On a prayer
In a song
I hear your voice and it keeps me hanging on
Ahhh raining down against the wind
I'm reaching out 'til we reach the circle's end
When you come back to me again
(When you come back to me again)
Something wasn't right. Hushed voices created an atmosphere of tension, waiting and anxiety. For a brief moment, Ezra feared that McDowell and 'Junior' had returned to extract more revenge, but then he recognized the soft murmuring.
Inwardly, Ezra sighed. He was safe. They had found him and,though he was just beginning to become aware enough to feel the medicinally numbed pain again, he somehow couldn't command his eyes to open. So he listened. Not able to hear all of Josiah's whispered words, he was reassured enough to know the big man was right beside him. Ezra pictured Josiah, head slightly bowed, praying to whatever deity it was the man prayed to, and the image comforted him. He strained to hear more, starved in the brief span of thirty-six hours for contact with his friends. Beyond Josiah, he heard the quiet shuffling that assured him that someone else was there as well.
Someone spoke and, though Ezra couldn't make out what had been said, he sensed the underlying worry in the voice. He felt a flash of guilt. They were worried about him, but he was fine now, he just needed to let them know that. Wanting to reassure them, he struggled to open his eyes but failed miserably as his weariness pulled him back away from the voices, but not their comforting presence.
Nathan shifted tiredly in the uncomfortable chair and hummed softly to himself as he flipped through a year old issue of Prevention magazine he'd found in the waiting room. "Damn song," he muttered shaking his head.
"You okay there, Nathan?" Josiah looked at him curiously.
"Yeah, just got that stupid Desperado song stuck in my head." Nathan explained lightly.
Sanchez grinned but didn't comment.
"Has he responded to you at all?" Nathan turned his attention to the bed and Ezra.
"Not yet," Josiah answered. Sighing heavily, he leaned back in his chair and glanced at his watch.
"Doctor's are getting worried." Nathan stood and slowly stretched. "Afraid if he doesn't wake up soon he'll slip into a coma on them."
"What do you think?" Josiah questioned.
Nathan flashed a sarcastic smile as he stepped closer to the bed and raised his volume a little. "I think he's one stubborn SOB who's just too lazy to drag his sorry butt out of bed."
Josiah chuckled. "Nice try, brother, but watch out, he might keep sleeping just to spite you."
Nathan shrugged. "Have to try something. Waiting is driving me crazy." He watched Ezra's steady breathing as a sullen quiet descended on the room, broken only by the steady beep of monitors and hum of lights.
Josiah rubbed a hand over his eyes and glanced at his watch again. "Chris and Vin will be back soon."
"JD and Buck too probably," Nathan agreed.
"I think maybe I'll stick around a little longer myself." Josiah watched Nathan for a response but his friend was staring at Ezra again.
"He was so mad at us, Josiah," Nathan said finally, his brown eyes searching for answers.
"I think," Josiah paused a moment, "that he was more hurt than angry."
"He thinks we don't trust him."
"We'll fix that," Josiah assured.
"How?" Nathan's voice rose with his frustration.
"It's not as hard as it sounds, Nathan. Like I told JD the other night, deep down Ezra already knows that we need him as much as he needs us."
Nathan looked down and began absently picking at the edge of Ezra's blanket. "I-I know Ezra and I haven't had the smoothest relationship." Josiah didn't interrupt him, so he went on. "I mean, well, you know, we're almost as different as two men can get. I get on his case more than I should and he eggs me into it. God, he knows how to push my buttons. Why does he do that?"
Josiah smiled. "Probably cause he can."
Nathan shrugged. "Despite all that, I do respect him. I don't know if he knows it, Josiah, but I value his friendship." He met Josiah's patient gaze briefly then returned his focus to the blanket again, his voice lowering. "He's not the only one around here that struggles with trust."
Josiah couldn't suppress another knowing chuckle. "Maybe that's what makes us such a good team." At Jackson's confused look he went on. "Think about it, outside of the team itself, who do any of us truly rely on or trust in to be there when needed?"
Nathan shook his head. "I never really thought about it that way. We seem to have enough conflicts to distract me I guess."
"I believe that is all part of being brothers," Josiah commented softly.
It was a long moment before Nathan spoke again. "It won't be the same without him, Josiah. I want him back."
"Then trust him to know that," the older man whispered. "Trust him."
"You know, Ezra, this is getting old." Vin was talking to him. Softly, right by his ear it seemed. The sharpshooter's normally carefree voice sounded heavy and strained. "Your doctor's not very happy with you, but I doubt you really care about him, huh?"
A gentle shuffling. Ezra strained to open his eyes, but they still refused to cooperate. What was wrong with him? He tried to move his hand, but again his body ignored his mind's commands. He groaned as a sudden pain shot through him.
"Ezra?" Vin's voice was louder, hopeful. "Easy, Ezra, can you hear me?" Warm fingers wrapped around his hand, squeezing lightly. The darkness was pulling him back again. The pain settling into a constant ache. Steeling himself, he tried to tighten his hand to grip Vin's.
"That's it, Ezra. Come on, wake up."
He couldn't. He wanted to, but for some reason he didn't seem to have any real control over the matter.
"Ezra!" Vin's voice was demanding, but all Ezra could do was hope that Vin knew he was trying to hang on.
"Damn it. He heard me, I know he did." Vin pounded at the coffee machine angrily.
"I believe you, but you heard the doctor's latest report." Chris stood beside him already balancing three steaming cups of the dark brew. "His fever's up and he's not responding like they think he should be to the meds or stimuli."
"He responded to me, Chris, to me." Vin smacked his own chest then kicked the innocent machine, sloshing the latest cup of coffee before he reached in and picked it up. "And what do they do? Limit our visitation? That's shit."
"One visitor at a time. Of all the..." Vin paused his rant to shove more coins into the vending machine, slumping beside it tiredly as he listened to the cup being set into place. "He was trying, Cowboy. I could sense it."
Chris nodded, not knowing how else to support Vin. He wanted to believe that Ezra was coming around,but the doctor's report had been discouraging. "Let's get this stuff back to the others before it gets cold," he said, finally finding his voice.
"Stuff is crap." Vin scowled.
"True, but it's caffeine," Chris reminded with a small grin.
Vin's mind was already back to Ezra. "JD in with him now?"
Chris nodded. "Yeah, he said he wanted to talk to him for awhile."
"Kid did good handling Nelson the way he did."
"I'd still like to know what he told the man," Chris commented.
"Yeah I'm a little curious about that myself," Vin agreed.
"Maybe one day we'll get him drunk enough to tell us."
Vin laughed lightly. "Shouldn't be too hard."
JD moved restlessly in the chair next to Ezra's bed. He was so tired of the hospital and Ezra lying there completely unresponsive. He'd been so excited when Vin had told them about Ezra squeezing his hand, but then the doctors had stepped in with their sour expressions and doomsday predictions.
"What do they know?" he asked out loud. "They don't know you, Ezra, or anything about you." Tentatively JD reached forward and wrapped his hand around Ezra's, being careful of the IV line and feeling foolish as he hoped for a response of some kind.
His voice lowered to a breathy whisper. "They don't know that you'd hate these sheets cause they're not silk." JD smiled weakly. "Or that you'd much rather sleep than have to deal with all this cold and rain." He glanced quickly at the window, hearing the rain as it continued to beat against the glass.
"Hell, they're going about you all wrong anyway. Everybody knows that telling you to do something usually results in you doing the opposite." He giggled lightly and self-consciously released Ezra's hand.
Slouching in the chair, he watched Ezra for a minute,concentrating only on his friend's expressionless face. "At least we know that," hecontinued. "We know you, Ezra; how you think, how you react, what makes you tick. Not that we'd ever admit that 'cause, Lord knows,you'd go and change just to throw us off." JD sighed deeply and closed his eyes.
"Face it, Ez, you need us. We need you. It's what makes us a team. You need to come out of this quick cause we're going nuts here. You know the stupid doctor restricted our visitation? You should have heard Nathan going off on him. Chris, too. But the doc held his ground. From now on, it's one at a time until you wake up. So wake up, damn it."
JD paused and gently ran his hand over Ezra's again, then leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and burying his face in his hands. "Did I tell you I told off that IA agent yesterday?" he mumbled. He wasn't really paying attention to what he was saying anymore. He just followed his unexplainable need to let his friend know he was there.
Ezra felt the light touch on his hand, bringing his focus in on the soft words of JD. He didn't know how long the kid had been talking, but instinctively he knew it had been awhile. JD's voice sounded low and tired.
"So then I just leaned in and whispered..." The muffled words were harder to understand and Ezra frowned. Slowly he flexed his stiff fingers and let them skim along the soft cotton blanket, searching again for the comforting touch.
Buck eased into the private room with out making a sound. He listened to JD's mumbled rambling and shook his head. The kid was beat.
"JD," he said softly, trying not to startle the younger man.
Dunne sat back quickly, eyes wide and face blushing. "Buck! What are you doing in here? If the nurses catch us both in here..."
Buck raised one hand to cut him off and squeezed his shoulder with the other. "No one's around right now and if they bust us, then I'll take the heat."
JD relaxed slightly. "How long have you been in here?" he asked, not meeting Buck's gaze.
"Did you hear what I was saying?"
"Nope." Buck patted his best friend's shoulder. "Couldn't make heads or tails of all your mumbling." He grinned, then turned serious. "How's it going?" He stepped closer to the bed and looked at Ezra.
"Fine. Just talking." JD shrugged. "At least I am."
"No response, huh?" Buck's eyes clouded as he reached for Ezra's hand, needing to feel the warmth in the still fingers.
JD shook his head. "No."
Ezra felt the hand gently grasp his and tightened his grip as he recognized Buck's voice.
"Damn!" Buck jumped and leaned closer against the bed.
"What?" JD was on his feet.
"He squeezed my hand." Buck's voice was filled with disbelief. The grip on his hand was weak, but very real.
"Really? Ezra can you hear us?" JD asked anxiously.
"Come on Ezra, open those green eyes for us," Buck cajoled.
Ezra frowned and groaned softly as he blinked his eyes open. Pain assaulted him from every conceivable angle. His chest burned and his head throbbed in time with his shoulder. He blinked again, trying to clear his vision, but only one eye would focus clearly.
"JD, you better go get that fool they call his doctor, and let the guys know," Buck said, grinning as JD took off, all signs of exhaustion gone.
As the door closed, Buck turned back to Ezra, tightening the grip on his hand. "You sure as hell ain't sleeping beauty, but I could almost kiss you all the same." He chuckled at Ezra's horror, pleased to see his friend's expressive features animated again.
"P-please," Ezra rasped. "Not that."
Buck could hear him struggling to breathe as he spoke. "Just take it easy,okay? JD went for the doctor."
Ezra nodded then gasped as pain ricocheted through his head.
"Hey, don't go moving about now." Ezra felt Buck's hand on his forehead. "You got yourself used as a punching bag so everything's going to hurt right for a bit." Buck noticed Ezra's grip had tightened. He watched as the southerner tried to speak. "Relax,Ezra, don't worry about talking. We're not going anywhere." He tried to sound confident as the door burst open and medical personnel poured in. He gave Ezra's hand one last squeeze before he was torn away and forced from the room with rushed promises that someone would be out to update him as soon as possible.
The din had faded and the poking, prodding hands had finally left him alone. The bed was raised a little higher to help ease his breathing and since he'd woken up and been coherent the doctor had graciously informed him that they could increase his medication thus reducing the pain to a dull roar. Ezra felt groggy as he faded in and out of sleep.
One moment the doctor was explaining the cautions they were taking to prevent full blown pneumonia, the next he was alone. When he opened his eyes again, he didn't know how much time had passed, but Chris was there, sitting beside him, quietly watching.
Ezra glanced quickly around the room, noting that there was just the two of them and thankful that his eyes seemed to be working equally well again.
"We're still restricted to one visitor at a time," Chris explained. "Want some water?" He offered a plastic cup and straw.
"Please." With one arm strapped to his chest to secure his shoulder and the other encumbered by the IV line, Ezra let Chris hold the drink for him. "Thank you." He leaned back signaling he'd had enough.
"Welcome. How are you feeling?" Chris asked.
"Numb." Ezra offered a faint smile. His voice was soft but clear and strong.
"Yeah,well looking at you, I'd think numb was a good option about now."
A tiny nod was Ezra's only reply. Movement seemed to equal vertigo and he'd quickly decided to avoid that at all costs. "McDowell?" heasked, his eyes searching Chris' face.
"We got him." Chris could see the tension drain from his agent.
"What was that?" Chris leaned forward.
"Why...why me?" Ezra's eyes were beginning to drift closed again.
"Kind of a long story,Ezra," Chris admitted.
"Don't think I'm going anywhere soon."
"Maybe not,but you're also on the down side of awake," Chris pointed out. "You need rest."
"Uh huh." Chris ran a hand through his hair and shook his head. He could feel Ezra's watching him still and knew he wasn't going to win the battle of the wills. No one could win that battle when it came to Ezra. "There's a lot I need to explain, starting with Friday night at the saloon."
"No." Chris looked up and met Ezra's eyes; not sure of the emotion he was reading there. "You don't need to explain anything."
"Yes, I do, and I want to. Besides, it all relates in the end." Chris smiled at Ezra's confused look and continued. "Friday afternoon I got a letter from the bureau's IA office telling me they were opening an investigation on you." He watched amazed as the panic flickered across Ezra's face and then disappeared behind a mask of indifference. "The reason I didn't want you to take care of the money for the fundraiser was because I knew they were probably watching you. I was trying to protect you, not make you think I didn't trust you. Obviously I screwed that up, I should have explained."
"I should have let you." Chris was surprised at Ezra's simple admission. He looked at his agent again, their eyes meeting. There was no long explanation to come, no delving into past hurts and misgivings, just five words that summed up a deeper understanding. The schooled expression had fallen away and beneath it, where honesty reigned, Chris could see that Ezra understood. He was trusted; he belonged. Chris nodded sharply acknowledging everything that the statement represented and leaned back in his chair.
Ezra's exhaustion was clear now, but Larabee could see he was struggling stubbornly to stay awake for further information. After only a few minutes of silence Chris went on to explain the case. "As it turns out, the IA investigation and McDowell are tied together. You remember Agent Morse?"
Ezra let out a low groan as Chris went on to explain the connections between Morse, Palamon and Schoolcraft. Somewhere in Larabee's soft words he felt himself floating off again into a restful sleep.
Ezra turned his head into the soft rays of sunlight streaming through the semi-opened blinds. Any other day the morning light would have been an irritant, but today he found it comforting. He smiled, remembering the evening before. He had drifted off during Chris' explanation of the case but Larabee hadn't seemed offended at all. Later, the doctor had lifted his restrictions on visitation, threatening that if it got too rowdy or if visiting hours weren't strictly followed, he'd cut them off again. It had been overwhelming to see everyone again and slightly disconcerting, but it was what Ezra had needed,too. He wasn't ready yet to let all of his defenses down and he didn't know if he'd ever be ready to do that completely, but he did feel whole.
A light knock on his door jerked his attention away from the previous evenings lighthearted teasing and fun and brought him back to the present. The door opened to reveal a man that Ezra immediately pegged as the internal affairs agent Chris had referred to yesterday.
"Agent Standish? I'm Isaac Nelson." Nelson approached Ezra and stood a comfortable distance from his bedside.
"From Internal Affairs," Ezra added managing to keep the edge out of his voice.
Nelson nodded and glanced briefly around the room before letting his gaze fall on Ezra again. "I just wanted to come by this morning to update you about the case, and inform you that the investigation involving you had been closed." Nelson ran a hand over his face and sighed heavily, bearing testament to his weariness. "I'd like to offer my apologies." He started but stopped as Ezra waved his free arm dismissing the comment.
"I assume you were just doing your job," Standish said.
Nelson smiled. "Yeah, and trying pretty hard to take you down."
Ezra chuckled softly at the admission then let out a low hiss as his ribs protested the action.
Nelson waited until he had collected himself again before continuing. "Agent Morris has been taken into custody with the McDowells."
"Chris filled me in," Ezra told him.
"I just wanted to make sure you were up to date on everything. Someone will be in later today to take your statement about the McDowells."
"Thank you." Ezra waited sensing Nelson had more to say.
Nelson smiled faintly. "You have a good team backing you up, you know. They never doubted you."
"Yes." Ezra nodded knowingly. "That's something I'm well aware of."
In the distance, muffled voices could be heard approaching the room. "That sounds like them now." Nelson waved gestured towards the door. "I better be going. Take care of yourself,Agent Standish."
"Thank you, I will."
There was no more than a thirty second pause between the door closing behind Nelson and it's bursting open again with the controlled chaos of the arrival team seven.
"Hey Sleeping Beauty's awake!" Buck laughed at Ezra's sour expression.
"I do wish you would stop using that horrible nickname in reference to my person," Ezra drawled.
"And well on the way to his old self again, I see." Josiah laughed as JD set a bag on the food tray.
"We thought we'd drop by and bring you your usual from Starbucks before we went on to work," Vin explained nodding toward the bag as JD pulled the contents out of the bag.
"Look's like the doctor might let you out of here in a day or two if you follow his orders," Nathan commented skimming over Ezra's medical chart as Buck went on to pass out fast food breakfast sandwiches to the rest of the group.
"It's good to have you back, Ezra," Chris said as he settled quietly in the chair next to Ezra's bed.
"It's good to be back, Mr. Larabee." Ezra smiled as he inhaled the rich aroma of his morning coffee. "It's good to be back."