Ezra had been missing just over a month when he was found cowering in a corner of the parking garage at the federal building. Other than Josiah, he'd shied away from his teammates when they approached him. Josiah was the only one he seemed to have the faintest recognition of. Even if he didn't know his name or who he was, he seemed to know on some instinctual level that he could trust him, and he'd protect him.
He'd been whisked away to the hospital where he'd been diagnosed with a mild concussion, numerous lacerations, contusions, and a fractured left wrist. He was also dehydrated and had lost too much weight in too short a time for it to be healthy. Based on his physical condition, it was obvious he'd been beaten and deprived of food and water. In addition, lab tests also found the presence of an unknown drug in his system. No one knew what it was or what it did, but there was speculation it had something to do with his memory loss.
Gradually, over the next two days, he regained most of his memories. The notable exception was the time that he'd been missing and the case he'd been working on.
He'd been working undercover for two months trying to find information that would lead to the arrest of Anton MacDougall, a known arms dealer moving into the Denver area. Everyone strongly suspected that MacDougall had identified Ezra as an ATF agent and that's what had led to his disappearance. Confirmation of who Ezra's abductor was as well as any recently information that was not in his case files rested with Ezra regaining his memory.
He was released from the hospital after two days and it was agreed he'd continue his recovery at Chris's ranch. They were all cautioned by the doctors who were treating Ezra that it wouldn't be wise to push for the lost memories. At this point, they weren't sure if it was the concussion, the drugs, emotional trauma, or some combination of the three that was causing the amnesia. The advice didn't sit well with Chris. Someone had taken his man and he wanted to know who and why. They didn't even know if Ezra had been let go or if he had escaped and was still in danger. Hence the reason they'd taken him to the ranch.
The third day after his release from the hospital, the rest of the seven sat gathered around the kitchen table while Ezra rested in what had become "his room." They tried to figure out where to go with the MacDougall case as well as what they could do to help Ezra regain his memory. Each of the six had their own ideas and the discussion sometimes got heated and loud.
"Keep it down or you're going to wake Ezra. You heard the doctor say he needs rest." Nathan cautioned for the second time in the last hour. He pushed his chair back and got up. "I better go check on him."
The other five looked properly chastised and, although the conversation continued while Nathan was gone, it was at a much lower volume.
A minute later, Nathan was back in the kitchen. "He's gone and the window in the room is open."
"Damn it," Chris exclaimed getting up. "Let's start looking for him."
"You don't think MacDougall...or whoever...could have grabbed him again," JD suggested.
"We would have heard something," Buck said then grabbed JD by the arm. "C'mon, we'll check the stables."
"Vin and I will check around outside," Chris said. "Josiah, you and Nathan check in here. Maybe he's just hiding." As he and Vin grabbed coats and headed out, he mumbled, "I swear to God I really am going to microchip him one of these days."
They spent the next fifteen minutes searching around the house and property for the missing man with no sign of him. "Anything?" Nathan asked as he and Josiah came out of the house.
Chris was just about to say they hadn't had any luck either when Vin interrupted him as he pointed up at the roof of the house. "Found him."
Chris followed Vin's pointing and saw Ezra. "Son of a bitch." He started to yell out to Ezra, but Vin stopped him.
"He's been skittish enough," Vin pointed out. "You go yelling at him now and he's liable to fall."
"I'm liable to wring his damned fool neck," Chris ground out.
"The man does like to climb," Buck observed as he and JD came out of the barn and walked over to where Chris and Vin were standing. Nathan and Josiah also came over and the six of them stood looking up at the man on the roof who didn't seem to notice them.
"You're about the only one he's let near him without panicking, Josiah," Chris said after a moment. "You better go up there and get him down. There's a trap door in the attic."
Moments later, Josiah was pushing open the trap door that led out to the roof. As close as it was to where Ezra was sitting, it was likely that's how he'd gotten out there and not through the open window. Knowing Ezra as well as he did, he guessed he'd opened it to throw them off in their search. "Ezra," he called softly. "Mind if I come out there with you?"
Ezra didn't bother to turn, just shrugged one shoulder in answer to the question.
Josiah put the blanket he'd brought with him out on the roof then climbed through the door. Picking the blanket back up, he made his way gingerly over to where Ezra was sitting and settled beside him. "Bit cold to be sitting outside, don't you think?" he made sure to keep his voice soft so as not to startle the other man.
Ezra sat with his knees bent and his bare feet pressed against the roof with his arms wrapped around his body. He wore just the t-shirt and track pants he'd been wearing when he fell asleep. As a particularly stiff breeze blew, he shivered and curled his toes against the cold roof. "My feet are chilly," he murmured.
Josiah nodded thoughtfully. "Being outside barefoot in December will do that to you." He held the blanket out so Ezra could see it and, getting a small nod from the other man, shook it out and wrapped it around him. "What brings you out onto the roof. Thought you'd like being in the warm house better."
"Was too loud," Ezra answered in a whisper. He didn't take his eyes off the distant view of the mountains.
"Yes, our brothers can get a bit loud," Josiah agreed as he also looked off in the same direction Ezra was looking. "You picked a might pretty view."
Ezra glanced over at Josiah for no more than a second then turned back to the mountains. It was long enough for Josiah to see the sadness and confusion that lurked in the younger man's green eyes.
"Peaceful," Ezra said again in a voice no louder than a whisper before he again turned to Josiah. "I'm not lying Josiah. I don't remember anything. I'd tell you if I did."
"I know, son." Josiah put his hand on Ezra's back and began rubbing gently. He could feel the shivering and trembling through the blanket.
Ezra began shaking his head. "Chris doesn't. He's angry with me...thinks I'm holding something back. I'm not, Josiah. I'm not." His voice became strident and Josiah feared he'd slip from the roof if he didn't calm down.
"It's ok, Ezra. Chris knows," the older man soothed. Although Ezra never said it, Josiah knew how much he craved approval from their team leader. "We all know. It's ok." Gradually, Ezra stopped wildly shaking his head and calmed. He leaned more into the hand rubbing his back. When he did, Josiah moved closer and put an arm around his shoulders and felt Ezra slump against him. He gave him a few more moments to calm down then suggested, "How 'bout if we go inside now and get you warmed up?" A silent nod was his only answer.
The two men carefully made their way back to the trap door that led to the attic where Nathan and Chris were waiting for them as they climbed in. As soon as he saw the two men, Ezra backed away until he bumped into Josiah.
Josiah braced his hands against Ezra's shoulders both to prevent him from retreating anymore and to offer him some comfort. "Ezra's feeling a bit chilled. Maybe you fellas can head back downstairs and make some tea. We'll be down in a bit," he suggested. Seeing the questioning look Nathan shot him, he shook his head slightly indicating there were no new injuries.
"I'll get you some socks, too," Chris offered seeing Ezra's bare feet.
Once the two men had left, Ezra visibly slumped back into Josiah. "I know they're not going to hurt me," he said softly. "But I…" he trailed off with a small shrug.
"They understand, Ezra. We all do," Josiah assured him. "You've been through a lot and you need some time to get your balance back."
Ezra blew out a soft breath and shook his head slightly. "We don't know what I've been through," he pointed out. "Because I can't seem to get past this damned block in my memory. Maybe...maybe it was all my fault. Have you thought of that?" he challenged.
"You starved yourself? Deprived yourself of water? You beat yourself? Or maybe you're a drug addict and you've been keeping it a secret," Josiah challenged back in a deliberately sharp voice. When he saw his friend's eyes widen in shock and, maybe some fear, he softened his voice and once more grasped Ezra's blanket covered shoulders. "There is nothing you could do that that would make any of that your fault." He gave the other man a little shake. "Nothing. We will get to the bottom of this and we will find out who did this to you. You've got to trust us. Can you do that."
Ezra stared into Josiah's eyes for a few moments. Trust was something that had never come easy for him. He'd been let down too many times in his life when he'd made the mistake of trusting the wrong person. He'd been learning to trust his teammates, but it was a slow process. Especially when, sometimes, he wasn't sure how much they trusted him. I he had to admit it, though, it had been quite some time since anyone had looked at him with that certain tilt of the head that seemed to ask if he could be trusted. If he wanted his teammates...his friends...to trust him, it was only fair that he trust them in return. "I can," he said softly.
"Good man," Josiah said then started to lead Ezra to the "his" room. He could feel him trembling ever so slightly under the blanket that was still wrapped around him and wanted to get him warmed up and resting again.
"I'm not an invalid" Ezra protested as Josiah led him back to the bed.
"I know you're not, but you're supposed to be resting. I'm not sure jaunts on the roof qualify." Josiah unwrapped the blanket from around Ezra and encouraged him back into bed then pulled the blankets up around him. "Try to get some sleep," he admonished as he left the room.
As he pulled the door closed behind him, he saw Chris coming toward him holding a mug and a plate of toast.
"Thought he might want a little something to eat," Chris said as he held the items out to Josiah.
"You need to talk to him," Josiah said without taking either the mug or plate. He's got it in his head that you…that we all…think he remembers what happened and he's covering something up.
"That's ridiculous," Chris loudly said before Josiah motioned for him to keep his voice down. "That ridiculous," he repeated. "I hope you straightened him out."
"I tried to tell him, and he said he believes me but…he needs to hear it from you." Josiah hoped that Chris would understand what he was trying to tell him. However, seeing confusion on the other man's face, he doubted it was clicking.
"Me? What's the difference between you or me telling him that?"
Josiah shook his head slightly. As he'd expected, Chris wasn't able to see what was right in front of him. "He respects you…probably more than he does the rest of us…and he's afraid of losing your respect – your trust." At the continued look of confusion on his team leader's face, Josiah continued to explain. "You knew about the rumors from Atlanta but, despite that, you were still willing to take a chance on him and bring him out here."
"Those rumors are a bunch of bull." Chris had started raising his voice again but quickly lowered it at Josiah's raised eyebrows. "You know as much as the rest of us that all the rumors are a bunch of crap. Ezra's no more a dirty cop than you or me. I'd've been nuts not to bring him out here. He's the best at his job."
"I know that, and you know that…and for the most part, so does he…but this is one of those times that knowing isn't enough. He needs to hear it. Talk with him."
"Ok. Ok," Chris agreed. "I'll talk with him." Again, he tried to hand Josiah the plate and mug and, again, Josiah refused to take them.
"Now might be an appropriate time," Josiah said before dodging around Chris and going back out to the living room.
Chris watched Josiah leave and shook his head slightly. He was supposed to be the team leader...the one in charge, but somehow he often found the others led just as much. He nudged the door to the Ezra's room open with his foot and stuck his head in. "Ezra," he called softly. Since the Ezra was lying with his back to the door, he was uable to see if he were sleeping and didn't want to wake him if he were.
Ezra slowly rolled over, so he was facing Chris. "I'm awake."
Chris came into the room and nudged the door shut with his foot to give them some privacy. He walked over to the bed and set the mug and plate of toast down on the nightstand. As Ezra started to push up to sit, he leaned over him to bunch the pillows behind his back. Once Ezra was settled, he sat on the edge of the bed and handed him the mug of tea.
"Thank you," Ezra said as he accepted the mug and took a small sip.
"I brought you some toast in case you were hungry." Chris got up from the bed and started pacing. If Josiah was right, and he didn't have any cause to doubt him, he had to say something. He just didn't know how to begin.
"Is there a problem, Mr. Larabee?" Ezra asked after watching Chris pace for a few seconds. "I'm sure you're upset that I went outside without letting anyone know." He set the mug by the plate of toast. "I apologize. I didn't mean to cause you or the others any undue worry."
"Stop it, Ezra," Chris said suddenly. He was having a hard time with this version of Ezra who was so tentative...so afraid of doing anything to upset anyone else. He held up a hand to stop Ezra when it looked like he was going to apologize again. "No. I'm the one who should be apologizing." He sat down on the side of the bed again. "If I've said or done anything that's made you think that I think you're covering something up or that your memory loss isn't real, I'm sorry."
"I've done my best, Chris. I've tried and tried but I just can't remember. If I knew anything, you know I'd tell you."
Chris did his best to hold back a sigh. He'd hoped Josiah had been wrong, but he had the living proof in front of him. "Hey. Stop!" he said softly but authoritatively. He didn't hold back the sigh when Ezra froze like a deer in headlights. He should have insisted Josiah be the one to talk to Ezra...or at least that he'd stayed. Chris had never been a touchy-feely person. It left him feeling out of his element, but he had no choice. He'd better make it his element, or they risked losing Ezra. Of that, he was sure.
"I want you to listen to me very carefully." When Ezra looked as if he were going to talk, Chris held up his hand and shushed him. "I know it's a hard concept for you, Ezra, but right now I want you to give your mouth a rest and just listen. Ok?" He waited until Ezra nodded his agreement. "Good. The first thing you need to know is that I don't think you're lying about not being able to remember and neither do the others. If any of us have seemed frustrated and angry, it's because this happened to you at all. I'd love for you to remember everything that happened so I can find the bastard that did this to you and personally shove his head up his ass. If I've seemed angry, that's why. It has nothing to do with you. Do you understand?"
Again, Ezra nodded slightly, but he didn't raise his gaze from his lap. Although he was nodding, Chris wasn't sure he was getting through to him. He put his curled index finger under his friend's chin and gently raised his head. Chris held back another sigh when he saw the depths of sadness and unease in his friend's eyes. Ezra was usually so sure himself...confident and, some might say, cocky. Now, he looked so young and frightened. Chris found he had to resist patting him on the head and telling him he'd take care of everything. "Aw, Ezra. What do I have to do to make you believe me? Throw me a bone here."
"I heard you and the others," Ezra said tentatively. "You sounded quite upset."
"Before you decided to pull a Houdini out to the roof? Yeah, we were upset. Because we all want to make this right for you. We all want to find the bastard who did this to you and make him pay. You know none of us like to just sit on our hands and wait. That's our problem, though. It's not yours and you shouldn't feel like it is. I apologize, Ezra. I'm the one who's sorry. I shouldn't have let things get this far." This time, Chris didn't try to hold back the sigh. "Do you know why I wanted you on my team?"
"Because I'm the best undercover man you'll find."
"Damned straight," Chris answered with a smile. He'd seen the spark of Ezra's usual spirit and bravado in his answer. He might have been beaten but he was by no means down for the count. "Do you know why I keep you around?"
"Because I'm the best undercover man you'll find?" This time, the trepidation and wariness were back in Ezra's voice and posture. He slumped down and wrapped his arms around himself as he once more looked down at his lap.
Chris shook his head slightly. Ripped of all his defenses, it was so easy now to see how much Ezra second-guessed his place on the team. This was what Josiah was talking about. Again, he tilted Ezra's head up so he could see his eyes. "That's why I wanted you on the team. I keep you on it because I know I can trust you...we all trust you...to have our backs and get the job done. You're on this team because you've got good instincts and you bust your ass on every case. You're a valuable member of the team. You're one of us, Ezra, and don't you ever forget it. Am I clear?"
Ezra locked his gaze with Chris's for what may have only been seconds but felt more like hours before he shallowly nodded. "I understand, Mr. Larrabee." He broke eye contact with Chris and glanced down again as he chewed on his lower lip. "Sometimes, it feels like it's right there in the corner of my memory. I try to grab hold but…" He shrugged and held his hands palm up. "It just slithers away from me. If I just knew how to grab hold of the memories."
"Maybe," Chris suggested, "You should stop trying to grab hold of them. Stop trying to force it and just let it come."
"Perhaps," Ezra agreed.
"Hey, it's worth a try." Chris picked up the mug of tea and handed it back to Ezra. He could see the younger man was just a little more at ease than he had been before they started talking. "Why don't you drink that. It hasn't gotten too cold." He looked at the plate of toast. The butter had congealed on it making it look unappetizing. "I can get you some more toast if you want."
Ezra took a few sips of the tea then handed the mug back. "I'm not very hungry right now." He tried to stifle a yawn to no avail. "Perhaps later."
Chris put the mug back down on nightstand and helped Ezra to settle back in bed. He pulled the blankets up and tucked them in around his shoulders. "Try to get a little sleep. I'll make sure the others keep it down." He picked up the mug and toast and started to leave the room. When he was in the hall, he looked back at the partially closed door. "We're going to get you through this," he vowed in a whisper.