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He turned and waited just out in the hall as he looked back into the office at his colleague. Ezra had his head down and looked occupied with paperwork. Vin smiled as he compared the state of his own desk with that of the undercover agent's. Vin's resembled a bomb-site, but he could always put his hand on anything he needed straightaway. It was ordered chaos. Ezra's need for strict order, on the other hand, verged on the obsessive. Hell hath no fury like an upset undercover agent on discovering that someone had borrowed a pen and not replaced it in the holder with precision. It was a sight to behold.
The dark-haired man in question looked up and nodded distractedly. "If you're still willing to have me. I just have this report to finish and I'll be there. Give me an hour."
Vin nodded. Report-writing was another obsession with Ezra. He had to make sure that there were no errors in it at all before he handed it in. He would sometimes re-read a multi-paged report five times, and if he noticed a mistake after he'd handed it in, he was almost inconsolable.
"Sure. I'll get cooking, so it should be ready when you get there," Vin agreed, knowing he'd probably have at least two hours before Ezra arrived. When deadlines were due, the man's timekeeping was worse than usual.
"That sounds most delightful. I do appreciate you feeding me," the green-eyed man said gratefully, as he leaned right back in his chair and stretched his arms in the air. He clasped his hands together and groaned as his inactive body was extended. He seemed to have been sat immobile for several hours and his buttocks, especially, were protesting.
"Yer welcome. I can do cordon bleu, just as well as you, and I aim to prove it."
Ezra grinned as he relaxed into his seat again. "Well, you will have to come up with something of stunning quality to beat my culinary creation last week."
"Yeah, yeah. See ya later," Vin said as he waved and headed home.
Ezra turned his attention back to his report and continued reading it through and marking any mistakes. He got so engrossed that it was well past his expected rendezvous time before he looked at his watch.
"Oh, Good Lord. Mr. Tanner's meal will be spoiled. Well, maybe that's to my advantage," he said to himself wryly.
The dapper man put away his pen, tidied his desk and switched off the computer. He then cast his eye over his work area to make sure everything was in order. Ezra stood up and wandered through to his boss's office. He placed the finished report on Chris's desk and only then realized he was the last agent left. All the others had gone an hour ago and even though they had said goodbye to him, Ezra hadn't noticed.
"Right, I'd better go and relieve Mr. Tanner of his hard-earned lucre," Ezra said as he collected his bag and headed down to the parking garage.
The bet between Ezra and Vin had arisen after a meal out. Vin, as usual, had eaten pizza and Ezra had commented that he'd never seen him consume anything else. The sharpshooter had taken exception to that and had challenged Ezra to a culinary competition. Ezra had cooked a three-course meal the previous week and thought that he had the bet in the bag. Vin, though, was out to prove him wrong.
Ezra drove toward Vin's apartment block through the last of the rush-hour traffic. He closed his eyes against the tail lights of the vehicle ahead whenever they came to a halt. They seemed twice as bright in the darkening conditions and they hurt his eyes. Ezra finally spotted his destination in relief and parked on the street nearby. He got out, entered the block and started climbing the stairs to his friend's floor because, yet again, the elevator was out of order.
"Oh, well, the additional exercise will boost my appetite. I hope he prepared a veritable feast to satisfy it," Ezra mumbled to himself as he patted his stomach in expectation.
Ezra could smell truly tantalizing aromas as he approached the final set of stairs leading to Vin's apartment. He followed the tasty trail along the hallway like a bloodhound until he reached his friend's abode. The sharpshooter answered his beckoning knock on the door and showed him through to the living room.
"Take a seat, Ez. Almost ready," he said as he rubbed his hands together happily. The anticipation of the cash from winning the bet was making his hands itch. Jeez, I'm turning into Ezra, he thought to himself in amusement.
"I apologize for my tardiness," the small agent said as he took off his jacket and hung it over the back of his chair. He then loosened his tie, sat down and put his napkin over his knees.
"That's okay, it was all in the plans. I knew you'd be late 'cause of all yer fussing over that report."
Ezra smiled. "You know me too well, Mr. Tanner."
Vin disappeared into the kitchen and Ezra could hear the clashing of pots and pans. A plate of food was finally placed in front of him and he stared at it as his mouth ran water. He sat and savored the smell of the food and he closed his eyes and inhaled deeply.
Vin sat opposite him and began tucking in to his own plateful of food. He realized that Ezra hadn't yet started eating, so he looked up and saw the man's posture. "Jeez, ya gonna eat it or just sniff it? Didn't slave over a hot stove just for you to sit and smell it, pard."
Ezra opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows haughtily. "I am taking pleasure in the various aromas that are tantalizing my nasal passages and palate."
"God," Vin muttered as he shook his head in despair. Ezra sure was a funny fella sometimes. Ask a simple question, he thought to himself.
Ezra ignored his friend and finally took a mouthful of the meal. He chewed it slowly, enjoying the texture and taste on his tongue. He was acting exactly like a wine-taster when tasting the newest fine wine in a restaurant. He got a look of ecstasy on his face and he sighed, which sounded like a soft moan.
"Damn, now ya sound like yer making love to it," Vin commented in exasperation.
Ezra licked his lips and looked his friend in the eye. "This is delicious, Mr. Tanner. I thought the whole purpose of the exercise was to enjoy the meal? Don't you want me to enjoy it?"
"Yeah, but I don't wanna watch you drooling. It'll put me off eating my own food," Vin said as he grinned.
Ezra smiled and began to eat with gusto. The two men enjoyed a five course extravaganza of food, which certainly sated Ezra's hunger. The undercover agent was very impressed and, as he wiped his mouth after his final delicious forkful, he looked across at Vin again.
"I concede defeat, Mr. Tanner. That was of the highest standard."
"Hand over yer money, then," Vin said with a broad grin. He reached out a hand and rubbed his thumb over the first two fingers of his hand in anticipation of touching the cash.
Ezra counted out the agreed amount and passed the notes over. With each mouthful he'd eaten, his thoughts about the sharpshooter had changed. He would never have thought the man capable of cooking more than toast without burning it. He had been proved wrong in the strongest sense.
"You must have worked very hard. I'll help wash up to repay you," he offered as he picked up some of the cutlery and indicated the kitchen.
The undercover agent followed Vin into the room but came to a standstill when he saw several boxes on the table. He frowned and squinted as he looked at the name on them. They had come from one of Denver's top-class restaurants. Vin hadn't tried to hide the evidence of his deception at all.
Ezra moved to stand in front of his friend and stared at him wryly. He still held the cutlery tightly in both hands like weapons. "Mr. Tanner, I do believe you have cheated me in the cruelest way," he said quietly.
Vin looked at him after flicking a quick glance at the sharp cutlery. He smiled broadly as he took the knives and forks from his friend's hands insistently. "Well...you could say that. It was fun, though, and worth the money. Won the cost of the meal back from you, anyway." He shrugged, looking totally unashamed. "I still kinda cooked it."
The two men washed up and then relocated to the living room again. They spent a companionable evening together until Ezra decided it was time to go home. He stood up to go and collect his jacket but came to a halt suddenly with a strange look on his face. He concentrated solely on breathing as he tried to remain upright.
"Ez? You okay? I didn't poison ya, did I?" Vin asked in amusement as he rose, too.
Ezra didn't answer, couldn't answer for a while. "Sit," he finally mumbled, almost incoherently, as he swayed like a tree in the wind.
The word almost sounded like the curse 'shit' because of the slurred way Ezra said it, and it took a few seconds for Vin to realize that his friend wasn't swearing. He studied Ezra closely and felt his skin erupt in goose-bumps. He'd never seen his friend look quite so terrified before.
Vin reached out quickly and eased Ezra down onto the couch worriedly, his lighthearted mood replaced by fear. "What's the matter? Don't you feel well, bud? Talk to me."
Ezra was too busy concentrating on his symptoms to reply. He had a sudden sensation which started at his head and proceeded to move down the left side of his body. It began like goose-bumps, creeping across his scalp from right to left as if someone was trailing an ice-cube over his skin. After that had passed, it was replaced by numbness. It was as if the whole of the left side of his body was shutting down from top to toe in stages. First his scalp and face, next his arm, his leg and his foot. His face felt as if half of it was covered with a wooden mask - heavy and immovable. He had the strange feeling that if he had been standing, he would just have keeled over onto his left side, his balance totally shaken.
Vin, meanwhile, watched helplessly as his friend suffered his frightening attack. The first thing he noticed was the panicked look on Ezra's face. Then, before his very eyes, one side of his friend's face seemed to sag slightly. He continued watching, as if in slow motion, as each limb on Ezra's left side became floppy. His heart started racing at the sight and he shivered.
"Ez? Come on, bud. Talk to me. Please," Vin pleaded as he squatted in front of the man. "Can you tell me how you feel?"
Ezra shook his head slightly as he hyperventilated and groaned. He was very distressed, but he really couldn't convey it. He closed his eyes briefly as he clutched Vin's arm tightly with his right hand. He didn't want to lose the contact because as long as he felt the warm skin beneath his touch, he knew he was still alive.
Just as suddenly as the symptoms had appeared, though, they disappeared in a matter of seconds. Ezra frowned and sat up straight as he flexed his left arm just to see that it did actually move. He sighed in relief and took a deep breath as he tried to calm his hastily beating heart. He then tested out each previously numb part of his body to find them all back in working order. He felt like crying and he bit his lip to keep hold of his emotions. He'd never experienced anything like it before.
"I'm getting you to the hospital," Vin said decisively as he stood up to go and find the keys to his jeep.
Ezra reached up and grabbed his sleeve, stopping him. "Please don't fuss," he pleaded. "I'm perfectly all right now, aren't I? It was just a little faintness. Perhaps something I ate didn't agree with me after all and made me a bit dizzy. I really can't remember exactly what happened but it can't have been anything worse than a dizzy spell," he said, sounding to Vin as if he was also trying to convince himself.
Vin hesitated. He'd been truly frightened by what had happened, but as Ezra seemed to be totally recovered, he gave in. Maybe he'd imagined the severity of what he had witnessed after all. "Well, you're not going home in case you ain't well again. You're staying with me tonight and no arguments."
Ezra nodded in agreement. He really didn't want to be alone at the moment, anyway. The attack had shaken him, but he was more afraid of going to the hospital and being told it was something bad. He'd much rather be like an ostrich and stick his head in the sand, than hear that he was suffering from Lord knows what.
Vin knew he couldn't force the man to do his bidding and go to the hospital. If he tried, Ezra would be out the front door faster than he could spit. The sharpshooter wasn't at all happy about leaving matters as they were, though. When Ezra went to the bathroom half an hour later, he called Ezra's physician. He explained what had happened and the man seemed unconcerned, and Vin thought, uncaring. The sharpshooter decided to call Nathan instead for another opinion. He trusted his friend implicitly and if he agreed with Ezra's physician he would be satisfied.
"Um...Nate? You got a minute, bud?" Vin asked as soon as the call was answered.
"Vin? Is everything alright?"
The long-haired man shrugged, keeping an ear out for what Ezra was doing. He heard the man coming back to the living room so he moved into the kitchen to talk in private. "I don't know, to be truthful," he said to Nathan quietly. "I want yer advice, opinion, or something. Ezra had a funny turn earlier, but he won't go to the hospital. I'm real worried about him, though, and I know he's concerned about what happened. He's got that sorta hunted look he gets when he's real upset but won't admit it."
Nathan knew exactly what Vin meant. He nodded and got down to business wanting to find out what was wrong. "Tell me exactly what you mean by 'funny turn'. Was Ez sick, faint, or what?"
Vin did the best he could, but it all sounded rather stupid now. "He could hardly speak and his arm and leg went kinda funny - floppy like. After a minute or so, though, he was fine again. He just said he'd felt faint and dizzy, but I think he's lying. He looked real panicky."
Vin's first comment had Nathan's heart pounding. He stood up straight and frowned as his mind whirred through the possibilities of what had happened to Ezra. "What about his face? Was that affected in any way?" the medic asked quickly in concern. After going back over Vin's description he had a feeling he knew what the problem was. This question should verify things once and for all.
The sharpshooter frowned at being asked that question. If Nathan knew what Ezra's symptoms had been just by the brief description Vin had given, then it must be something bad. "Yeah, it kinda dropped one side, so it was crooked. It didn't stay like it for long and I kinda wondered if I'd imagined it. Do you know what I mean?" Vin asked uncertainly. He really wasn't sure if he'd described things at all well.
Nathan ran a shaking hand round the back of his neck anxiously. He nodded and looked around him distractedly. "Yeah, I do. I'll come over right away. Sounds like he mighta had a TIA."
"A what?" Vin asked in confusion. An acronym in medicine always seemed twice a bad as a proper word to him.
The medic knew that Vin wanted some reassurance but he couldn't really give him any right now. He sighed and imparted his bad news. "Transient Ischaemic Attack. They're a kinda stroke and it could be a warning of worse to come. It shouldn't be ignored. You did the right thing in calling me, Vin."
Vin sounded doubtful. "I called his doctor, too, but he didn't seem to think there was anything wrong. He thought it was something Ez ate."
Nathan's tone became more dominant. "I don't agree."
"Shit. I thought with a stroke you got paralysis," Vin said, regretting not insisting on taking Ezra to the hospital.
"You do, but a TIA is slightly different. The body manages to restore blood supply to the brain before any real damage is done You get temporary paralysis until the blood circulates properly again, which is what you witnessed with his face. It's not a full-blown stroke...yet," the medic explained slightly irritably. He just wanted to get to his patient. "I'll be there as soon as I can, Vin."
Nathan put down the phone and went back to his living room. He nodded distractedly to Josiah who was watching TV, although Nathan noticed the sound had been turned down since he'd left the room. "I'm going to Ezra's. Can you let yerself out?" he asked his friend quickly, not even waiting for an answer. He started making his way to the front door to leave.
Josiah rose hastily and hurried after him. The older man looked at his young friend in concern and said, "Didn't mean to eavesdrop on yer conversation, son, but weren't you talking about strokes? Is Ezra all right?"
"That's what I aim to find out."
The profiler narrowed his eyes anxiously and asked, "Can I come?"
Nathan nodded as he shrugged into his coat and checked the pocket to make sure he had everything. "Sure. Be glad of the company. Vin's real worried."
The two men sped through town in Nathan's Explorer in silence, each consumed with their own thoughts about Ezra's welfare. They arrived at Vin's apartment quickly and the sharpshooter showed them into the living room. Ezra was perched on the couch uncomfortably, scowling like a thundercloud. He'd been furious when he'd found out that Nathan was coming. He hated being fussed over.
The medic knelt down in front of Ezra straightaway and held his gaze. "Ez? Tell me exactly what you felt. Everything. This is real important."
"Don't know why Mr. Tanner called you. I'm fine," Ezra grumbled unhappily as he averted his eyes to stare at the carpet instead.
"Ezra? Tell Nathan, son," Josiah ordered in a tone that brooked no argument. The big man sat down beside his friend, feeling the tension in his body even though he hadn't touched him.
Ezra sighed and shrugged. "I had a tingling sensation on the top of my head. I felt a bit faint and then I seemed to lose feeling in stages down my left side. I had to sit down, but then I felt all right again. It was most bizarre," Ezra eventually admitted.
Nathan nodded and stood up. "Right, I'm getting you to the hospital, and I ain't taking no for an answer. This is serious, Ezra."
Josiah rose, too, and saw that Ezra was going to protest. "Listen to Nathan, son. He knows what he's talking about," Josiah said as he reached down and helped Ezra to his feet.
The four men set off to the hospital and had to wait in the ER for hours. There had been a major incident and only casualties from that were being treated. Finally, Ezra was called through and his friends insisted on accompanying him. Ezra and hospitals got along as well as skin and poison ivy, and there was no way the men were going to leave their friend alone.
The doctor assigned to Ezra examined him thoroughly and listened to his explanation of what had happened. He called down a specialist and Ezra repeated his story once more. The more he said it, the more stupid he felt. He could see by the looks on the medical staffs' faces, though, that they didn't think it was stupid at all. The new doctor nodded and pursed his lips as he pondered his decision.
"Well, we need to get a proper look at you and carry out some tests to see if a TIA is definitely what you suffered. Can you come back early tomorrow for a day so that we can carry out a series of tests?"
"If you insist," Ezra said nervously as his eyes flicked round his circle of friends. He shivered and his stomach muscles knotted at the prospect of a day of tests.
"I'll come with him," Nathan offered as he smiled at Ezra to try and ease his fears.
The time was set for Ezra's admission the next day and then the four men headed home. They were subdued and although they tried to cheer Ezra up, it didn't work. His mind was full of images and he inevitably dwelt on the worst case scenario.
The four men arrived at Vin's apartment and Josiah got out as well. "I'll take your Jag back to my house for safekeeping, Ez," the profiler offered.
"Thank you," Ezra mumbled. He never usually let anyone else settle behind the steering wheel, but today his mind was elsewhere.
"You okay if I leave my SUV at your house, Nate?" Josiah asked.
The medic nodded as he kept a close eye on his passenger. "Yeah, that's fine. Got plenty of room in the drive."
"Take care, Ez. I'll call tomorrow night to see how you got on," Vin said as he patted his preoccupied friend's back.
Nathan drove his passenger back to his own house to stay the night. He knew his friend must be very worried so he didn't want him to be on his own overnight. The medic always had the spare room made up just for these sorts of situations.
Nathan sat Ezra at the kitchen table and made him a drink of hot chocolate.
"You okay?" he asked in concern as he took a seat beside his trembling friend.
"I'm fine, but I'm not looking forward to tomorrow," Ezra admitted as he wriggled in embarrassment. "You know the effect that doctors have on me. I'm sure they just like to poke and prod for no reason while looking as if they think you're going to expire any minute. I was probably just suffering from gas rather than a TIA as quoted," he said, trying to sound jolly.
Nathan patted his back in encouragement. "I know the difference between gas and a TIA, bud."
"I know and I trust your judgment, Mr. Jackson. Why am I always the one to be afflicted? Not that I wish this on anyone, but I can't seem to get any luck where my health is concerned."
"Well, it may not seem like it, but it's best to have a TIA first. It's a warning still at a stage when something can be done to help you. It's better than suffering a stroke straight out and being possibly permanently disabled as a result."
Ezra nodded. "Yes, I suppose I am fortunate in that respect. I'd just rather not suffer anything of this sort at all."
"I know, bud. Do you think you'll be able to sleep?"
"I can but try," Ezra said with a shrug as he drank the last of the chocolate and stood up.
"Give me a yell if you can't, or if you wanna talk some more."
After Ezra had headed to bed, the medic called Chris to tell him what had happened. "Chris? Sorry to call you so late, but Ez has got to have a day in the hospital tomorrow. Vin called me earlier this evening after Ez had some kind of episode. Both the doctor and I are of a mind that it was a TIA."
"Shit. Okay, let me know how he gets on. I assume you're going with him?" Chris asked, still coming to terms with what he'd been told. The blond had first-hand knowledge of TIA's and that made him even more concerned about Ezra's welfare.
"Yeah, he's scared, although he won't admit it. Just keeps saying he's fine, but he ain't at all happy," Nathan admitted.
"Not surprised. My Mom had a few TIA's before she was killed by a full-blown stroke soon after. Hers were never diagnosed until it was too late. Take good care of him, Nate."
"I will," the medic promised.
Nathan did a few chores and then headed upstairs. He stopped outside Ezra's room and poked his head round the door. He smiled when he saw that the man was sound asleep, perhaps the anxiety of the day had worn him out. Nathan backed out quietly and headed to his own bed, hoping he would be able to catch some shuteye, too.
At breakfast the next morning, Ezra sat and sipped his cup of tea. He was worried about what the day held for him and his mind drifted as he thought of all sorts of horrors. He felt sick and uneasy as a result and he couldn't help shivering.
Nathan fussed around the kitchen, tidying up the breakfast crockery. He was also on edge, which was unlike him. He usually kept a cool head and he knew he should be soothing Ezra's rattled nerves instead of adding to his own. In truth, he didn't know what to say to the man, so he decided on silence, but that seemed to be making matters worse. The atmosphere was awkward and Nathan wished it was anything but.
Ezra was just taking another sip of tea when his heart seemed to stop as he felt the same symptoms as the previous day begin again. Oh no, not again, he thought to himself. The symptoms seemed worse this time and he really began to panic.
"Nathan," he managed to call softly, hoping that the medic could hear his quiet plea for help. He'd only just got the word out when he saw the table coming up to meet him at the same time as the cup fell from his hand.
Nathan spun round as he heard his name. He watched the cup smash on the floor after it had first bounced once on the table. He saw Ezra's head dropping to hit the hard surface of the table and he cursed. The sick man's left arm then dropped to hang limply by his side as the leg on the same side of his body trembled non-stop.
"Shit, Ezra. Can you hear me?" the medic called as he dropped to his knees beside his friend. He put a hand on the man's back and shook him slightly. After receiving no reply, the medic summoned an ambulance.
Ezra woke half an hour later to muffled words from two unknown voices.
"Mr. Standish? Can you hear me?" a paramedic asked as he took Ezra's pulse.
"How is he?" Nathan asked.
"Blood pressure is real low, he can't seem to speak and is having trouble breathing," the second paramedic stated in concern.
That was not really what Ezra wanted to hear and he mumbled softly as he struggled against the grip on his arm. He opened his eyes a bit but couldn't really focus on anyone, or anything as he was pulled upright carefully. His chest felt tight and, as the paramedic had noted, he had real difficulty getting air into his lungs. It frightened Ezra and he began wheezing loudly in panic as his breathing became even more distressed.
"Take it easy, Ez. You're gonna be fine," Nathan assured as he reached out and patted his friend's back.
Ezra felt an oxygen mask being placed over his nose and mouth and he began to breathe in the pure air. He was then lifted gently out of the chair and onto a gurney. He looked up with clearing, though still fuzzy, eyes and saw an IV being inserted into his flesh. He closed his eyes with a sigh as he was taken out to the emergency vehicle and lifted inside.
At the moment, Ezra's symptoms hadn't disappeared as before and he was worried. Nathan really needed someone to talk to so he called Chris as soon as he reached the hospital.
He punched Chris's number into his cell and waited impatiently for the man to answer. "Chris? Ez had another TIA this morning at breakfast. He passed out for quite some time and had trouble breathing. We're at Mercy and he ain't recovered yet. He ain't got any feeling in his left side."
"Okay, I'm on my way. Are you okay?" Chris asked, detecting the worried tone in his friend's voice.
"Bit shook up. He scared the shit outta me just collapsing like that," Nathan admitted worriedly as he paced up and down outside the hospital's entrance.
"I understand. I'll be there soon, bud. Thanks for taking care of him."
Nathan ran back inside and sought out Ezra just as the doctor they'd seen the previous day hurried in.
"Hello, Mr. Jackson, Mr. Standish. I expected you to arrive under different circumstances, but you've kept your appointment, haven't you?"
Dr Mandelson smiled as he tried to calm his patient down. He could see that he was highly perturbed and that was understandable in the circumstances. The doctor took his time as he examined Ezra.
"Can you smile for me, Mr. Standish?" he asked as he studied Ezra's crooked features.
One side of Ezra's mouth lifted perfectly, but the numb side stayed stubbornly static, though.
Dr Mandelson nodded and wrote quite a few notes on Ezra's chart and then looked back at his patient."I think we definitely need to admit you for observation for a few days. I'll just get the paperwork sorted and we'll get you up to your room." The tall man smiled as he headed back outside at the same speed with which he'd arrived.
Ezra was transferred to his own room on the next floor up in the hospital almost immediately, for which Nathan was glad. The medic accompanied the man and tried to keep him calm as they waited for Chris to turn up.
Chris came tearing into Ezra's room, just as the undercover agent was being settled in the bed. He came to a sliding halt and looked at his sick friend in concern. Ezra's face was still affected and the blond's worry deepened at the sight. It brought back unwanted memories, but he pushed them aside. His own mother was dead, but Ezra, his friend, needed him - right here, right now. That was all he cared about.
He walked to the bed and sat on the edge as he studied Ezra without trying to be too obvious about it. The man must be self-conscious enough without him staring at his lopsided features. Chris then reached out and took hold of Ezra's right hand, knowing he'd be able to feel his touch on that side of his body. "Hey, Ez. How ya doin'?"
Ezra shrugged, unable to get his mouth moving to answer yet. He lowered his gaze and turned slightly red in embarrassment.
Nathan smiled as he put a gentle hand on Ezra's shoulder and said, "He's gonna be kept in for a few days. Least he's in the best place now. Dr. Mandelson seems real nice and very efficient."
The blond nodded and looked up at Nathan. "What will happen if it is a TIA?"
"He'll be on aspirin for the rest of his life, which is better than sitting around waiting for a stroke," the younger man said as he sank wearily into the chair beside the bed.
Chris nodded as he sighed and smiled at Ezra. "I didn't call any of the others, yet. I'll let them know what's happened when the doctor's been to see you again. Don't reckon you want everyone here right now."
Ezra nodded and laid his head back on the pillow. He was pleased that Chris had been so sensitive to his needs. The last thing he wanted was to be under scrutiny while he was in such a state.
The three men were left on their own for a while, during which time, Ezra's symptoms totally cleared.
"Okay, Ez?" Chris asked when he saw his friend's face looked normal.
"Yes, thank you, but the experience was not pleasant," the bed-ridden man said as he shifted on the mattress to try and get comfortable.
"Well, you sure got my heart pumping this morning, Ez. Don't like seeing a friend suffer like that," Nathan said as he thought back on events.
Nathan shook his head and smiled. "Not your fault, bud. You can't help what is happening to you."
A young doctor wandered in at that point and smiled at the room's occupants. "Hello, I'm Dr. Matheson. I've come to take some of your blood for testing."
Ezra couldn't see any equipment to do the task and he stared at the medical man curiously. "You're not a vampire, are you? I see no utensils to extract my life's blood with, so I assume you will be biting my neck," Ezra said wryly.
"No, it's all right. I've got all the equipment I need in this room. You're quite safe from my fangs," the doctor said as he laughed. He walked to where a syringe was sitting on a tray and he opened the packaging and checked it quickly.
He moved to stand by the bed and he tied a strap round Ezra's arm above the area he would be putting the needle in. He swabbed the skin over the vein he'd chosen and then gently inserted the needle of the syringe.
"Look away if you prefer," he murmured to Ezra. Not everyone enjoyed seeing what was being done to them. He'd known many patients pass out at the sight of their red liquid being extracted - some just at the sight of the needle.
He pulled off a tube full of blood and then settled Ezra back on the bed.
"What else can I expect?" Ezra asked as he looked up at the man anxiously.
"Well, you may have a CT scan as well. It all depends on what we discover from this little lot," the doctor said as he patted the test-tube.
"Try not to worry. You're in good hands and we really want to find out what happened to you," the young doctor said reassuringly. "Now tell me, how long ago did your symptoms clear? I understand you were still affected when you were admitted."
Chris shrugged and looked at his watch. "About ten minutes ago, I guess."
The doctor nodded and wrote some notes on Ezra's chart before putting his pen away in his pocket. "Okay, I'll let Dr. Mandelson know. He was called away on an emergency so I apologize that you were left alone for a short while. I'll arrange for a nurse to come and check on you regularly but if you need someone, there will always be a nurse on the desk outside."
The blond nodded in acceptance of the explanation and immediately began pacing the room as was his habit.
Ezra watched him for while until his head swam from the constant toing and froing. "You don't have to stay, gentleman. I'm quite comfortable and, as you have seen, I will be very well looked after."
"I don't like the thought of you being alone in case you have another attack," Nathan said uncertainly.
"I'm not alone," Ezra said as he nodded in the direction of a middle-aged male nurse who had walked briskly into the room.
Ezra held up his hand. "Please, Mr. Jackson. I would really like to be on my own." The undercover agent looked at the nurse and smiled. "Would you please convince my friends that they do not need to stay?"
The man smiled broadly and nodded. "Mr. Standish will be under constant supervision so I can assure you that he will come to no harm. I'd really rather like him to get some rest now, so I was going to ask you to leave anyway."
"Thank you," Ezra said with a grin.
Chris pursed his lips. He did have an awful lot of work to catch up on and he knew that he couldn't really afford the time away from the office right now. He just didn't like leaving Ezra. It seemed that he didn't have any choice, so he sighed and nodded.
"Okay, we'll come in as often as we can, though."
"I shall look forward to it," Ezra agreed.
The blond then turned to the nurse. "I advise tying him to the bed. He takes any chance he can get to escape hospitals. We've had a lot of trouble with him in the past. Turn your back and he'll be gone," he warned seriously, but with a smile.
"Mr. Larabee," Ezra complained unhappily.
Chris looked non-plussed as he fixed his friend with a penetrating stare. "Don't let him bribe you, either."
The nurse smiled again and turned his gaze on his patient, too. He folded his arms over his chest, showing his bulging muscles off to maximum effect. "I'm a black belt in judo. If Mr. Standish knows what's good for him he will not move from that bed without my say so."
"Yes, nurse," Ezra muttered as he watched his two friends leave the room. He didn't appreciate the sadistic smiles on their faces as they turned to wave goodbye. Despite that, he really rather wished he'd asked them to stay after all.
Ezra remained in the hospital for another two days. He had relaxed considerably since his admission and, as he had suffered no other episodes, was feeling rather more upbeat. He had a myriad of tests performed each day, so at least he had plenty of company. As the nurse had promised, he was given no opportunities to abscond, much to Ezra's disgust.
"Hey, Ez. Treating you okay, are they?" Chris asked as he sat on the bed facing his friend. Team7 had finished work early and had automatically come to the hospital to see their friend.
"Yes, thank you, but I'm becoming rather frustrated. I had another CAT scan today, and had every vital function that you can think of monitored at some point. If I have one more needle poked in me I think I will scream."
Buck smiled as he leaned against the wall near the bed. "Heard any news yet? As you say, they've taken pints of your life's blood, so they must have discovered something from that."
Ezra shook his head in despair. "No, they haven't. It appears that I am a bit of a medical mystery. Perhaps I'll be written about in the New England Journal of Medicine, or even the Lancet. I could be famous," the undercover agent said, perking up no end at the prospect.
"Not quite what you want in your profession, son. You need anonymity," Josiah pointed out with a grin as he patted the man's shoulder soothingly.
"Dammit, so I do. Can't really make a living as a medical anomaly, anyway, can I?" Ezra said in disappointment.
"No, that's true. Not in this day and age anyway. If it had been a hundred years ago and you'd had two heads then maybe you'd be better off," Josiah said with a laugh. He was glad that his friend seemed to be in good spirits despite the fright he'd had.
"Do you feel all right, though?" Buck asked, once the men had stopped laughing.
"Yes, much improved, thank you. I have to say that it's been one of my better hospital stays and I feel a fraud really. Nothing's happened while I've been here and, as a result, the previous attacks all seem rather dreamlike and unreal."
"Didn't seem unreal to me," Nathan said quietly. "You scared me."
"And me," Vin said from where he sat quietly in the corner.
Dr Mandelson came in at the point and greeted the men with a nod. He moved to stand by the bed and looked down at his patient. "Hello, Mr. Standish. I'm not sure if you will be pleased or not by what I have to say. I'm afraid we cannot find the cause of your attacks and we have run out of tests to perform. You've been perfectly fine since you've been staying with us, haven't you? We admit to being rather baffled by events."
"We're not. We always knew he was a freak," Buck said with a chuckle.
"What are you going to do?" Chris asked seriously as he poked Buck in the ribs to shut him up.
The doctor smiled. "Well, as our first thoughts were, and still are, a TIA, we are going to be proactive in that respect. We'll prescribe aspirin and hopefully we won't ever have to see him again for that particular complaint. Aspirin should certainly prevent further attacks as well as a full-blown stroke." Dr. Mandelson turned back to Ezra and said seriously, "However, if you begin to suffer any other symptoms, I want you back in here immediately."
"Yes, doctor. May I leave now?" Ezra asked eagerly, one leg already out from under the bed-covers in anticipation.
"Not so fast, hot-shot," Nathan said as he pushed Ezra back.
Dr. Mandelson laughed. "I just need to sort out your paperwork and I can discharge you. I'd like you to stay with one of your friends just for a short while after your release. It's always good to have company after a hospital stay, I think you'll agree."
"He can come to the ranch with me. I'll keep him in line," Chris said.
Ezra watched thoughtfully as the doctor left the room. He was relieved that he wasn't going to be subjected to any surgery, but he couldn't admit to being totally satisfied at the outcome. He'd expected answers and he hadn't got any, just supposition. It left things rather up in the air and he knew he would be very anxious for a while after his release.
"Okay, Ez?" Nathan asked, seeing the uncertainty on his friend's face.
"I think so. It's just that with no definite diagnosis I feel rather unsettled," Ezra admitted.
Nathan took up Chris's position on the bed when the blond moved aside. "I can understand that, bud. We'll keep a close eye on you, but I'm sure in my own mind that you suffered a TIA. The aspirin will keep your blood flowing freely, so this should be an end to it."
Ezra nodded and smiled. "Well, all I can say is an aspirin a day keeps the doctor away. I hope that proves to be the case."
Six months had passed and Ezra was religiously taking his aspirin every day as instructed. He had suffered no other TIA's and had developed no other symptoms.
Nathan caught him on the way home from work in the parking garage one day. "Hey, Ez. Everything okay?"
The undercover agent turned to face his friend and nodded. "Yes, thank you. I never really thanked you properly for taking care of me when I suffered my unfortunate symptoms. I hope you know that I am truly grateful for all you've done for me," Ezra said earnestly as he patted Nathan's shoulder.
"It's my job, bud," Nathan replied, slightly embarrassed.
"Maybe so, but you always go the extra mile. You shouldn't be expected to care for us outside working hours, but you are always willing to do so. I admire that quality."
The medic smiled. "Medicine ain't a nine-to-five job, Ez. Where friends are concerned I'd do anything, at any time, to make sure they're okay."
"You've proved that on many occasions, Mr. Jackson. Have you got any plans tonight?" Ezra asked suddenly.
Nathan shook his head wondering what was coming. He hoped it wasn't the offer of a poker game, because he knew he'd come out of it a poorer man.
"Well, would you allow me to treat you to a meal out to show my gratitude?" Ezra asked. "We never really spend much time in each other's company, just us two, I mean, and I would like to have a chance to do so. I have owed you my life on more than one occasion and there is no way to repay you properly for that. I know a meal doesn't in any way come close to what you have done for me, but I hope you accept it in the spirit in which it is meant."
The medic smiled broadly at the offer. "I'd like that, Ez. Thank you."