot calling the kettle black if ever I heard it."
Vin lifted a hand to his face and rubbed his fingers over his jaw speculatively. "It's designer stubble, Ez. Sends the ladies wild according to Buck, although he ain't started to sport any, so he could be lying."
Ezra just smiled as he stretched out his legs, looking content and settled.
"You just gonna sit there all day?" JD, the youngest of the trio, asked with an indignant frown when Ezra stayed where he was.
The seated man turned his attention to the dark-haired kid. He sighed in exasperation at the continual harrassment by his business partners. "No, Mr. Dunne. I am summoning the energy needed to allow me to indulge in a bit of skiing this afternoon."
"Need to use floodlights if you don't get a move on. It'll be dark soon," Vin said, as he laughed and sat up straight in the saddle when his back protested at his previous slouched position.
"Very funny," Ezra replied as he shot a withering look at his blue-eyed friend.
"Well, can't spend all day jawing to you. We've got chores to do even if you ain't. Got a whole load of clients to entertain today, so we've gotta fit our pleasures in when we can."
"It's my day off, Mr. Tanner. You can't make me feel guilty for enjoying myself while you are working," Ezra said as he looked up at the long-haired man with a scowl. He shielded his eyes against the sun but still had to squint in order to see properly. It was going to a bright, blue-skied day and it appeared that he'd picked a good day to take off. "Go and earn your keep," Ezra almost snapped. "You can be sure to enjoy your day off on Friday without any comments from me, so please depart from here forthwith before I get physical with you."
"Yeah, yeah, I'd sure like to see ya try, bud," Vin said as he waved and set off toward the barn with JD to see to their horses.
Ezra got dressed and had a leisurely breakfast before ambling across the yard to the guest accommodation. No one was on duty at the reception desk; his friends all being out entertaining their clients. He leaned over the desk and picked up the diary from a nearby shelf. The dark-haired man checked the entries for that day and found that he had the ski slope all to himself. He smiled because it meant that he wouldn't have to avoid novice skiers, moving like castrated tortoises, as they practiced their snowplough turns.
Ezra nodded in satisfaction before striding outside and heading toward his Jag, which was parked nearby. He made sure he had eveything he needed for his chosen activity and then started the motor and headed off toward the ski slope. The ex-attorney pulled into the parking lot at the bottom and pulled on an extra sweater as he climbed out of the vehicle. There was a chill in the air, but not enough of a one to entice him into putting on a coat.
He retrieved his skiing equipment and then headed to the ski lift to take the easy way up to the top of the steep incline. He enjoyed the ride and felt his anticipation growing at the thought of exercising. He really loved skiing. Once he reached his destination, the green-eyed man took a few minutes to put on, and adjust, his skis and make sure everything else he needed was in place correctly. He then set off down the slope and allowed a slow smile to spread across his features. Ezra weaved across the width of the slope and changed direction to head back to the other side. He loved the freedom of skiing, it was a truly exhilarating pursuit. He swung to the left on impulse and took in one or two of the small jumps that Chris had included on the run. Ezra went over them with glee, and he allowed a small cry of delight to escape his lips. He then practiced his slalom skills for the rest of the way down and came to a perfect halt at the bottom.
Although the dry slope was nothing compared to real snow it still gave the same thrill. He leaned on his ski poles while he surveyed the surrounding country and caught his breath. He looked back up the slope and then headed to the lift to go to the top for another descent.
Once he got back to the start of the run, he stopped for about ten minutes and looked around at the view from his higher vantage point. He picked out the ranch house and outbuildings in the distance and listened to several birds chirping away nearby. He felt his cares and worries drift away and he took a deep breath of contentment. The outdoor life suited him down to the ground and he felt so much better for his change of occupation. There had been a few trials and tribulations along the way, but he had overcome them as best he could. Now he couldn't imagine living anywhere else, or doing anything else.
His eyes turned back to the ski slope slanting away below him and he decided to move again. There were always plenty of opportunities for contemplation, but not much time left to enjoy himself before he had to go back home. He pushed off briskly and pretended that he was in a race. He got up a bit of speed, and it increased as he put his ski poles under his arms. Ezra bent forward into the tuck postion and a slow smile spread across his face again as he got faster and faster.
All of a sudden, though, a rabbit appeared to his left. Despite the fencing and netting that had been erected, the little critters still sometimes strayed onto the slope. So far, they hadn't caused any trouble but that was going to change spectacularly.
Ezra swerved wildly and let loose a heartfelt curse. He lost control of one ski as it became caught in the matting and it catapulted him forward. He found himself heading toward the ground like a guided missile. He automatically reached out his arms to try and save himself but his left ski pole broke as it stuck into the ground immovably. It snapped in two as the pressure exerted on it became too much for it to cope with. The jagged end from the top half of it swung round and headed inexorably for Ezra's chest.
The ex-attorney fell onto it as he hit the ground and he then slipped and tumbled down the slope until coming up against the netting at one side. He lay there in a rather undignified position, with one leg in the air because the ski was caught in the net. Ezra didn't have the energy to try and release himself because the journey he'd just been on had been terribly painful. The matting was made of bristles and it was like sliding down a nailbrush. Ezra couldn't feel anything at first but slowly, as each minute passed, his body started to come back to life. He just lay still and tried to stay awake.
He felt as though he was lying on a barbecue grill being slowly heated up, and his clothing didn't seem to have saved him from injury as much as he'd hoped. Any exposed skin was torn and battered by the unrelenting slope and the friction caused by his untidy fall.
"Oh, good Lord," he gasped.
Ezra moved his hand to his chest when he became aware of a persistent ache there. He screamed and almost passed out when his hand came into contact with the broken ski pole that was embedded in his flesh. His vision clouded but slowly cleared with just the odd flashing light still appearing at the edges. He took shallow breaths and the pain slowly eased, although didn't go totally. He lay as still as he could and couldn't help wondering how long it would be before his friends actually missed him. Not too long as it turned out.
Just as Ezra was in the process of injuring himself, the rest of his friends were meeting up in the kitchen for an early supper.
"Where's Ez?" Chris asked, as he put out the seventh plate on the table before realizing that they were one person missing. Ezra loved his food and was usually first in the kitchen at meal times. The man had a reknowned rapacious appetite that never seemed to be satisfied.
"Ain't seen him since this morning, but he said he was going skiing this afternoon. I'll go find him 'cause he's probably got carried away. I swear he thinks he's Alberto Tomba sometimes," Vin said with a grin.
"Credit where credit's due. He is a damned good skier, but don't let on that I said so or his head'll outgrow his hat," the blond said with a grin.
The ex-army man smiled in reply and headed outside. He took his HumVee and set off toward the ski slope after quickly checking Ezra's cabin to make sure he hadn't just got back. He pulled into the parking lot at the bottom of the slope next to Ezra's Jag and climbed out. He reached back in and retrieved his field glasses from the front seat so he could use them to catch sight of his friend at the top of the slope. The ski lift was still running so Vin assumed that Ezra was up there somewhere.
Vin leaned back against his vehicle and waited for Ezra to materialize but he began frowning in concern when the man still didn't come into sight. Vin stood up straight and raised the field glasses to his eyes. He scanned the visible bits of the slope, from top to bottom, but couldn't see any sign of his friend.
He sighed and decided to start walking up to the top, so he headed toward the path that ran up the side of the slope and began his ascent. Every so often he pulled out his glasses to look ahead, but it wasn't until he'd reached halfway that he saw something out of the ordinary. He squinted through the glasses as he tried to distinguish the shape at the far side of the slope. He rubbed his eyes and swore at what finally came into focus. He dropped the glasses so that they hung from the strap around his neck. The long-haired man then climbed over the fencing and hurried as best he could diagonally upward toward Ezra.
He slipped and fell but pushed himself upright and carried on without checking to see if he'd done any damage to himself. All he wanted to do was get to his friend as soon as possible.
"Ez? What the hell happened?" he asked as he dropped to his knees at Ezra's side.
His friend though was in no state to answer him. Ezra was having trouble enough staying awake without being asked to talk as well. The pain was constant in his chest and just trying to breathe hurt beyond imagination.
"Shit. Where do you hurt?" Vin asked, even though he could see one very obvious injury.
Ezra naturally didn't answer but just groaned softly as he tried to keep the tears at bay.
The younger man shook his head worriedly as he pulled out his cell to call the ranch house.
"Larabee," Chris said in response to his ringing phone.
During the call for help, the blue-eyed man kept his eyes fixed on Ezra to make sure he remained conscious. "Chris? Get a chopper out to the ski slope. Ezra has come a right cropper. He's managed to break a ski pole which is now lodged in his chest. God only knows how he managed to do that, but he don't look too good, buddy."
"Okay, Vin, understood," the blond said in a calm tone, although he felt anything but calm inside. He disconnnected the call and ran his fingers through his hair anxiously as his eyes glazed over.
"Chris? What's up?" Buck asked when he saw the worried look on his oldest friend's face.
The blond snapped back to attention, knowing that this was no time for dithering. "Ez has had a real bad fall."
"Jeez, that boy can't stay outta trouble, can he?" Josiah commented anxiously as he shook his head and frowned.
Chris called the emergency services as instructed and then sat with his friends to wait for an update from Vin. There was no point in them heading out to the two men because the chopper would probably get to them before they could. Waiting, though, was going to prove a strain on all their nerves.
Back at the ski slope, Vin stayed kneeling beside Ezra and tried to discover the extent of the man's injuries. Apart from the visible cuts, bruises and protruding ski pole there seemed to be no broken bones. The long-haired man made sure that he checked the area around Ezra's pacemaker to make sure that it hadn't been damaged in any way. He then released Ezra's leg from the netting so he was at least a bit more comfortable.
"Ez? Can you hear me? Chopper's on its way, bud," Vin said as he unclipped the skis from his friend's boots.
The short-haired man opened his eyes and stared up at Vin in something close to terror. He hadn't listened to anything his friend had said to him. All he cared about was that he wasn't alone, and conversation was definitely the last thing on his mind.
"It's okay, Ez. Yer gonna be just fine. How long have you been like this? Can you tell me what happened?"
Ezra didn't reply but closed his eyes once more. At the moment, he really couldn't believe that he was going to be alright, no matter Vin's assurances. In consequence, his breathing became more labored as his anxiety increased.
Vin put out a hand and laid it gently on his friend's arm in an attempt to comfort him. He felt so helpless just sitting doing nothing, but he didn't dare leave his friend to go back down to get his first aid box. All the men had to have basic first aid knowledge because of their occupation. Most of them had already gained their skills through their previous occupations but sometimes it never seemed to be enough.
Within minutes, he heard the unmistakable sound of the helicopter approaching. He stood up and waved his arms in the air to attract their attention. He watched in relief as the aircraft circled and then disappeared over the rise as it came down to land.
"Not long now, Ez," Vin said as he sat back down beside his friend. He took off his coat and laid it over Ezra's lower half when he saw the man shiver.
"Hello?" a voice yelled suddenly in the distance.
"Over here!" Vin shouted in reply. He kept calling out every so often to help the paramedics to find him but he couldn't tell exactly which direction they would be coming in from.
Eventually, two men, carrying medical equipment and a stretcher, came into sight through the trees at the edge of the slope. They negotiated the obstacles in their way and finally ended up beside Ezra.
"Do you know what happened?" the taller of the two asked as he knelt down and took Ezra's pulse.
Vin shook his head as he moved out of the way. "No, he ain't been up to telling me, but he's a good skier and I can't think he woulda just fallen. There was no one else up here today to get in his way either. I just can't understand it."
The man nodded. "What's his name?"
"Mr. Standish? Can you just open your eyes for me?"
Ezra did so slowly as he groaned once more. He stared back up at the three concerned faces looking at him and he couldn't help feeling increasingly vulnerable and scared.
"That's real good, Mr. Standish. Try and stay with us." The paramedic smiled as he tried to ease Ezra's very visable fears. The man then began a painstaking exploration of Ezra's body as he spoke. "I'm just gonna check you over before we move you, okay? Let me know if you feel any pain. My colleague will then start to pad the area around the ski pole so that it isn't knocked when we get you out of here."
He cut through the material of Ezra's sweater and t-shirt, being careful around the area of his wound. He pulled back the garments to reveal the damage done by the pole. He examined the area closely before continuing on his tactile journey over Ezra's body.
Vin watched intently as the man's gentle fingers traveled across his friend's torso. Even though the paramedic was careful, Ezra still gasped and groaned as his battered body was touched.
The paramedic nodded, as if confirming something in his own mind. "I reckon he may have broken some ribs, but we'll know for sure when we get him to the hospital. Unfortunately, or fortunately, whichever way you wanna look at it, the pole's gonna have to stay in his chest. Removing it will cause more problems than he's got now. At least with it in place it plugs the hole in his chest, but there's the possibility of lung damage judging by the position of the pole," the man said as he flicked a look up at Vin, who was still hovering nearby.
The second paramedic, meanwhile, put Ezra on an IV and started him on oxygen before padding his chest gently and strapping his broken ribs. The two men then transferred their patient onto a stretcher before setting off toward the chopper with him settled between them. They encountered a few difficulties in getting over the netting again and Ezra was unintentionally, but inevitably, jostled.
"Ahh!" he mumbled as he reached out and clutched the side of his transportation. The pain was like being stabbed with a handful of daggers and it took away what little breath he had left.
"Sorry, soon have you sorted," the taller paramedic apologized, as he negotiated the last obstacle and adjusted his grip on the stretcher.
Vin moved up beside his friend quickly and took hold of his hand in the hope that human contact might help. He winced as Ezra clutched his appendage tightly and it was only then that Vin remembered that he'd hurt his hands when he'd fallen.
Once Ezra had settled, the group continued on their awkward journey until the helicopter came into sight. Ezra was eased carefully inside and one paramedic climbed up with him.
"You coming with him?" the other man asked as he turned to face Vin.
Vin looked at Ezra and saw the usual pleading look in the man's eyes that appeared whenever a hospital visit was inevitable. "Yeah," the blue-eyed man replied as he climbed aboard to sit near his friend.
"Are your hands, okay?" the paramedic asked after catching sight of the bleeding appendages.
"Yeah, I fell on the slope and scratched them pretty bad, but they look worse than they are, I reckon."
"Let me see," the paramedic ordered as the chopper took off and swung round toward the direction of town.
Vin flinched as the painful scratches were touched and he looked down to discover the extent of his injuries. It was certainly worse than he'd first thought. The paramedic cleaned them as best he could and sterilized them to prevent infection. The ex-army man ended up with bandages on both hands and he felt as if he was wearing gloves. He'd only fallen briefly and he couldn't imagine how Ezra felt after the tumble he'd taken. It must be one hundred times worse.
After a short flight, they arrived at the hospital and Ezra was taken away immediately for a thorough examination.
Vin was taken to reception and asked to sign Ezra in. He found the task difficult to complete with his hands in the state they were. The process of holding a pen proved almost impossible. Finally, a nurse took pity on him and read out the questions and wrote down Vin's answers. Once that task was done, he went outside to call Chris.
The long-haired man managed to punch in the blond's number after a few false starts and he held the cell awkwardly against his ear. "Cowboy? We're at Mercy. Ez is being seen to right now so I don't know exactly what we're up against. The paramedics in the chopper thought he mighta broken some ribs and have hurt his lung in some way. He's gonna have to have surgery to remove the ski pole whatever."
"Okay, we're on our way, but call us if you get any more news in the mean time."
After half an hour's anxious wait spent sitting in reception, Vin was finally approached by a member of medical staff.
"Mr. Tanner? I'm Dr. Jimenez. Your friend is heading for surgery. The ski pole has made a very small hole in his lung causing a puncture. We'll be operating to remove ski pole and hopefully we'll be able to get it out without causing any more damage. Then we'll see if his lung needs anything doing to it but I'm betting that we can leave the puncture wound in his lung to heal on its own without any other further intervention."
Vin nodded but looked up at the doctor nervously. "Will he be okay?"
"Well, we'll be putting in a chest tube to pull off any blood, fluid and air in his chest so that will inevitably cause him a lot of pain. Having a chest tube in while still having to breath is certainly not comfortable, so he's gonna be on morphine until we can remove it. We've already started him on antibiotics, because he's in danger of getting aspiration pnemonia as a result of the blood actually in his lung. Blood, fluid and lung tissue don't make for a good mix, I'm afraid. We'll have to encourage him to cough quite a bit too to stop any fluid building up or getting reabsorbed. Coughing's gonna hurt him a lot but it's a necessary action. We'll be monitoring him closely and the cardiologist has been called to check him because of his pacemaker. He's in good hands, so try not to worry."
Vin took a seat in the waiting room and stared into space. Ezra seemed to have had the worse luck when it came to his health, and the ex-army man thought back on the numerous hospital visits they'd all made with the man. Ezra was certainly due some good fortune, but it seemed he was going to have to wait a bit longer for a brighter patch to appear on life's horizon.
An hour later, Vin heard a multitude of feet hurrying down the hallway and he couldn't help smiling. He knew exactly who was coming. His business partners had a particular way of making their presence felt. They always sounded like a herd of stampeding elephants, but Vin could always pick out the individual footfall sounds of each man. They, naturally, all sounded slightly different but it took Vin's keen ears to distinguish each one from the mass.
The five men finally appeared in the waiting room and surrounded Vin anxiously. The young man stood up, feeling slightly overwhelmed by being enclosed by them so quickly. He felt like a newly killed carcass being pounced on by vultures.
"Vin? Any news?" Chris barked, unable to keep his fear from showing in the tone of his voice.
The long-haired man explained what he'd been told and he watched his friend's faces to see how they took the news.
"Why can't he just break his leg like any sane skier? He's always gotta get something a bit more spectacular," JD said as he flicked his gaze to heaven in seeming despair.
"This ain't a time for joking, kid. Aspiration pneumonia ain't pleasant, but hopefully the medication will fend that off before it becomes an issue," Nathan said sharply, annoyed at JD's flippancy.
The youngster looked suitably chastised and he mouthed an apology to his medical friend.
"What happened to you?" Chris asked as he studied Vin's bandaged hands intently.
"Oh, I fell over on the ski slope and scraped the skin off. Feel luckier than Ez, though, that's for sure."
The six men fell silent as they sat down around the room, each consumed with their own thoughts.
Ezra was taken to ICU after surgery and Dr. Jimenez made his way along the hallway to the waiting room. He saw that Vin had now been joined by several other people so he introduced himself before giving out his news.
"Mr. Standish will be with us for a few days and we'll keep him on morphine until we can remove the chest tube, as I told Mr. Tanner before. Once we're sure that pneumonia isn't taking hold and his lung is okay, he can go home, but we'll give him medication to take with him. Obviously, he's gonna have to take it easy for a while."
"Can I see him?" the blond asked, slightly relieved, although still worried about his friend's condition.
The doctor nodded. "Sure. Just you for the time being, though. He's in a lot of discomfort and was a bit distressed when I left him."
Chris ambled along to sit with Ezra and found that he was awake. He saw that the man's chest was heavily bandaged where the wound was. The blond assumed that the strapping also served to aid the healing of his friend's broken ribs. Chris averted his eyes from where the tube protruded from Ezra's side and decided he'd best stand on the other side of the bed from it. As he wandered round, he kept his eyes fixed on the pads attached to the ex-attorney's chest that were monitoring his heart, rather than looking at the chest tube.
The blond finally came to a halt, realizing that Ezra had watched every inch of his journey round the bed. Chris smiled and took Ezra's hand in his. "Hey, bud. How ya feeling?"
The injured man looked at him, the pain showing plainly on his face. "Like I've got a tube in the side of my chest. It hurts," Ezra mumbled sleepily as he rubbed his eyes and sighed.
"I bet. I'll let you get some rest, but one of us will be with you every day while you're in here, okay? You're gonna be here a few days, though, I'm afraid."
"Damn," Ezra groaned as he closed his eyes and went to sleep, unable to stay conscious any longer.
As Chris had promised, one of Ezra's friends spent each day at the hospital with him. It, at least, made the time pass a bit faster having someone to talk to him, even if he didn't speak much in response. The morphine and other drugs made him very drowsy and he did spend a lot of time asleep anyway. Not that his friends minded in the least. They knew how much Ezra valued their company and if they weren't there he was liable to become anxious and upset. They would do anything to help him remain calm and settled.
Ezra woke to find Buck beside him. "Mr. Wilmington?" he said as he frowned in confusion. He wasn't fully awake and the change in company had totally thrown him.
"Hello, pard," Buck said as he stood up and leaned over his friend.
"What day is it?" Ezra asked, having now totally lost track of time. Obviously more hours had passed than he'd realized.
"Day after yesterday," the ladies' man replied with a grin. He saw, though, that Ezra wasn't up to jokes right now. "It's Thursday, pard. You've been here since later yesterday afternoon. Do you remember what happened?"
Ezra nodded and groaned as he unintentionally took too deep a breath. "Oh, God."
"Take it easy, Ez," Buck said as he ran his fingers through Ezra's hair gently and then stroked the soft, ruffled hair back into place afterwards. "Can you tell me how you came to fall over?"
"What?" Buck said, wondering if his friend was delirious. The injured man, although looking pale and in pain, appeared alert, though.
"I swerved to avoid a cuniculus on the slope, that's a bunny rabbit to you. Perhaps I should have just run straight over it instead," Ezra said softly as he concentrated on taking short, shallow breaths.
"Jeez, Ez. Better get the netting checked again. Sorry that it caused you so much grief, though, pard."
Ezra sighed despondently. "The way my life is going, if a rabbit hadn't tripped me up, I would probably have fallen over my own feet." Ezra closed his eyes and moaned as he coughed painfully. The fluid in his lungs bubbled nastily and Buck cringed at the noise. He really hoped that it wasn't the onset of pneumonia.
"No more talking, Ez. Just rest and recuperate, pard. Doc'll have my hide if I make you any worse." Buck sat down but reached out a hand which he placed on Ezra's arm. He squeezed the upper limb gently and then rubbed it in comfort when he saw that Ezra had gone rather pale.
The injured agent mumbled softly as he fell asleep, exhausted by his short conversation.
Ezra sighed and opened his eyes to find the same white ceiling still in view. He'd hoped he was waking from a nightmare, but it was not to be. He rolled his head to the right and saw a tube, an incentive spirometer, that had been installed by his bed. He had to blow into it every so often because it helped to keep his lungs inflated. It also made him cough and he hated that part most of all because it hurt him beyond imagination.
He sighed and turned his head the other way and saw Nathan beside the bed, engrossed in reading. The green-eyed man blinked slowly as the same dull ache starting making itself known in his chest. He automatically moved his hand to touch the painful area of his body, but he felt his wrist clasped in an iron grip.
Nathan had caught sight of the movement out the corner of his eye and acted automatically. "No, Ez," the EMT said quickly as he put aside his newspaper. "That's where you had the tube stitched into place. Even though it's gone, the wound it left behind has still gotta heal and it'll hurt twice as much if you touch it."
Nathan felt Ezra's arm go limp in his grasp so he let go his hold after resting his friend's arm back on the covers. He studied his friend in concern and saw how pale and drawn he looked.
"What day is it?" Ezra had developed an obsession with time. Every day that he could put behind him meant it was one day closer to being released.
"It's Friday," the medic informed him quietly.
"Oh, Vin's day off," Ezra remembered with a sigh as he thought back on how his own vacation had ended.
"Yeah, that's right. He's using it to come visit you."
The ex-attorney scowled and pursed his lips. "What a waste of a day."
Nathan frowned at Ezra's response. "He doesn't think so. He's been real worried about you, but Chris wouldn't let him come again, since your admission, until his hands had healed a bit. They still hurt him but it looks like he's managed to sweet-talk Chris into backtracking on his decision."
"What's wrong with his hands?" the dark-haired man asked in confusion. He had no recollection of the younger man injuring himself.
"He fell on the matting when he was out looking for you. Scraped the skin of both palms pretty bad," Nathan said as he held up his own hands, as if the gesture would help Ezra understand better.
"Oh, I owe him an apology then," Ezra said softly, his voice fading as he fell asleep.
Nathan picked up his paper again after watching Ezra sleeping for a few minutes. Silence then reigned in the room until the arrival of Vin during the afternoon.
The long-haired man settled into the chair next to Nathan. "How is he, Nate?" he asked as he studied Ezra intently.
"He's been better. The chest tube caused him a lot of discomfort but at least it's been removed now. Think they're gonna x-ray him again later on just to check the status of his lung."
"Why did it take so long to re-inflate?"
"It can take anything from one day to several. Just depends," Nathan explained as he set aside his paper again. He reached for a glass of water and took a sip as he cast his eyes over the patient to see how he was at the moment.
"I see," Vin said as he indicated that he'd like a drink too. He took the glass Nathan offered and took a long pull on it.
"The cardiologist seems pleased with his condition anyway so that's a bit of good news," Nathan said with a smile as he retook possession of the drink.
Ezra stirred as he heard the soft voices, so Vin stood and smiled down at his friend.
"Hey, bud. Hear you had a tussle with a rabbit, and that the rabbit won."
"Don't remind me," Ezra gasped, unable to raise a smile.
Vin brushed Ezra's hair from his forehead gently. "You sure know how to worry a body. When I say you sprawled on the slope I didn't know what to think."
The younger man shook his head. "Not yer fault, bud. Accidents happen."
"Mostly to me, yes, I know." Ezra's eyes were drawn to Vin's lightly bandaged hands. "How are your hands? I'm truly sorry to have been the cause of your mishap."
The younger man looked down at the appendages and shrugged. "They're fine, bud, don't you worry about them. You just concentrate on yerself." Vin patted Ezra's arm and sat down.
"Why aren't you out enjoying yourself instead of being in here with me?"
"Can't enjoy myself when yer hurt like this. Anyway, it's my time and I'll spend it where I like. Thought you said you wouldn't bug me on my day off," Vin said with a grin, reminding Ezra of their conversation on the day of the accident.
The injured man looked heavenward. "Oh, shut up, Mr. Tanner. I eat my words. Satisfied?" he said sarcastically.
"Yeah. You feel okay?" Vin asked as he studied his pale friend again.
Ezra shrugged and rather wished he hadn't. He groaned and closed his eyes as he waited for the pain to subside. "Damn."
"Guess that's a no," Vin said quietly as he continued watching his friend closely.
Ezra finally sighed and settled as comfortably as he could on the bed. The three men spent the rest of the day in easy companionship: one flat on his back and two lounging happily in chairs.
The third day of his hospital stay dawned, and Dr. Jimenez checked Ezra's condition once more. Much to the doctor's delight, the injured man seemed to be progressing well.
"Well, Mr. Standish, you're doing okay so I think you can go home tomorrow. I don't want you doing anything energetic, though. Get back into your routine gradually and only if you feel up to it," he advised as he held Ezra's gaze seriously.
Ezra nodded, pleased to be heading home. He couldn't say he felt totally well, but anything was better than having a tube protruding from his body and being stuck in the hospital. He settled back on the bed with a smile and dozed as he waited for one of his friends to join him.
Chris was the person on duty that day and he was told the good news when he arrived in reception. He hurried through to Ezra's room to see how the man was feeling about his release.
"Sure you feel up to leaving, Ez?" Chris asked the bedridden man when he saw that he was awake.
"Yes, I want to be out of here as soon as I can." Ezra just managed to get the last word out before coughing roughly. He gasped and wiped his eyes at the pain coughing still created in his body. That's what comes of having broken ribs, he thought to himself.
"You don't sound too good, bud," the black-clad man observed in concern. He would hate for Ezra to be released before he was really ready and he couldn't help but be worried. He knew that the doctor was the expert, though, so he just had to trust his judgement.
"I'll have my medication so I'll be fine. My cough is better than it was before," Ezra said as he rubbed his chest gingerly.
"If you say so," Chris replied doubtfully. It sounded just the same to the worried blond.
"I'm really looking forward to being given my freedom, because I feel as if I've done a life sentence in here. Anyway, I must be getting better because they've let me out of bed twice already and it certainly made a nice change from lying flat. I had a good few hours out in a chair last night and it was heaven."
Chris smiled at the pleasure he heard in Ezra's voice. "Well, that's all you're going to be doing when you get home. You can sit and watch us work."
"Oh, how lovely. I can be your task master," Ezra said with relish. He envisioned cracking the whip to make his friends work harder and he smiled at the image.
"Don't you get any ideas," Chris warned, seeing the look on Ezra's face.
"Spoilsport," Ezra grumbled.
Chris grinned, happy to see Ezra behaving more like his old self.
Josiah arrived the next morning to collect his friend. He was certainly pleased to be having his friend back in his company full-time. "Hello, son. All set?"
The ex-attorney looked up from the chair beside the bed. "Yes, take me home, Mr. Sanchez, and don't spare the horses. I've been up since the crack of dawn because of the anticipation of my release."
"Well, miracles will never cease. When was the last time you were up at dawn?"
"When I was born I think," Ezra said with a grin playing on his lips.
The big man laughed as he transferred his friend into a wheelchair and took him out to his truck. He helped settle him inside comfortably and made sure that the seatbelt didn't hurt his friend too much. The two men then enjoyed a sedate trip out to the ranch and Ezra was delighted to see all his friends awaiting his arrival.
"Well, this is rather nice," he said as Josiah helped him out. "I could get used to this treatment."
"No, Ezra. I can't stand the anxiety. We've all aged about ten years in the short time we've known you," Chris said with a grin as he moved forward and took the man into the house slowly.
The blond sat Ezra on the couch in the living room and then stood in front of him. "Now, Josiah's gonna stay with you today so give him a yell if you want anything. Don't stray too far, you hear me?"
"Yes, master," Ezra said with a smile. He sat back and just took pleasure in being home.
He was content for a while, but after a couple of hours, Ezra felt the need to get outside. He was beginning to feel stifled after being indoors for days. First of all, though, he needed something else.
"Mr. Sanchez?" Ezra called to his friend who was staring out of the window. The injured man tried to get up himself to do his own bidding, but he put a hand to his chest as it protested at the movement. He leaned forward slightly in the hope that the pain would go of its own accord.
"Could I have a drink, please?" the ex-attorney asked as he tried to get comfortable again.
"Sure, what would you like?" the older man asked as he watched his friend fidget. He could see the man's discomfort plainly on his face.
"Whiskey?" Ezra asked hopefully.
The big man smiled and shook his head negatively. "Not with the meds you're on."
"Damn, I'll have to have water then, please."
"Coming right up."
The ex-academy instructor wandered back into the living room with the requested drink and handed it over. He then sat on the arm of the couch and watched his friend closely. He still looked wan and frail.
Ezra handed the glass back and wiped his mouth on his hand."Yes, thank you. Do you think I could go and sit out on the porch for a change of scenery?"
"Don't see why not. Gotta exercise a bit, haven't you? The doctor didn't say you couldn't move around; all he said was don't overdo things and I'll make sure of that. You need to get a bit of color in those white cheeks of yours."
"Hopefully you're talking about the cheeks on my face and not the ones found elsewhere on my carcass," Ezra said with a grin.
"Can't say I've had much of a chance to catch sight of your posterior, son. I could always check if you wanted me to, though?" Josiah asked with a playful smile on his lips.
"No, thank you. I'm sure they're just peachy," Ezra retorted.
Josiah bent down and helped Ezra to his feet carefully. He then escorted him outside and settled him in the swing seat there. He went back inside and came out with a few cushions which he arranged at Ezra's back.
The ex-attorney nodded his thanks, his eyes fixed on all the activity going on in the yard. There was certainly a lot to hold his attention. "That's better, thank you. Time will pass much quicker if I have something to do." Ezra glanced at Josiah. "Watching others work, I mean."
"Glad to hear it. Just sit back and relax."
"Oh, I think I can manage that," Ezra said as he winked at his tall friend.
The following morning, Ezra sat in the kitchen with Buck for breakfast. He was feeling marginally better but he was still affected by his irritating cough.
He drank his tea after eating his meal but the hot liquid burnt his throat and he involuntarily halted the movement of swallowing. This caused him to choke a bit before recovering slightly. The initial act of choking brought on a full-blown coughing fit instead, though.
Buck couldn't tell the difference in coughs and assumed Ezra was still choking. He didn't quite know what to do for the best. He didn't want to slap Ezra on the back because that was bound to hurt his broken ribs. He watched anxiously as Ezra bent double at the pain that flooded his body. The injured man lifted a hand and placed it gently on his chest and slowly the coughing eased.
Buck rubbed his friend's back, and when Ezra had finally stopped coughing he handed him some water.
"Okay, Ez?" he asked in concern.
"No, it hurts," Ezra admitted as he winced and hugged himself.
Unbeknownst to Ezra, he'd done some real damage internally as a result of that one coughing fit.
You will have to read Complications to find out what happened next...