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This is an Ezra ATF fic, added 22/4/05

Notes: Thanks to Tex for beta-reading this for me. As always, any other mistakes are mine!

Ezra exited the store and put his change in his pocket. He looked in the bag he was holding and studied his new purchase and couldn't help smiling. There was nothing like retail therapy to put him in a good mood. He'd been feeling stressed all week after finishing a particularly hard case and only now, after six days, was he finally beginning to relax.

He pulled out his sunglasses and put them on after first checking his watch. He'd come to town with Vin and had arranged to meet his friend again in half an hour's time. Ezra set off toward his rendezvous and he dawdled as he looked in store windows to pass the time, but he resisted the urge to buy anything else.

His cell rang and he answered it to find Maude on the line. He allowed his mind to drift as he talked to his mother and listened to all of her news. His eyes got a faraway look in them and he really wasn't concentrating on what he was doing. He stepped out into the road without looking and collided with a fast moving motorbike.

Ezra was thrown forcefully to the ground with a bone-jarring thud; a sound that had bystanders wincing. His phone skidded away to be crushed under another vehicle's tires and Ezra's shopping fell in a puddle in the gutter. He yelled in pain and fright, but somehow managed to stay conscious. He stared up at the sky and concentrated on listening to the shouts of onlookers, the squeal of tires and the clattering noise of metal scraping along the tarmac.

At the moment he couldn't feel a thing, but slowly his body came back to life and let him know that he was hurting. He couldn't pick out one particular area of pain as being worse than the rest. Truthfully, every little bit of him was throbbing.

All this had happened in full view of his friend. Vin had been waiting for Ezra on the opposite side of the road and watched in horror as he was knocked over.

"Shit, Ezra," he yelled anxiously.

Even before the offending bike had come to a halt he had sprung into action. He darted into the road and threaded his way in and out of moving traffic, receiving a few blaring horns on the way. Some vehicles stopped, their occupants seeing if they could be of assistance, but most drove round the objects in the road and carried on with their journeys uncaringly.

Vin reached his destination and knelt beside his dazed and bleeding friend. "Ez? Do you know if ya hit yer head, bud?" he asked anxiously as he studied his friend's eyes closely.

"I don't know," Ezra mumbled. "Everything hurts. I can't tell."

"Alright. Just lay still."

Vin then began trailing his fingers gently through Ezra's short hair to see if he could find any bumps or blood. He pushed back the hair from Ezra's forehead and discovered a profusely bleeding cut near Ezra's hairline.

The motorcyclist, meanwhile, had scrambled to his feet, seemingly none the worse for the collision. All he had to do was wipe down his leathers, the material having saved him for injury. He then took off his helmet and tucked it under his arm.

"Dammit, you idiot. What the hell were you doing just walking out like that?" he yelled angrily as he strode toward Ezra.

"Leave it, pal. At the moment it don't matter who did what. He's hurt and needs help, so just back off," Vin said as he held up a warning hand.

The sharpshooter then began checking the rest of his friend's body carefully for injuries, trying not to hurt him as he did so. When Vin looked down at the prone man's right leg he sighed in despair.

"Jeez, Ez. You broke yer ankle real good, bud," he informed his friend as he studied the bent joint critically without touching it.

"You know him?" the motorcyclist asked angrily as he moved to stand right beside Vin, crowding him. "No wonder you're standing up for him."

Vin stood up and pushed him back forcefully, his usual cool demeanor gone. "Yeah, I do know him, so don't mess with me right now. Just shut up and leave him alone."

"I'm sorry," Ezra mumbled as he stared up at the two protagonists. "I was not concentrating on what I was doing. It was entirely my fault."

"You can say that again, you bastard."

Vin shook his head and sat down beside Ezra again after first calling for an ambulance and the police. He then reached out and clutched his friend's hand tightly in comfort.

"Try and relax, Ez. You'll soon be at the hospital." Vin one-handedly punched another number into the cell as he spoke and finally got through to Chris. "Cowboy? Ez has been knocked down by a motorbike. He's broke his ankle real nasty so I'm gonna go to the hospital with him."

"Understood. Keep me informed," the black-clad man said. Chris shook his head at the news and went to inform the rest of his team about developments. Ezra just couldn't seem to stay out of the hospital at the moment and Chris knew it was wearing the man down.

Vin put away his cell and then picked up the bag Ezra had dropped, in readiness to take it to the hospital with him. He looked up as he heard the sound of sirens approaching his position. He just hoped they were for Ezra and that they weren't on their way to another incident.

The emergency vehicles eventually weaved their way into position in front of Ezra and came to a halt. Two paramedics jumped out of the ambulance and hurried toward the injured agent and took up position on either side of him. The policemen, meanwhile, took a statement from the motorcyclist, and made arrangements to speak to Ezra and Vin at the hospital later.

Throughout this time, the paramedics continued checking Ezra carefully for injuries, talking to him as they did so to keep him settled. They efficiently saw to his immediate needs and gently placed him on the gurney before lifting him into the ambulance. Vin climbed up into the back with his friend and took a seat opposite him so that Ezra could see that he was there.

"Okay, Ez. Soon have you good as new," he said quietly when he saw his friend look at him.

The vehicle began its journey onward to the nearest medical facility as one paramedic sat near Ezra's head and monitored his condition.

********************************************

On arrival, Vin was shown through to a waiting room after first spending quite some time sorting out Ezra's admission papers. The sharpshooter couldn't help being anxious because as yet, he hadn't heard exactly what Ezra's condition was; all he'd been told was that he was heading for surgery. The young man spent the time wandering up and down the room while looking at his watch every other minute. Time seemed to drag and his stomach began doing somersaults as he imagined all sorts of complications.

*******************************************

Ezra could hear music. The familiar tune sounded distant but it was there in the background. He knew it, but couldn't quite get its name at the moment. He then felt an odd sensation in his ankle as he heard voices start talking nearby. The undercover agent couldn't hear the exact words but he knew they were talking about him. He tried to move but found he was paralyzed. He really wanted to find out what was going on, but his body just wouldn't obey his commands. Ezra was gripped by a sudden panic at that discovery and all he wanted to do was cry. If he could have yelled, he would have when he felt terrible pain in his leg. It was like being in the dentist's chair with no painkillers while having a tooth pulled. It was the same sensations but being done on his leg. He couldn't understand what was happening, but it seemed all too real.

**********************************************

A nurse finally appeared in the doorway of the waiting room and smiled at Vin. "Hello, Mr. Tanner. Your friend is just being moved from recovery to a private room. You'll be able to join him when he's settled and the doctor has checked on his progress."

"Is he okay?" Vin asked worriedly. "I haven't been given much news."

"He's fine; well, as fine as he can be in the circumstances. He'll be on crutches for quite some time, though, because we've had to put some metalwork in his ankle to hold the joint together. It was quite badly smashed, but it should mend properly with luck."

"Anything else wrong?"

"As well as shock, he had numerous cuts, bruises and abrasions. He was lucky not to break any other limbs, though. He's got a bit of internal bleeding and a slight concussion so he'll be staying with us for a few days just to make sure he's really okay."

"Yes, well, he was sure hit hard. Scared me to death," Vin admitted as he thought back on the accident and shivered. He could still hear the shouts of onlookers and the squealing of tires.

"I can imagine. I'll be back to collect you soon."

The sharpshooter nodded and looked at his watch again. Several hours had passed since he'd arrived at the hospital and he knew he needed to speak to Chris. "Okay, I'm just gonna call a friend. I won't be long."

The nurse smiled again and disappeared down the corridor.

Vin watched her leave before heading out into the parking lot. He found a nearby seat and took a couple of minutes to calm his nerves. For some reason, he still had a feeling in the pit of his stomach that all was not well. "Pull yerself together, Tanner. Overactive imagination, that's all it is."

He shook himself and pulled his cell off his belt and called Chris. "Hey, Chris. Ez is outta surgery, but his ankle was pretty badly damaged. Think I'm gonna invest in a gold-plated pair of crutches for him for Christmas. He might as well have his own set 'cause of the amount of time he spends on them."

"You may be right," Chris agreed with a slight, forced chuckle. "Do you want us to come?"

Vin ran his fingers through his long locks as he shook his head. "No, it's okay. Come in after work. I ain't actually been allowed to see him yet so I don't know if he's upset or not. You know how he can get when he's been given certain drugs."

"Yeah, I sure do. See ya later then, cowboy."

Vin ambled back inside and met the nurse in the hallway.

She smiled and walked to stand in front of him. "Ah, there you are. I was just about to send out the cavalry to look for you. You can sit with Mr. Standish now. He's asleep but seems rather unsettled so give me a call if he becomes too distressed."

"I will, thanks. He hates hospitals and he always gets a bit upset. It ain't unusual behavior for him."

Vin followed the woman along to Ezra's room and he took the seat by the bed and studied his slumbering friend. He had several visible cuts and bruises on his face, and the deep cut on his head and been sutured shut. Vin sighed and leaned back in the chair as he waited for Ezra to wake.

*********************************************

As the nurse had said, Ezra was very unsettled indeed. He kept mumbling and fidgeting until he woke two hours later. The injured agent opened his eyes and tried to focus on the person beside his bed. He couldn't really tell who it was yet, but he knew it would be one of his friends. He felt very drowsy and dizzy, as well as slightly nauseous. It always took him longer than most people to get over the affects of anesthesia.

"Was it all a dream?" he mumbled, almost incoherently.

"Hey, good to see you, Ez. No, it wasn't a dream. You were hit by a bike, remember?"

"That's not what I meant," Ezra mumbled as he frowned, trying to get his brain to function. He knew what he wanted to say but, at the moment, he could only manage to utter a few words at a time. He just couldn't articulate his message properly. "I felt it all," he said, as if he was making perfect sense.

"Felt what? The collision? I'm not surprised you felt it, 'cause it was damned nasty. Is that what you're talking about, bud?" Vin asked in confusion when he saw the deepening negative look on his friend's face.

Ezra was renowned for rambling after having surgery, but this was slightly different. He sounded deadly serious, but about what, Vin didn't know. The long-haired man's heart started beating twice as fast and he couldn't help coming out in a cold sweat.

"Heard the drill," the undercover agent said sadly.

Vin furrowed his brow. "Ezra? What are you talking about?"

Ezra turned to look at Vin and blinked back tears. "I was awake. I heard them talking, and they hurt me."

Vin's heart now seemed to have stopped beating altogether. Although Ezra still hadn't been specific, he had a feeling that he knew what the man was trying to tell him. He sincerely hoped he was wrong in his assumption, though. "You were dreaming, I s'pect. You were worried about the surgery and it played on your mind while you were unconscious."

"No, I was awake," Ezra said as tears finally trickled down his cheeks. "I heard them playing music while they were operating. It was the theme to the film The Magnificent Seven." The name of the tune had just leapt into his mind as he recalled his experiences.

"Ezra? Tell me out straight. Are you saying you were awake in the OR?"

"Yes," Ezra replied, a sob escaping his mouth as he gasped for breath.

Vin patted Ezra's shoulder, not quite sure what to believe. "Alright, calm down, Ez. Let me go and find the doctor."

The younger man didn't quite know how to deal with the situation. If he could find out if there had been music playing in the OR he would know that Ezra was telling the truth. Otherwise he could dismiss it as a trick of the mind while under the influence of anesthetic.

He didn't get as far as finding a doctor, though, because he bumped into Nathan in the hallway. "Nate? I think Ez is saying he was awake when they were doing his ankle. He ain't really with it yet, so I don't know what to believe. He's seems pretty sure, though."

"Shit," the medic said as he hurried into Ezra's room. "Ezra? Tell me what you remember." The medic got hold of his friend's hand and stroked the back of it as he talked. He wanted to keep the man calm so that he could get to the truth.

"I woke up. I heard the drill and felt them probing about and putting in the screws. I couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't open my eyes. Couldn't tell them I was in pain. I felt like I was underwater. It didn't feel real," the injured man mumbled as he raised his free hand to wipe his eyes. His mind was beginning to drift and he felt as if his eyes were crossing as they lost focus.

Nathan patted Ezra's arm and ran his fingers through the injured man's hair gently. He could see that Ezra was on the verge of totally losing control of his emotions. It must have been a traumatic experience to cope with on top of his actual accident. "Okay, Ez. I'll get to the bottom of what happened. Vin will be here, so you're safe, alright?"

Nathan turned quickly and went out find the doctor. He felt angry about events, but he could also understand how it could have happened.

"Doc?" he called as he hurried to catch up with a doctor who was talking to someone at the nurses' station.

"Everything alright?"

Nathan shook his head worriedly. "No, I need to speak to whoever is in charge of Ezra Standish."

The doctor smiled. "I am. My name's Dr. Atkinson. What seems to be the problem?" he asked as he steered Nathan back toward Ezra's room.

"Ez says he was awake in the OR. He's real upset about it 'cause he could feel everything and couldn't tell you."

The doctor frowned worriedly and went to see his patient. "Mr. Standish? I need to confirm what you think happened to you." The man asked Ezra a lot of questions and unhappily confirmed that Ezra was not mistaken in his beliefs. "I'm afraid anesthesia is not an exact science. The muscle relaxants you were given meant that you couldn't notify us that you woke during the time you were in the OR. I will, of course, arrange for some counseling."

Vin watched in dismay as the man left the room. "Is that it?" he asked as he turned to face Nathan.

"It isn't an uncommon occurrence, Vin. You have to be real careful with the amount of anesthesia you give a patient and it's a very fine line between administering too much, or not enough. One in a thousand patients is awake during surgery."

"Shit. I didn't wanna know that, Nate." The younger man knew he'd never forget that fact, and whenever a hospital stay beckoned in the near future he would think of it.

Chris came in at that point and saw the disconcerted look on his best friend's face. "Is something wrong?"

"I should say so," Vin said worriedly. "Ez was awake during surgery."

"What?" Chris almost yelped as he turned to look at Nathan. He couldn't understand how such a thing could be allowed to happen.

The medic gave a brief explanation about what Ezra had told him and Chris shook his head in despair.

"He's real upset, and it ain't all only as a result of the drugs this time," Vin said as Nathan finished talking.

The blond's face clouded. "I bet he is," he said as he strode to the bed. "Ezra? I'm real sorry to hear what happened to you. We ain't gonna leave you alone, okay? No matter what the doctors say, we're staying here with you, twenty-four hours a day."

Ezra looked up through tearful eyes as his bottom lip trembled continuously. He hated crying but the drugs in his body had made him very emotional. He felt terrifically vulnerable; a feeling he was not going to be able to shake off for a long time. He tried to speak to his friends, to ask them to leave him alone, but as soon as he opened his mouth he lost all control. He turned his face away so that he was looking at the wall, as his body shook with the sobs. He just couldn't stop himself.

"Hey, come on, Ez. Don't cry," Chris said softly. He moved to sit so that he could see Ezra, and cupped his friend's face in a gentle hand.

"I'm sorry," Ezra finally mumbled.

"Got nothing to be sorry about," Vin said as he patted Ezra's arm before taking hold of his hand.

Ezra looked increasingly overwhelmed by his unfortunate circumstances, so Chris indicated for his companions to leave.

"Leave him with me, guys. Give Buck and the others an update, but maybe stop them visiting until tomorrow, okay?"

"Sure. See ya later, Ez. Go to sleep and get some rest," Nathan said as he waved to Ezra and left the room with Vin.

Once the two men had gone, Chris moved to sit in the seat by the bed. He kept contact with his friend by holding his hand and he gave it an encouraging squeeze. "Do as Nate says, Ez. Get some rest."

The undercover agent shifted on the bed and shook his head. His fingers moved restlessly in Chris's grip as he began hyperventilating. His moods were fluctuating greatly and at the moment he felt claustrophobic and very anxious.

The blond stood up again and attempted to calm the man down. "It's alright, Ezra. Try and take a deep breath for me. You're doing real well."

Ezra concentrated on Chris's soft voice and finally managed to settle his breathing although he still looked anything but happy. "I don't want to sleep," he muttered.

"Why? You're not in the O.R. anymore."

"I know, but...I can't explain it."

Chris patted Ezra's shoulder. "I can understand your feelings, but I'm here and you're safe. I won't let anything happen to you."

Ezra nodded, trusting his friend's word. He knew that now he had company in the room he was safe. It was what he was going to experience when he closed his eyes that he was more worried about.

Despite his anxiety, the undercover agent became increasingly sleepy. His eyes faded closed and then opened within seconds as he fought his body's need for rest, until his weariness finally got the upper hand.

****************************************

Buck entered the room two hours later to find Ezra still asleep. "Hey, Chris. What news?"

The blond looked up angrily. It was usually Buck who was the one-and-only team member to disobey his orders. Perhaps because he knew that he could get a way with it - as he always did. "What are you doing here? I don't want Ezra crowded right now," Chris snapped, just to make the man aware how irritated he was.

"Sorry, I just wanted to see him for myself. I just keep thinking what Ez musta thought when he woke in the O.R. What a nightmare." Buck ambled to the bed and studied his injured friend as if he was a prize exhibit.

Buck and Chris continued talking across the bed in hushed voices as the blond tried to persuade his friend not to stay long.

For himself, Ezra was aware of voices nearby and he heard his name mentioned several times. Am I dreaming or is this real? he asked himself as he began to panic. He listened for the sound of music, but all he heard were the voices discussing his injuries. His leg chose that moment to twinge in pain and he whimpered softly, thinking he was awake while being operated on again. He gasped loudly as he opened his eyes and reached a hand down toward his throbbing leg. His skin erupted in goose bumps and he shivered from top to toe.

"Ez? It's okay, it's okay," Chris said as he stood up and leaned over his upset friend. He rubbed the man's arm in comfort as he tried to snap him out of the trance he was in.

"I'll leave you to it," Buck said as he backed out of the room, seeing now why Chris had asked for no visitors.

Ezra drew in a long shaky breath and finally focused his eyes on Chris. The blond smiled at him and then ran his fingers gently through the man's hair carefully a few times as he tried to settle Ezra down totally. The undercover agent groaned and closed his eyes tight before opening them once more just to make sure he was really awake.

"Talk to me, Ez. Are you okay?""

"I thought..."

"I know, I know. Just take your time and get your breath back. Sounds like you've been running a marathon," Chris said as he patted Ezra's arm.

"I think I'd have much preferred that option," Ezra mumbled as he rubbed a hand over his face.

The injured agent settled back on the bed and stared up at the ceiling as he tried to relax. It was easier said than done though.

*****************************************

Two hours later, Chris was still sitting with Ezra, who had finally managed to go to sleep again after several false starts. The blond was reading a newspaper and sipping ice cold water from a cup. Ezra was very unsettled and kept mumbling in his sleep. Chris couldn't understand what he was saying, but he reached out every so often and patted the man's arm gently to try and calm him down. All of a sudden, though, Ezra started gasping for breath as he opened his eyes fast.

"Oh, God," he said as he lifted a hand to his mouth.

Chris had put down his paper as soon as he detected Ezra's very real distress. He leaned toward his injured friend and tried to gain his attention. In the end he had to grasp Ezra's free hand tightly and give it a squeeze before Ezra would even look at him. The injured agent seemed totally lost in his nightmare.

"Ezra? You're doing fine," Chris said quietly.

Ezra appeared anguished and he looked pleadingly at his friend and asked, "Was I dreaming?"

"Yes, this time you were, buddy."

This was to become Ezra's standard question every time he woke. He was unsure, after his recent experiences, what was real and what was not. He had a permanent fear that he was going to find himself back in the OR being operated on.

"What were you dreaming about?" Chris asked gently, hoping that if the man talked to him it might help.

"I was drowning," Ezra replied with a hitch in his voice. "I couldn't breathe and I kept sinking below the surface."

"Well, you're not anywhere near water, except for my drink," the blond said with a soft smile. "There's no need to upset yourself."

Ezra wiped his eyes and fidgeted in discomfort, but he couldn't find a soft spot on the bed. His whole body ached and the pain never seemed to ease.

A nurse wandered in at that point just to check on Ezra's status. "Anything I can do?" she asked when she saw that he was upset.

"No, I don't think so, thank you. He just keeps having nightmares. He can't tell what is a dream, and what isn't."

She nodded in understanding and said, "It must be hard after what he went through."

****************************************

Two days passed in this fashion; Ezra sleeping, but waking in a sweat from some nightmare or other. The rest of the team visited when they could, but Chris seemed happy to take the majority of companionship duties himself. Although the two men occasionally grated on each other's nerves, it was times such as these that Chris came to realize that he would hate not having Ezra around. He invariably tried to make up for past arguments by staying with Ezra whenever he was incapacitated. It made him feel better while also showing the undercover agent that he did care about him.

Chris looked over at his sleeping friend and saw that a few of his facial bruises were starting to change color as they faded, and the swelling around the cut on his head was slowly subsiding. The injured agent certainly seemed to be improving and, whenever Ezra woke, the nursing staff encouraged him to get up and about in preparation for when he was released.

**************************************

"Ezra? I've just spoken to Dr. Atkinson and he's gonna discharge you this afternoon. Before you leave, though, he wants you to go and see the counselor. He's just making sure he's free, so there's no backing out this time," Chris said as he stepped into the room pushing an empty wheelchair.

The injured agent looked up from where he was sitting in the chair beside the bed. He would definitely be glad to leave the hospital but he wasn't sure about the proviso that had been given. He'd managed to sweet-talk his way out of counseling so far, but it seemed that he had now been backed into a corner. It was nothing short of blackmail.

"Can't I just talk to Mr. Sanchez? I'd feel much more comfortable with him," he pleaded in one last attempt at putting off the inevitable.

The blond shook his head and folded his arms across his chest as he looked at Ezra seriously. "Not this time, Ez. Do as the doctor says, okay? It's for your own benefit."

Ezra shrugged. "If I must."

Dr. Atkinson appeared in the doorway and waved. "Dr. Roberts is ready to see you. You can go whenever you're ready."

"Thanks, doc. I'll take him now," Chris said.

Chris helped his friend transfer to his new mode of transport and made sure he was comfortable. He then wheeled him along the hallways and eventually tracked down the counselor's room. He knocked on the door and it was opened seconds later.

"Ah, Mr. Standish, please come in. I'm Dr. Roberts," the tall, graying man said. He moved to take charge of the wheelchair and turned to look at Chris. "If you want to go along to the waiting room I'll bring him back to you when we're done. I can't say how long this will take, though."

"Sure. See ya later, Ez," Chris said as he patted his friend's shoulder in encouragement.

The blond then ambled along to the waiting room and waited impatiently for his friend to reappear. Chris looked at his watch every fifteen minutes and couldn't settle at all as he wondered how his friend was faring in his session.

An hour and a half later, Ezra appeared in the doorway. Dr. Roberts smiled, walked toward Chris and patted his shoulder.

The counselor talked quietly as he relayed a few details to the blond. "Well, we've had a good long chat about things. I've made another appointment to see Mr. Standish next week. It may take a few sessions, but I think we've made a bit of head way. He seems a little bit happier, anyway. It's a terrible experience to go through and nightmares will be a possibility for quite some time to come."

"Yeah, he's already had a few. We're gonna help him as much as we can to get over this."

"It will certainly help to have good friends around. Hopefully talking to you as well will help him come to terms with things." Dr. Roberts went back to stand next to Ezra. "See you next week, but call me if you want to talk before then."

"Thank you."

"You're welcome," the counselor said as he waved and headed off back down the hallway to his office.

Chris moved to take up Dr. Robert's position and he squatted down beside his friend. He studied the subdued man for a while and then smiled. "Do you wanna go somewhere more private and talk?"

"No, it's quite alright. I've had enough talking for one day. I'd really just like to go home."

"You're feeling okay, though?" Chris asked insistently. To *his* eyes, Ezra seemed agitated, but maybe that was to be expected.

"Yes, thank you. I'm fine. It was good to have an impartial listener and I should have gone to see him before now. He gave me the name of someone who's been through what I have. We can talk and compare notes, so to speak. It's good to know that I'm not alone. Not that I'd wish this on anyone, but it helps, if you understand?" Ezra said haltingly, sounding slightly confused.

"I understand exactly what you mean, bud." Chris stood up and turned the wheelchair round. "Let's go pack up and I'll take you home."

"Hallelujah."

The blond smiled as he continued pushing Ezra back to his room. "Vin's gonna stay with you, okay?"

Ezra nodded. "Yes, that sounds most agreeable."

Chris left Ezra by the window in his room and went to sign the release papers for him. He then packed up Ezra's belongings and took them out to the Ram before going back to get his friend.

"Got your crutches?" Chris asked as he made sure he had everything before he left.

"Yes, they're on the bed."

The blond handed them to Ezra and then wheeled him out to the Ram. He helped Ezra get upright and then almost lifted him up into the front seat of the vehicle, passing his crutches into him after.

"All set?" he asked as he belted the man in.

"Yes, thank you."

"Okay, I'll just take this back and I'll be there," Chris said as he indicated the wheelchair.

The blond dropped off the wheelchair and hurried back to his friend, not wanting to leave his vehicle where it was for too long. Chris climbed up beside Ezra and started the motor. He pulled out onto the road and set off toward Ezra's house on the far side of town.

Ezra sighed in contentment when his home came into view and he saw Vin in the driveway waiting for him. The undercover agent waved as Chris drew in next to the sharpshooter.

"Hey, Ez. Made it then?"

"So it would seem," Ezra replied as he undid the seatbelt and opened the door.

He handed down his crutches and then waited for Chris to come and help him get out. The blond hurried round and eased his injured friend to the ground where Vin held his crutches ready. The undercover agent took charge of his extra pair of legs and began hobbling toward the front door.

He peg-legged through to the living room and came to halt when he saw the rest of his friends there waiting for him. He smiled and lowered himself into the nearest chair as Josiah pushed a small cushioned stool into place for Ezra to rest his leg on. The undercover agent then lay his crutches on the floor and settled back.

"Well, what an unexpected pleasure. How kind of you all to come," he said as he looked at each man and nodded in thanks.

"The only reason I'm here is to see if Vin bought the gold-plated crutches he said he was gonna buy you," Buck said with a laugh. "He told Chris he was going to and I aim to see he keeps his promise."

Vin ambled in and every man turned to look at him. "What? I got something horrible on the end of my nose?" he asked as he automatically raised a hand to his face.

"No. I am awaiting my present with great anticipation," Ezra said as he looked up expectantly.

"What present?"

"My gold-plated crutches?" the undercover agent hinted.

"Ah, well, I was only kidding," Vin said. "Anyway, I said I'd get them for Christmas so you'll have to break yer ankle again nearer the time."

"Not likely, Mr. Tanner." Ezra shrugged and sighed. "Maybe I'd have become a target for muggers if I possessed a pair of golden crutches. Nothing like finding myself flat on my face because someone steals one of my supports while I'm walking along, is there?" Ezra said as he laughed.

"We're more likely to kick one out from under you if you annoy us too much," Josiah said, unable to help himself.

"How kind. Well, this has certainly cheered me up no end. Thank you," Ezra said as he scratched his chin and stifled a yawn.

Nathan smiled, "Sorry to spoil things, but how did your session go?"

"Fine, thank you. It will take some time, but even after that one session, I don't feel quite so bad."

"That's good to hear, son," Josiah said as he patted Ezra's shoulder.

"It was rather a bizarre experience all in all. What happened to me, I mean, not my session. I can't say that I will ever forget it and hospital visits will never be the same again. I know it's stupid, but I dread the thought of being admitted for fear of it happening again," Ezra admitted as he looked up at profiler.

"That ain't stupid, Ez. It's entirely understandable. The impact of what you went through will fade with time, though."

Ezra shrugged and winced. "Not soon enough for my liking, I'm afraid. Maybe there will come a day when I can look back on all this and laugh."

"We'll help you through the bad times, you know that, don't you?" JD piped up from the corner of the room, not wanting to be left out.

"Yes, I most certainly do, Mr. Dunne. A problem shared is a problem halved, or seventh'd, if there is such a word, as the saying goes." Ezra smiled and thought to himself as he looked round the group. Since meeting you gentlemen, I have come to appreciate the true meaning of friendship. I sometimes think I must be the luckiest man in the world.

The End

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