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Thanks to Suan for beta-reading this for me. Posted 26/9/05.
He was three-quarters of the way to his destination when he got an empty, sick feeling in his stomach. He took a deep breath to stave it off, but the world suddenly whirled round in his vision. The sensation caused him to swerve slightly as he swallowed quickly and pulled over to the shoulder of the road.
He only just managed to open the car door in time before he threw up. His body suddenly felt very cold and he couldn't help shivering in reaction. Ezra climbed out of the car and took a deep breath of fresh air, hoping it would help ease his symptoms. He groaned in frustration and walked on wobbly legs to some nearby trees when he felt nausea overwhelming him again. He reached out one hand to a tree trunk and bent forward as he puked once more, his free hand clamped to his abdomen. He rubbed his stomach a couple of times and then straightened up slowly.
Ezra wiped his mouth on the back of his hand and sighed in despair. "Whatever shall I do? Go on, or go home?"
He turned round, leaned his back against the tree and closed his eyes. As he stood there, he put his hand blindly in one of his pockets to get a handkerchief to wipe his hands and mouth. Still with eyes closed, he fumbled about inside, but instead of feeling material, he felt something hard. He opened his eyes and pulled the item from his pocket and saw that it was his cell. He turned it on expectantly, but despite waving it around in every direction, he couldn't get a signal.
"Dammit, I can't even call for assistance." The green-eyed man hesitated, wondering what to do for the best. He looked up and down the empty road and then sighed. "Well, it's less miles to Chris's, so I'd better go on."
Ezra waited until his stomach had settled slightly before going back to his car and continuing on his way. The short trip on to the ranch seemed more like a hundred miles to the sick man. Ezra's innards churned continually and his vision kept fading. After a very interrupted journey, he finally pulled into Chris's yard, feeling worse by the second.
He saw that all his friends were already there helping to prepare the barbecue. They waved in greeting before turning back to continue what they were doing, oblivious to their friend's ailment.
Several minutes later, Vin suddenly realized that Ezra still hadn't joined them. He turned to face the car and frowned in concern when he saw Ezra leaning forward in the seat, not moving.
The sharpshooter began to walk to the vehicle, his pace quickening the nearer he got. He opened the door and bent over so that he could look in at his friend. He reached in and pulled Ezra upright and saw that he looked awful. His friend was pale, sweaty, shivering and smelled of vomit. Vin's heart contracted at seeing Ezra so sick.
Ezra didn't speak, so Vin squatted down and studied his friend in growing concern. He reached out a hand again and felt the man's brow gently. "Ez? You look like death warmed over."
Ezra smiled weakly as he rubbed a trembling hand over his face. "Feel it. I was almost here when I became rather unwell. I decided to continue as it was closer, but I'm not sure that I was in a fit state to drive. My cell couldn't get a signal so I was unable to even call for assistance." Ezra sighed. "I'm rather tardy because I had to keep stopping to expectorate, and I'm afraid I'm in less than my usual pristine condition," he apologized haltingly as he tried to stop shaking. He hadn't managed to rid himself of the feeling of coldness that had descended after his first bout of sickness.
"It's okay, Ez. Stay there and I'll get some help."
The long-haired agent ran back over to his friends and addressed the blond ranch owner directly. "Chris? Ez is real sick. Can I put him in the spare room?"
Chris looked up worriedly as he glanced toward the Jag. "Sure. What's wrong with him?"
"Puking and shaky. He looks real bad and I reckon he only just made it here."
Josiah, the team's profiler, put down the plate he'd just filled with food, and hurried over to the Jag. The graying man folded his large frame over, keeping one hand on the vehicle's top to maintain his balance. He smiled sympathetically at Ezra. "Hey, son. Let's get you inside to bed. Looks like that's the best place for you to be right now."
He leaned over Ezra and undid his seatbelt and then maneuvered the man carefully out of the car. Ezra groaned as the smell of cooked food hit his nostrils, he bent over and threw up all over Josiah's best shoes. The profiler didn't say a word but just rubbed his friend's back gently. He saw that Ezra could hardly stand and realized that there was only one way to get his friend into the house. He put one arm round Ezra's back under his armpits, and one under his knees, and scooped him up. He hurried inside and took the sick man straight upstairs. Nathan, the team's medic, followed closely behind as he tried to get a look at the sick man for himself.
"Put him in my room. It's got its own bathroom," Chris ordered as he trailed along behind, too.
Josiah and Nathan got Ezra settled on the bed while Chris went to find a bowl in case Ezra needed to puke. They gently undressed the sick man between them and put him in a pair of Chris's pajamas. It needed all three men to manhandle him into the new clothes. One to hold him, one to move his limbs, and one to deal with the actual clothes. It needed almost military precision, but they achieved their aim in the end.
Nathan sat on the bed and laid the back of his hand against Ezra's cheek and brow. He brushed the hair off Ezra's brow and smiled down at him sympathetically. He then took the thermometer that Chris handed him and tested Ezra's temperature. The medic looked at the resulting reading and winced at what he saw.
"Yer real hot, Ez. How do ya feel?"
"As you say, hot. I'm also dizzy, shivery and I've got a stomachache, too," Ezra said as he turned over onto his side and curled up under the comforter. A shiver wracked his body from top to toe and he clutched the pillow tightly as if it were a lifebuoy.
"Try to get some rest but give a yell if you need anything. I'll leave the small light on, okay?" Chris said as he patted Ezra's shoulder.
Ezra nodded and closed his eyes while wishing the world would stop whirling round. His friends backed out of the room, but left the door ajar so that they could hear Ezra's voice if he should call.
"How is he?" Vin asked when the three men appeared back outside. He studied his friends' faces and tried to read their expression. All he saw was natural concern.
Buck and JD, the last two team members, edged closer to hear the diagnosis, too. They'd been keeping an eye on the barbecue while their friends had been dealing with Ezra.
"Not too good. Never seen him looking so bad before," Nathan said worriedly as he looked at his friends.
Half an hour passed while Ezra tossed and turned continually as his fever took a real hold. His pajamas were beginning to stick to his body, which made movement really difficult. The material of each pant leg seemed to twist round his limbs tightly and he felt as if the blood circulation would eventually be cut off. He reached down every so often and straightened them out, but within seconds they were strangling his legs again. He finally groaned in frustration, rolled out of bed and headed to the bathroom shakily. He stripped off his pajama jacket on the way and discarded it on the floor. He was terribly dizzy and his legs hardly seemed to have the strength to hold him up. His vision went in and out of focus and he felt as if he was at sea.
Outside, the barbecue had become a rather quiet affair, none of the men feeling like partying when Ezra was sick. Even Buck and JD, who would usually be bickering or playing around, were subdued.
"I'll just go check on Ez," Josiah said as he put his plate down and nodded at Nathan. He'd lost his appetite all of a sudden, unable to think about anything else other than Ezra.
The profiler climbed the stairs quietly and poked his head round the bedroom door. The bed was empty, the comforter in disarray from Ezra's feverish body. Josiah's gaze settled on the screwed up pajama jacket and he frowned. He stepped inside the room and headed toward the bathroom in concern. Josiah knocked on the door briskly and then waited. He didn't want to just burst into the room without invitation no matter his concern.
"Ez? You okay? Can I come in?" he called as he leaned close to the obstruction to see if he could hear anything.
The big man heard no reply, so he opened the door worriedly. He gasped as he saw that Ezra was sprawled unconscious on the floor near the toilet.
"Nathan?" the profiler yelled as he dropped to his knees and turned his friend onto his side. He could feel Ezra shivering under his hands so he reached up and pulled a thick towel off the nearby rail and covered Ezra's torso. He rubbed his hand up and down the material briskly to try and warm it up.
"Josiah? What's up?" the medic asked breathlessly as he ran into the bedroom.
"Ez has passed out in the bathroom."
Nathan joined his friend in the room and checked Ezra thoroughly for any injuries suffered in his collapse. He found no bumps or blood so he sighed in relief.
"Well, he didn't do any visible damage so let's get him back to bed. He shouldn't really have got up in his condition. Maybe one of us needs to be here with him to keep an eye on him."
Josiah picked Ezra up, took him to the bed and laid him gently on the mattress. He then collected the discarded pajama jacket and put it back on his friend after removing the towel.
Nathan found a chair and placed it nearby and took up residence. "I'll stay for the next hour. Can you take over then?"
"Sure I can, brother. Call me in the meantime if you need any help with him, though," Josiah offered as he headed to the door with a wave. "I'll be cleaning my shoes," he said with a grin. He'd just looked down at the footwear and realized they were still covered in dried vomit.
Nathan smiled, turned back to his patient and was just in time to see Ezra wake up. He stood up and moved to sit on the bed again.
"Hey, Ezra," Nathan greeted when his friend looked at him.
"Where am I?" Ezra asked in confusion as he glanced around the room. He had no recollection of what had happened to him at all. He was only half awake and was taking quite some time to come to himself properly.
"Back in bed, where you should have stayed. You're at Chris's, remember?" Nathan asked as he checked Ezra's pulse.
Things slotted into place in Ezra's brain and he sighed. "Oh, yes, so I am. I got up to get a drink of water, I think. I was becoming rather hot," he said dreamily as he licked his suddenly dry lips.
"Well, let me get you one instead." Nathan went on his errand and then helped Ezra drink the clear liquid. "One of us is gonna be in here with you from now on, okay? I think it's for the best seeing as yer feeling so bad," the medic said as he rubbed Ezra's arm gently in comfort.
Ezra nodded and put a hand to his head when it swam dizzily. He finally focused on his medical friend and squinted at him. "Thank you. I'm sorry for ruining the evening."
"Don't worry about it, Ez, we can have a barbecue any time. Just concentrate on getting better. That's all we care about," Nathan said as he sat down in the chair and opened the book that Chris had on the nightstand. It was dog-eared and was obviously a favorite of the blond's so Nathan decided to spend his time reading it.
All Ezra could manage to do was yawn, rub his stomach and go back to sleep.
Two hours later, there was another change in caretaker. Josiah had just finished his session and had decided to head home, taking Buck with him. The rest of the men had volunteered to take care of Ezra between them so there seemed no sense in all of them staying.
Chris put a sleeping bag on the floor next to the bed and lay down, hoping to get some sleep of his own. Ezra was still quiet at the moment and had snuggled under the comforter as if settling down for the night. The blond listened for any disturbance as he shifted continually on the hard floor in an attempt to find a soft spot.
Ezra's temperature was now steadily rising and his body was constantly bathed in sweat. The sick man began mumbling and Chris suddenly found himself covered by the comforter that had previously been on top of his friend. Ezra's feet then appeared in view, hanging off the side of the mattress. They moved about restlessly as the sick man twisted and turned over top of Chris. The blond watched the dancing appendages distractedly for a while and then sighed.
Chris stood up after fighting his way out from under the offending comforter. He attempted to put it back over Ezra, but every time he laid it over him, his friend pushed it away forcefully.
"Come on, Ez. You'll get a chill. Keep it on," he pleaded as he tried again It was like fighting with a tornado.
"Hot, so hot," Ezra mumbled as he waved his arms in the air as if searching for something. His feet kicked around seemingly of their own accord and the comforter was knocked out of Chris's grasp.
"I know, but you'll be cold in a minute," Chris said as he bent down and collected the bedding in exasperation.
Whatever he did, Ezra wouldn't let him cover him, though. Chris pursed his lips and sighed, wondering what to do for the best.
"How about a sheet? Would that be better?" he asked rhetorically.
Chris found one in a closet after a bit of searching and went back to the bed with it. Ezra accepted the lighter fabric although he still fidgeted continuously under it. The blond, though, felt happier that his friend was now covered up by something no matter how thin it was.
The blond reached out and felt Ezra's brow. He grimaced, unable to stop worrying. "Jeez, yer burning up."
He collected a bowl of water and a wash cloth from the bathroom and started to cool Ezra's skin. He washed his face and neck and Ezra settled while he was doing it. The blond sat on the bed watching Ezra closely, noting that the patient's skin was still flushed and continually erupting in sweat. The sick man's hair was plastered to his brow and his breathing was noisy and fast. Ezra suddenly opened his eyes and Chris could see them shining brightly in the dim light of the room. Ezra then moaned loudly and got into a half-sitting position before throwing up weakly.
Chris moved out of the way quickly and sighed. He'd only just missed getting it all in his lap. "Oh, Ez. How the hell did you get in this state? Was it something you ate, or is it a virus?" Chris mused as he set about changing the bed linen and Ezra's pajamas.
Ezra didn't help much with the task, couldn't. help. Each of his limbs felt heavy and he just lay and let Chris do all the work. Just keeping his eyes open was proving a hard task.
"Sorry," Ezra mumbled. "I feel truly dreadful."
"I know, bud. Just relax and we'll take good care of you."
Nathan came in to check on their progress and saw Chris pulling off the bottom half of the soiled pajamas. "Chris? How ya getting on?" he asked as he strode to the bed.
"He ain't improving and he's real feverish. What's wrong with him, do you reckon?" the blond asked as Nathan helped him put the new set of pants on Ezra.
The medic shrugged. "Not sure to be honest, but I've got a few things I can give him. Hopefully it's just a twenty-four-hour bug. Rain had something similar last month and she was real poorly for a while," Nathan said, as he thought back on his girlfriend's sickness. He indicated Ezra and nodded. "Let me sit with him for a while again. I don't mind taking more turns than everyone else."
"Okay, thanks. I've just changed the bedding and all 'cause he was sick," Chris explained.
Nathan nodded as he pulled the sheet up over Ezra again now that he was clean. "Guessed as much. Okay, I'll handle everything while you get some sleep."
"You don't think he needs hospital treatment? He's real hot," Chris asked worriedly as he watched Ezra tossing about restlessly.
The younger man took Ezra's temperature again after feeling his brow, and shook his head. "No, I don't reckon so, but I'll watch him closely. He's hot, but not dangerously so."
Chris nodded and left the room, secure in the knowledge that his friend would be well looked after. Nathan, meanwhile, retrieved a few potions from his ever-present medical bag, and set them on the nightstand. Instead of administering them, he first tried to lower Ezra's temperature. His sick friend, though, was now desperately trying to rid himself of the sheet and Nathan had a hard time controlling the writhing man.
"Ez? Calm down. If you keep still I'll cool you down. Leave the sheet on."
Ezra didn't obey immediately, but finally his incessant wriggling subsided. Nathan undid the pajama jacket and washed Ezra's chest and neck carefully. The medic then plied the sick agent with a brew to settle his stomach. He left a cool cloth on Ezra's brow and finally settled down in the chair beside the bed. He looked at his watch and saw that it was still only two in the morning. He sighed and closed his eyes, knowing it was going to be a long night.
Ezra began muttering again half an hour later, so Nathan reached out a hand, removed the cloth and touched his brow.
"Have some of this one, too. It will hopefully help with yer fever," he said as he poured some of the other liquid into a glass.
Nathan stood up, lifted Ezra's head and held the mug to his lips. Ezra slurped a few mouthfuls and retched as he pushed the mug aside with a limp hand. He screwed his face up and turned away so that Nathan couldn't give him any more.
"Surely it ain't that bad," Nathan said with a grin as he put the glass on the nightstand again.
"Is," Ezra disagreed as he coughed in disgust, trying not to throw up as he did so. He swallowed carefully and shivered.
Ezra did eventually settle, though, and Nathan was pleased when the man slept peacefully for a couple of hours.
Vin entered the room at dawn, looked over at the bed and whispered, "Nate? How's he doin'?"
"Sleeping, but he still ain't at all well. He ain't puked again, but I reckon he still could," Nathan said as he stood up and stretched. Although the chair he'd been in was soft, he was still stiff after being in it for so long.
The long-haired man moved to stand beside the medic and studied Ezra with worried blue eyes. The man didn't look to be improving at all. He looked just the same as he had when he'd arrived at the ranch. "Shall I sit with him, then? You've done more than your fair share of duties."
Nathan nodded gratefully and yawned extravagently. He hadn't slept a wink, but he knew that Chris would let him take over the couch or the spare bed for a few hours. "Yeah, that'd be great. Give him some of these when he wakes, will ya?" he said as he pointed to the two bottles on the nightstand. "Either will do."
"I'll surely try," Vin said with a grin as he sat down in the bedside chair.
Silence reigned in the room for two more hours. Vin alternated his time between dozing, walking round the room and reading. He'd just done another circuit of the room when he noticed that Ezra was awake.
"Hey, Ez. How ya feelin', bud?" he asked as he walked to stand beside his friend. The man still looked gray and weak to his eyes.
Ezra took a deep breath and closed his eyes briefly again. He rubbed his stomach and sighed in despair. "Not so good."
"Nate left some brews. Which do you want, pink or green?" Vin asked as he held up the bottles expectantly. He expected an argument from Ezra but he didn't get one, which proved just how sick Ezra felt. He'd usually fight tooth and nail before he would allow anyone to pour one of Nathan's brews into his mouth.
Ezra studied the liquids resignedly, his gaze flicking back and forth between the two. "Both sound disgusting, but green suits my complexion," he eventually decided with a hint of amusement.
"Here ya go, then. You can have the other one later. Don't wanna torture you by making you drink both at once." Vin helped his friend consume a full mug of the stagnant-looking brew. "Jeez, yer looking even greener," he observed dryly once the drink was finished.
He lifted Ezra higher and reached for the bowl, and as expected, Ezra coughed and then retched noisily. The green liquid that had just gone down came straight back up again.
"Thought that was gonna happen. Feel better?" Vin asked, unable to help his amused tone.
Ezra shook his head and wiped his mouth slowly with a shaking hand. "No, perhaps I should have had the pink potion instead."
"Don't think it woulda mattered, bud," Vin said sympathetically. "Do ya wanna glass of water instead?"
"Yes, please. The taste in my mouth is abominable. It always makes me think that Mr. Jackson makes his potions from..."
Vin put a hand over Ezra's mouth. "Don't say it, Ez. You'll put me off eating for life if you do."
Ezra muttered something behind the appendage covering his mouth, so Vin let go and smiled. The long-haired man poured a small glass of water from the nearby jug and helped Ezra drink it. He hoped not to get the same reaction as before.
"Any better?" he asked tentatively, ready to grab the bowl if need be.
"Slightly," Ezra agreed as he lay back against the pillows with a sigh.
Vin pursed his lips, taking in Ezra's pale skin and pinched expression. "You still dizzy?"
"Not so much, but I've still got a stomachache," the undercover agent admitted as he rubbed his abdomen carefully. He'd never felt so truly rotten in all his life, and he hoped his symptoms would disappear as quickly as they had come. He hated being sick.
"Hey, Ezra," JD, the youngest agent, greeted as he ambled into the room, hands in pockets looking thoroughly bored.
"Mr. Dunne," Ezra mumbled as he flapped a hand in welcome.
JD tilted his head on one side and contemplated his bed-ridden friend. "You look like shit," the dark-haired youngster observed as he stood at the end of the bed.
"Thank you, JD," the undercover agent said wryly. "I'm glad you are not a real physician. Your bedside manner needs a lot of attention."
"Just being truthful," JD said with a shrug and honest expression.
"Sometimes tact is better than truth, kid," Vin said with a grin as he patted the youngster's shoulder. "You here to take over, or have you just come to annoy us?"
JD shrugged and smiled. "Chris sent me up to help. He said he was fed up looking at my hang-dog expression."
Ezra sighed forlornly as he felt another bout of sickness approaching. JD saw the look on the man's face so hurried to pick up the half full bowl. He thrust it into position just as Ezra threw up the last of his green medicine and water. The youngster sat down beside Ezra and rubbed his friend's back firmly. Ezra leaned against him, almost wilting with weakness. He closed his eyes briefly and groaned.
"All done, Ez?" JD asked sympathetically as he supported his friend's body easily.
"No," Ezra muttered as he got an attack of the dry heaves.
Vin watched JD tend their sick friend for a few seconds before leaving Ezra in the youngster's capable hands. He ambled down to the kitchen to find Chris and Nathan there eating some toast.
"How is he?" Chris asked, as he poured Vin a cup of tea.
"He's got the dry heaves now, but he was sick earlier. That green medicine didn't stay down any longer than the time it took for him to swallow it, Nate." Vin sat down and ran his fingers through his long hair wearily. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an elastic band and secured his hair back in a pony tail.
Nathan nodded. "How's his temperature?"
Vin frowned. "Didn't check it, but he didn't look so hot. He's a bit more talkative, too, which usually means he's on the mend. Says he's still a bit dizzy and got gut ache, so I may be wrong. Sure looks pretty poorly, though and he's real weak."
"I'll go check on him again later," Nathan said. "Do you think he could handle some soup any time soon?"
"No way. I think the look, or smell, of it would be enough to kill him off," Vin said with a decisive shake of his head, his pony tail swinging from side to side as he did so.
Back upstairs, JD went to the bathroom and emptied the vomit filled bowl. He picked up the washcloth while he was there and then went back to see how Ezra was getting on.
"Wanna wash yer hands and face, Ezra?" he asked kindly.
"Oh yes, please. There is nothing worse than the stench of vomit on one's skin. It's a smell that tends to linger, isn't it?"
JD laughed, his hazel eyes twinkling. "Yes, I reckon you're right, Ez."
The youngster damped the cloth with water from the jug and handed it over to Ezra so he could clean himself up. JD busied himself with tucking in the sheet and plumping up the pillows. He had to admit that he enjoyed taking care of others. He found it very rewarding.
"Thank you, Mr. Dunne. I feel a bit more alive," Ezra said as he handed back the washcloth.
"You're welcome. Anything else I can do for you?"
"No, thank you. I will try and catch up on some more sleep, I think," Ezra said as he lay down and closed his eyes. He didn't feel quite so hot now, but the constant sick feeling was still there in his stomach. He had felt a certain improvement in his condition even during the last few minutes.
JD watched his friend for a while and then wandered to the window. Arnie, Chris's black Labrador, was running after a bird in the yard and the youngster smiled at the canine's antics. Movement from the barn then caught JD's eye and he saw Vin and Chris ambling back toward the house after having been to see to the horses' needs.
He sighed, turned back from the outside world and took up residence beside his sick friend once more. Ezra was quiet and no longer fidgeted, so JD hoped that the worst of the man's symptoms were abating.
Ezra slept all day and when he woke he found Chris was beside him dozing in the chair. Ezra yawned, stretched and accidentally knocked Chris's arm with his flailing fist.
Chris snorted and sat up straight as he wondered what had woken him. He looked at the bed and smiled when he saw that Ezra was alert and looking much better.
"Hey, bud. How you bearing up?"
"I think I am recovering slowly. I feel almost human," Ezra admitted as he sat up in bed. He ran his fingers through his hair and then rubbed his face.
"Want anything to eat?" Chris asked as he got ready to stand up.
Ezra nodded as he realized he no longer felt sick. "I think I could handle something, thank you."
Chris rose to his feet and stood with hands on hips. "Soup be okay?"
"Yes, please, as long as it is not vegetable." Ezra paled as he remembered something. "Are you aware that they utilize soup as stunt vomit in those dreadful hospital programs?"
"Yeah, I was, bud," the black-clad man replied as he watched his friend's face closely. He thought he was looking rather peaky again.
Ezra looked up and grimaced in apology. "I think I'd rather have something else. I've now put myself off that delicacy totally."
"Okay, no worries. I'll see what I can rustle up for you," Chris said with a gentle smile. Ezra had much too vivid an imagination sometimes for his own good.
The blond went down to the kitchen and searched his cupboards and fridge for something suitable. After fifteen minutes he went back upstairs with a tray, which he placed on Ezra's lap.
The undercover agent studied the offerings and smiled in pleasure. His mouth ran water in anticipation of the coming meal. "That will do very nicely, Mr. Larabee." He stared down at the Jello and custard and licked his lips. "Light and juicy. Perfect."
Chris smiled and sat beside the bed as his friend consumed his meal. It wasn't long before Ezra put down the spoon and wiped his mouth. He then belched loudly as he hastily covered his mouth in embarrassment.
"I do beg your pardon," he eventually apologized.
"You're entitled to a few rude noises, Ez. Feel okay now?" Chris asked in amusement.
Ezra nodded and smiled. "I feel very much recovered. Thank you for taking care of me, and I apologize once more for ruining your planned barbecue."
"Maybe when you're really well, we can have one before you go home," Chris suggested as Vin, JD and Nathan ambled into the room.
"Sounds a good idea," Ezra agreed. "I shall invest in some good quality champagne for the occasion." Ezra looked at Nathan. "I do believe that champagne is a good pick-me-up for any ill. I think you should stock it in your medical supplies as a necessity, Mr. Jackson."
"You'll be lucky, Ez. You lot would be feigning all sorts of sicknesses just to get a free drink," the medic said with a laugh.
"You see through my plans as clearly as a plate glass window, don't you?" Ezra complained as the rest of his friends joined in the laughter.