A Weak Christmas

Ring. Ring. Ring.

Damn't who the hell is calling at, Chris squinted at the clock by his bedside, 4:05 in the morning?

At a week before Christmas, Chris had been looking forward to time away from work and spending the holiday with his friends.

"Larabee" he grunted into the phone.

"Christopher Larabee?" asked the tentative voice on the other end of the phone.

"Yes, who's this? And why are you calling at four in the morning?"

Chris listened as the person on the other end of the phone filled him in on the reason for the early morning call. A few minutes later he ended the call, assuring the person on the other line that he would be there shortly.

Sighing, Chris ran his hands through his hair, "Shit" he cursed in frustration of the turn of events. He reached back for the phone he had just hung up and jerked it out of its cradle intending to call Buck when the phone rang on its own.

"Larabee….no, I was just about to call…..yeah, just got called about it……Can you call the others?.....No need, Vin's out here already…..Yeah, uh huh…….Okay, we'll meet you there."

Chris hung up the phone for the second time and made his way towards the guest room down the hall that was housing Vin. Vin had ridden back with Chris from work intending to spend the entire week at the ranch. The other's had made plans to come out periodically during the week, but would spend Christmas Eve and day staying at the ranch.

Stopping at the closed door Chris knocked and waited for the young Texan to wake. He was surprised when Vin came out fully dressed.

Vin seeing the expression on Chris' face shrugged, "Had a feeling, get dressed, I'll get the coffee going."

"Thanks." Chris shook his head as he went back to his room to get dressed. A few minutes later he joined Vin downstairs as he was pouring two travel mugs with the hot beverage.

"Let's go, I'll fill you in on the way." Without looking to see if he was followed, sure that Vin would be right behind him, Chris headed for his truck.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

"So what's going on?" Vin asked when the silence in the truck seemed to drag on. He had a strange feeling through the evening and found he was unable to sleep as deeply as he usually did when he stayed over at Chris'. When he heard the phone ring so early in the morning he had a feeling they would be leaving the ranch quickly. A few minutes later when the phone rang again he had hurriedly finished dressing. He had just finished when he heard the knock on his door. He kept a cap on his curiosity about the reason for the calls, but the waiting now in the silent truck was killing him.

He watched Chris prepare himself to answer and couldn't help feel his stomach clench in anticipation. "That bad?"

"Yeah Vin, pretty bad."

"What's happened?"

"The first call was Mercy General."

"Ah hell, who's hurt?" Knew I should have listened to my instincts last night, damn.

"Ezra's being brought in to the hospital shortly."

"Damn, what he do fall outta bed?" He had to use humor to avail his fears. He wondered what had happened; did his latest undercover assignment lead to retribution?

"Something like that. The hospital didn't have all the information just that he was being brought in and he was unconscious. Him being a 'frequent' visitor they knew I had his power of attorney for any health decisions.

"Why didn't they have him yet? He don't live that far from the hospital." Vin watched Chris' jaw clench and the vessel in his temple throb harder and just knew by the tension he could read off of Chris that he wasn't going to like what he heard.

"Fire"

Ah hell, Vin thought silently, bad enough that Ez is hurt, but now Chris has to deal with the bad memories of his family's death. "Damn"

"Yeah, he was trapped under some debris but the rescue units called into the hospital ahead of time to prepare them for the large number of patients arriving."

"The others meeting us at the hospital?"

"They're going to stop by the complex first and find out what happened."

They settled down into silence after that, each with worried thoughts filling their head. When they arrived at Mercy the chaotic scene was easy to see as multiple ambulances were lined up, each replaced as quickly as another pulled away. Chris quickly found a spot in the near empty visitors parking lot.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

Striding into the busy emergency department Chris made his way quickly to the haggard looking triage nurse. The room was in chaos, the waiting room had been turned into a treatment center for minor injuries. The more severe injuries were behind closed doors in the emergency room area.

"Chris Larabee, someone called me about my agents, Ezra Standish."

"Yes Mr. Larabee, I have the paperwork right here. If you'd please fill out these forms and return them to me."

"Fine, has Ezra been brought into the hospital yet?"

"The ambulance he's in has him in route; he should be here in a few more minutes. I'm afraid I have nothing else to fill in but once we have him settled in bed we'll call you back to sit with him."

"Thank you."

A few minutes later Chris finished filling out the forms that he knew by heart. He brought them back to the nurse and hoped to get an update on Ezra's arrival.

"Thank you Mr. Larabeee, Mr. Standish is arriving now. Let me give them a few minutes back there to get him settled and I'll come back out and get you."

"Thank you. Is there any more information on Ezra?"

"I'm sorry but I don't have anything here yet."

"Okay thank you."

Chris turned back to where he was sitting with Vin to wait as patiently as he could. He had just sat down when he heard the loud commotion in the room behind the woodened doors.

"Think that's Ezra causing a ruckus back there?"

"I'd wager it is."

"Mr. Larabee" the nurse called him back to her desk. "The doctor would like to speak with you, if you'll follow me please."

Without a word, Vin followed behind his friend. It was never a good omen when the doctor wanted to speak with you so quickly. Vin found himself and Chris ensconced in a small room as the nurse left and a large doctor replaced her.

"Mr. Larabee, I'm Dr. Nichols, I'm the attending physician for Mr. Standish. I'm told you have his power of attorney."

"That's correct doctor, now what's wrong with my agent?"

"As you know Mr. Standish was being brought in from a fire scene. He has severe smoke inhalation as well as some second degree burns and soft tissue damage. The fire crew had to extract him from a pile of debris and he has a dislocated shoulder and a fractured collarbone. He is also showing signs of concussion, the severity we will not be able to assess until he regains consciousness."

"Okay what is it you're not telling me?

"When Mr. Standish was brought in he had stopped breathing and went into cardiac arrest."

"Oh God," Vin said as he fell back into his seat.

"We got him back but as is common with any CPR a couple of his ribs were broken. One of the ribs managed to puncture his lung and collapsed. We inserted a chest tube that will need to stay in for a few days to help with the healing. This is a concern as the smoke inhalation will cause coughing and shortness of breath. The pain will also be severe and we are worried that he may develop pneumonia as a result. We also found a laceration to his spleen and he is being prepped now for surgery. We will do everything we can to save the spleen, but in all likeliness it will have to be removed. If the spleen is removed we will need to be extra vigilant with preventing pneumonia and infection as he will have a weaker immune system. Now the nurse has some papers that need to be signed for his surgery and I need to get back to make sure he is ready to go up to surgery. If you have any questions the nurse will be happy to answer them for you."

"Can I see him before he is taken to surgery?"

"Just for a moment than he should be heading up to surgery."

"Thank you."

Chris watched as the doctor left and called the nurse back over to them.

"If you'll follow me I'll show you to Mr. Standish's room. You can sign the forms there before we take him up to surgery. You'll want to go up the surgery waiting room on the fourth floor. If you need any help finding it let me know and I'll have someone show you the way."

"Nah we know the way, but thank you maam."

Vin was the last to enter the small room that Ezra was lying in. The pale body on the gurney looked so much smaller and younger than he did when awake. The normal adornments were attached as well as a few tubes that caused Vin to cringe in sympathy. The heavy scent of smoke still wafted from the figure in bed. He could hear Chris speaking softly to Ez but was too engrossed in his observations to hear what was being said.

"I'm sorry gentlemen but we need to move Mr. Standish now."

They were whisked away from the room and could only watch and hope that their southern friend would be alright. With nothing left for them to do in the emergency room they made their way up to the fourth floor waiting room and news on Ezra's surgery.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

An hour later the other agents located Chris and Vin in the quiet waiting room.

"How's he doing pard?" Buck's gentle voice broke the long silence.

"Not good, broken and bruised." Chris replied.

"They wouldn't tell us anything downstairs just that Ez was up in surgery. What's wrong with him?"

"They're trying to save his spleen, but it didn't look good. Besides that he's got severe smoke inhalation, broke collar bone, and dislocated his shoulder, some burns, some broken ribs from CPR and a concussion they don't have any idea on the severity of yet."

"Damn. Dang he's gonna be a prime case for pneumonia between the smoke inhalation, broken ribs and if he loses his spleen" Nathan added dejectedly.

"What did you guys find out? Why's my agent in the hospital?"

"Hell pard it's a mess down there. There's nothing left of the complex but dust and rubble."

"Foul play?" Vin piped up

"Nah, just a terrible tragedy really. A Christmas tree in one of the condos under Ezra was left plugged in during the night and started a fire."

"Brother Ezra was lucky to make it out alive. Many of the residents didn't make it out." Josiah added sadly.

"Apparently he was helping to evacuate as many people as he could when there was an explosion and was trapped under the debris." Buck continued.

It was silent in the room after the news was relayed. Each man was deep in their thoughts about their southern friend and the enormity of the situation. The silence was short lived as other family members arrived in the waiting room for planned and unplanned surgeries. The sounds of the entering people and the other medical staff arriving for the day had the six men jumping in anticipation on each new arrival, hoping for some positive news.

"Mister Larabee?" questioned a tried-looking nurse. She jumped a little when instead on one gentleman she had six large men in her personal space.

Chris quickly spoke up and took charge, "I'm Mr. Larabee, how's Ezra?"

"If you'll follow me sir the doctor will speak with you in just a few moments. Mr. Standish is in the recovery room now."

The agents quickly followed the nurse to a smaller room down the hallway. Each took an empty seat as they waited for the doctor's arrival.

"Mister Larabee, Mister Standish came through the surgery just fine. We were able to save his spleen. We may have to keep him under heavy sedation for the next twenty-four hours if he starts to move around too much. We want to try and avoid that if we can because of the concussion. We have been unable to at this point assess his mental responses. His shoulder has been reduced and the collarbone fracture stabilized. We have the rib fractures taped as well. The burns, while second degree are not a major concern at this time. Do you have any questions?"

Chris had only one question for the doctor, "when can I see him?"

"He'll be in recovery for a little longer before he is moved to the intensive care unit. The nurse should have the room number for you. If there are no other questions I will be back later this afternoon to check in on Mister Standish."

"Thank you doctor."

A short time later the nurse arrived and delivered the room assignment for Ezra. A few minutes later found the six men waiting in the ICU waiting room as Ezra was being settled in his new room. They were informed by the staff that only two member could visit at any time for no longer than fifteen minutes. Chris and Vin were the first to visit Ezra. He looked a lot better than he had a few hours ago, but still looked pale and fragile under all the tubes and wires. Soon their fifteen minutes were up and they had to allow the others their short periods of time with the wily agent.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

He wasn't sure if it was the painfully rasping cough or the excruciating pain in his chest that woke him, but it was probably both he thought wryly. He tried to take a deeper breath and immediately regretted it when pain stabbed throughout his chest and ending in a coughing fit. He could hear voices but couldn't make out what was being said through his pain-filled haze. A few minutes later he could feel the pain recede with the warmth that started flowing through his veins. He usually detested medicine of any kind, but was never more thankful for its presence in this instance. As his body calmed he could make out the voices that were just a muddled mess only a few minutes ago.

"Mister Standish can you hear me?"

Ezra nodded in response and once again instantly regretted the movement when pain encircled his skull. He made a quick note to himself not to repeat that movement again anytime soon.

"Good, good. Can you open your eyes for me?"

Slowly he opened his eyes and moaned in pain when the bright lights flooded his vision. He quickly snapped his eyes closed against further torture in the intense illumination.

"Hold on Mister Standish, let me lower the lights for you and we can try that again." The doctor waited as the nurse lowered the lights before asking Ezra to once again open his eyes.

Ezra found the lights easier to handle this time when he opened his eyes. Everything was a bit blurry but he could easily tell he was within the clutches of the medical community.

"Very good Mister Standish, now I need to exam you and have some questions answered. Now than, do you know where you are?"

"Water" he croaked, but between his scratchy and burning throat, along with the mask covering his nose and mouth it came out sounding as if he was something out of a science fiction movie. However the medical staff seemed to understand his request and a straw was quickly placed in his mouth as the mask was lifted away. He took a couple of sips before he relaxes back exhausted from the effort. He felt the mask resettled on and was thankful for its presence when he started feeling short of breath.

"Now than Mister Standish do you know where you are?"

"…p'tal" was the weak response.

"Good can you tell me your first name?"

Oh great a concussion, they're never going to leave me alone to get some good sleep. Ezra already knew all the responses like the back of his hand, which he wondered if that was a good or bad thing considering the number of previous concussions he would have had to have had for the responses to be recalled so quickly. ".zra….De'v'r,.." he tried to answer the date but ended up in a coughing fit instead. Red hot flames engulfed his chest as he struggled to breath.

The doctor had chuckled a little when Ezra had started to rattle off answers to question he hadn't even asked yet, but he quickly worked to settle him when he noticed the increased difficulty in breathing and the wracking coughs. A few minutes later found Ezra lying panting shallowly not daring to take a deep breath. "Alright Mister Standish that's enough questions for now, we're going to be moving you into a regular room in a few minutes. You had surgery early this morning so you need to lie as still as possible so you don't open any of the stitches." The doctor would have continued but noticed he lost his audience during some part of his speech. "Nurse you can go ahead and prepare Mister Standish to move into a private room downstairs." The doctor made a few notations on the chart before he headed down the hall to the six waiting friends.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

"Ah gentlemen, we're moving Mister Standish to a private room downstairs. He woke for a few moments and we were able to assess his mental responses. So far everything looks positive. He was able to answer all my questions, some before I even had the chance to ask. We've removed the chest tube, and have started to decrease the amount of supplemental oxygen we were giving him. We are hoping to have him off the oxygen altogether sometime tomorrow. I'll have the nurse stop by and inform you of his new room number."

"Thank you doctor," Chris smiled for the first time in relief. He was a bit surprised they were moving Ezra out of ICU and into a regular room already. Normally when one of his agents landed in ICU it was days before they made it to a regular room.

A few minutes later a nurse arrived with Ezra's new room number and a message that it would be about an hour and a half to two hours before he was settled in his new room and ready for visitors.

Chris thanked the nurse for the information before turning back to the others, "let's go get some dinner while they're getting Ezra settled."

It had been a long day for the six agents. The long waits between the short visitations in ICU was broken up by making many phone calls trying to track down Ezra's mother, canceling plans and informing their friends of the events.

Josiah was finally able to locate Maude in Paris but was surprised to find out she was unreachable during the holiday. Even relaying the information about her son being seriously injured produced no results.

Nathan had contacted Raine about canceling their plans for the day and updated her on Ezra's condition. She decided to take a shift at the hospital to help with the sudden influx of patients with a shorthanded staff.

JD had called Casey to cancel their date for the evening and was quick to ease her concern over Ezra. Buck also canceled his hot date for the night but was quick to reassure the lady that it was a family emergency and not that he had changed his mind about dating her.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

When he awakened for the second time he was surprised by how quiet it was. He could of course hear the regular beeping of the monitor, but was surprised not to hear any voices. Normally his room would be filled with the active sounds of his teammates when he woke up in the hospital. However the silence reminded him it was the holiday season and the others had made previous plans. For all he knew they may not even know of his incarceration. He hadn't thought of it before but wondered what had brought about his current accommodations. He decided he should take stock of his injuries before planning his escape. His aching head let him know that he had a concussion of some sort. His chest felt tight and his vision came to rest on the bandages wrapped around his chest. Aw hell ribs! Those were going to slow him down, and were probably the reason he could feel the cool breeze forced up his nasal passages. Feeling his arm strapped tightly to his chest he figured he had another dislocation. Feeling a dull throb in his stomach he guessed some sort of deep bruising. He silently thanked the lord when he noticed there was nothing wrong with his legs. Escape was now easily within his grasp.

Ezra slowly pushed himself upright and struggled to regulate his breathing. Sharp pain traveled throughout his chest reminding him to take his time and avoid further pain. He swung his legs off the bed and paused for a deep breath which he immediately regretted when he started coughing. Pain was lancing his chest and he couldn't seem to catch his breath starting him to panic. He thought he heard voices but his entire world surrounded him trying to get enough oxygen. He fought against the hands trying to lay him back down but weakness made it a losing battle. He felt panic engulf him when the cool air he had felt before was removed, but settled a bit when a mask took its place delivering a stronger flow of air. He could feel his breathing easing and could make out some of the words the voices were saying.

"Easy now pard, just take slow easy breaths. That's it Ezra just take smaller breaths."

He felt the panic recede and could make out the vision of the long haired tracker. "..in?" he gasped out.

"That's right Ez, just take some slow steady breaths." Vin sighed in relief as Ezra seemed to be breathing better. He had just walked back into the room when he caught Ezra trying to sneak out of the hospital. He grinned at the southerner's attempt until he started coughing and struggling for breath. He had quickly made it to Ezra's side and tried to push him back onto the bed while he hit the nurse's button on the control. Ezra struggled a little but it was a proof to how weak the southerner was that he was lying back on the bed a moment later. He had kept up a stream of encouraging words while the nurse replaced the nasal cannula with a face mask and inserted some medication into the IV attached to his arm. Between the extra oxygen and medication the blue tinge that Ezra had started turning was now replaced with a healthy pink flush. Although his eyes were now dilated from medication, he could see the clearness in them as Ezra relaxed in the bed. "Doing better pard?"

"…urts"

"Yeah I know you're gonna be one sore body for awhile."

"..ap..end?"

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"..le..p"

"Do you remember the fire?"

"f..re?" Ezra tried to remember what Vin was talking about. What fire? He vaguely recalled smoke and screams but couldn't place where that had happened. Oh God! His eyes widened in alarm as the events started to play through his head. He recalled going in and out of the complex helping people escape the blaze.

"Sorry Ez but there's nothing left of the complex."

"..v'ry..'ne…kay?"

"Fraid not Ez, lot of people didn't make it out. Chris is getting a list of who didn't make it, figured you would want to know."

Ezra nodded and slipped into silence thinking about the tragedy and wondering who in the complex had made it out and who hadn't. A few minutes later he asked the next question that was burning in his mind. "H'w? Ar…s'n?"

"No, not arson, it was just a terrible tragedy. Seems someone's Christmas tree caught fire during the night, then spread out quick after that."

Ezra took in the information that Vin supplied and cursed the senseless tragedy. "Wh't hap'ned to me?"

Vin smiled inwardly as Ezra's speech seemed to improve by the minute. The nurse had said they would leave him on the mask for awhile and go back to the cannula in about an hour. "Well you tried to hold the building up, but fraid you lost."

"Fu'ny Mist'r Tan'r"

"Well let's see. Ya got a crack on that hard head ah yours."

"Conc'sun?"

"Yeah but 'side from a splitting headache your head's still hard."

"Wh't 'lse?"

"Dislocated shoulder, broken collar bone, broken ribs, severe smoke inhalation, bruising, some burns and you had surgery to stop your spleen from bleeding."

"Gone?" It would be quite disconcerting to wake up and find you are missing parts that were there the last time you checked he thought.

"Nope they saved it, but ya gotta keep still as much as possible so ya don't rip them stitches."

"Out?"

"Said they'd probably let ya out tomorrow, they just want ta make sure your breathing is controlled before they release ya."

"Kay" Ezra settled back and let Vin's comforting voice lull him back to sleep.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

It was the next morning that the doctor's prediction of his release came. Ezra hadn't thought about it too much before but soon realized he no longer had a home to go back to. He wasn't sure what he was going to do about finding appropriate accommodations once Chris grew tired of his presence at the ranch house. Oh he had had no illusions that he would be staying anywhere else but the ranch house once he was released until he was deemed healed. It was a standard practice for the team that when they were injured or sick they would find themselves bundled off to the Larabee residence. They often teased Nathan about being a mother hen, but damn if Chris wasn't the worst worrier of all.

"Ready to go?"

Ezra smiled, talk of the devil. "Yes Mister Larabee, it is time to effect my release from this den of torture."

Chris smiled and laughed a bit, he never would understand why Vin and Ezra always equated a hospital stay as pure torture. "Well you certainly sound better, once the boys get here with the wheelchair you can get out of here."

Ezra looked at Chris with distaste with the mention of the wheelchair.

"Don't look at me like that you know it's hospital policy."

Anything further said on the subject was cut off with the crazy antics of Buck and JD arriving with the accursed wheelchair.

"Dang if he don't look a hell of a lot better. Ready to get out of here Ez?"

"Immensely Mister Wilmington."

"You sure look a lot better Ez."

"Thank you Mister Dunn. Now gentlemen, shall we depart?" Ezra didn't wait for a response and as quickly as he could made his way into the wheelchair. He wouldn't admit it to anyone but he was quite thankful for the wheeled monstrosity as just that small activity had taken his breath away.

Chris had noticed the quickened breaths of his undercover agent from the short trip from the bed to the wheelchair. He thought back to the talk he had with the doctor before entering Ezra's room. It would be awhile before the shortness of breath would subside. Ezra was in for a long recovery though; it would be a couple of weeks before he would even be allowed to drive. The doctor had said two weeks before he could drive and couldn't lift anything over ten pounds for at least six weeks. It would be another six weeks after that before the broken ribs and collar bone would be fully healed.

"Mister Larabee will you be joining us on the trip to your abode?"

"Yeah, let's get out of here."

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

Ezra didn't remember much of the trip out to Chris' ranch. Once he had finally made it into the truck's seat he had quickly succumbed to exhaustion. He had a vague recollection of getting out of the truck and being brought into the guest room, but it was all hazy. He felt more rested and decided to get out of bed and see about getting some food. He took a slow deep breath and was happy that it didn't produce another painful coughing fit. He still felt dreadful but couldn't stand to stay in bed any longer. He slowly got to his feet and took short shuffling steps towards the hallway.

I feel like an old man. He thought to himself as he slowly made his way towards the kitchen. By the time he had made it to the end of the hallway he was seriously reconsidering why he ever got out of the bed.

"Well look whose back amongst the living." Buck teased the southern man.

"Fun..ny Mist'r Wil…ming…ton" Ezra panted out. God why was he so out of breath.

Buck hearing how out of breath Ezra was quickly made his way to his side. "Here pard, let's get you sitting down before you fall down."

Ezra sank gratefully into the kitchen chair. "Th'k you"

"No problem, just let ol Buck get you some of this chicken soup and you'll be feeling good as new soon."

Ezra nodded his head and would have sworn it was going to roll off his body. He felt light-headed and woozy.

"You should be in bed still ya dang fool."

Thank you for that helpful insight Mister Jackson. Ezra started to nod his head in agreement before he thought better of the movement. "Tired of being in bed" Well at least I can breathe again, now if I could just stop the room from spinning. He moaned softly and closed his eyes hoping to ward off the dizzying affect.

"You're head hurting ya?"

"Yeah, dizzy. Room won't stop moving."

"Well it's time for your medicine, take these and then get some of that soup in ya and you should start feeling better."

He felt a few pills placed in his hand and automatically brought them to his lips. He had barely placed them in his mouth before he felt a glass pressed into his hands. Keeping his eyes closed he swallowed the dreaded medicine.

"Good Ezra now how about some soup?" Nathan was a bit surprised how easily it was to get Ezra to take the medicine; he must have been feeling pretty poorly to take them without any type of argument.

Ezra slowly opened his eyes and was equal parts surprised and embarrassed to see all six of his friends staring at him. He never even heard the others arrive. He looked down at the bowl of soup in front of him and slowly began to eat. He was thankful the soup stayed down. He was feeling pretty tired but listened to the familiar voices wash over him.

"I think brother Ezra is ready for bed." Josiah mentioned after watching Ezra blinking owlishly at them for the last few minutes.

"Well we better get him there now or we'll be carrying the fool. Shouldn't have been out of bed yet."

"Hey okay Nate?" The Texan asked.

"Yeah just gonna be exhausted, dang fool just pushing himself too fast. Come on Josiah help me get this idiot back to bed."

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

"Well you're looking much better" JD smiled at his older friend, finally seeing the healthy flush of pink color on his friends face. For too long it seemed Ezra was carrying a color of pale to blue. He also didn't seem as out of breath as he normally did.

"I feel much improved, thank you Mister Dunne." Ezra carefully settled into the soft cushioned reclining chair. The last few days had felt like a blur to him. He remembered waking up and making his way to the kitchen for some food but after that he would wake up to find himself back in bed again. He wondered for awhile if he was only dreaming of eating. He had completely lost track of time. "Mister Dunne I'm afraid I have lost track of the days, could you please provide me with the date?"

"Oh sure Ezra, it's Christmas Eve."

"Good Lord already?"

"Yup, you've just been sleeping a lot."

"And pray tell where are our other associates?"

"Oh well Chris and Vin are out with the horses, Josiah and Nathan ran out for some last minute shopping, and Buck ain't back from his date yet."

Ezra nodded and thought to himself for a few moments. "JD would you mind doing a favor for me?"

"Sure Ez whatcha need?"

"I left everyone's presents in the jag's trunk, would you mind running out to get them? I would go myself but have been put on driving restrictions for awhile."

JD stared wide-eyed at Ezra for a moment before plunging into the news. "Uh sure.." he was about to say more when the front door slammed open with the force of Nathan and Josiah's boisterous entrance.

"Well looks like Sleeping Beauty has finally awoken."

"Very funny Josiah."

"…but..uh Ezra." JD tried again to finish his sentence.

"Now son I know your happy Ezra is back amongst the living but you need to share him with the rest of us."

"but" he spurted again.

"Josiah's right JD, Christmas is all about sharing." Nathan charmed in as he continued to tease the boy along with Josiah.

JD huffed before he finally spit out his sentence as fast as possible. "butIwasgoingtoletEzraknowIcan'."

Ezra was quietly laughing at the two older men funning with the young man, until the parts of the sentence started to filter into his head. Presents…car…destroyed…fire..

"I'm sorry JD but did you say my car was destroyed in the fire?"

JD swallowed the lump in his throat and looked down at his hands before nodding his head in affirmation.

"Good Lord. My car? My beautiful jaguar? Destroyed?"

"I'm sorry Ezra."

"It's not your fault son, just the way of things." Oh God what was he going to do? He had assumed his car would have been safe from the fire. Now not only had he lost his domicile but his transportation as well. Oh he had mixed feelings about his beloved car. It was one of the few things his mother ever gave him, even if it had come at the destruction of his FBI career; it was still a gift from Maude. "Is there any chance of it being repaired?"

"I'm afraid not son." Josiah added his sympathy.

"Just a burnt out shell now." Nathan added.

Ezra cringed inwardly with the harsh view Nathan's words brought. "If you gentlemen would excuse me I believe I'm going to go lie down for awhile."

"but" JD started but the grip on his shoulder and the shake of Josiah's head stopped him before he could say anymore.

Ezra sighed as he sat back on the bed. Everything was gone. He didn't even know where to start. At least he had opted for the optional comprehensive coverage on the car insurance. He would get another vehicle but didn't think he would opt for another jaguar. He was thankful he had clothes left out at the ranch, a few suits as well as some casual clothing at least made it so he would be in familiar clothing until he could get out and shop for some more. What was really bothering him though was the loss of all of his personal items. Granted he never held onto a lot of stuff but those that he did had special meaning to him. To think that everything was destroyed and nothing could ever bring it back was a bitter blow. His renters insurance for the condo would cover the financial loss of furnishings but it would never replace the lost memories. Thankfully his wallet was in his pants while he was helping out at the fire. At least he didn't have to try and figure out who to contact to replace credit cards and identification. Reaching over to the night table by the bed he sighed with the thought of having nothing to give the others for Christmas. He grimaced when he looked into cash section and noticed the lack of funds, twenty-five dollars to be exact. How was he ever going to get gifts for the others in time for the holiday tomorrow?

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

"Hey guys that was Nettie, she needs our help right quick. Seems that ornery stallion of hers knocked down the fencing and her cattle are running loose. Said she'd send Casey over to watch Ezra for us." JD announced as he came back in from answering the phone a few minutes earlier.

"Damn horse, she ought to geld that monster. That's the third time this month he's done that. I swear he is doing it on purpose." Buck grumbled.

"We best get over there quick as we can. Vin want to give me a hand loading the horses?"

"Sure thing Chris."

"I better go check on Ezra and let him know what's happening."

"No need Mister Jackson I heard JD's voice in the other room."

"You doing alright Ezra?"

"Yes I'm feeling much better now, thank you Mister Larabee."

"We'll be back as soon as we can."

"Don't rush on my account gentlemen. I'll be here when you get back."

"Casey'll be here pard, so you won't be by yourself."

"Thank you Buck I'm sure the lovely Miss Wells and myself will get along gloriously."

Ezra watched as the others continued to prepare for their departure. He felt bad that they had to go chase down cattle on eve before Christmas, but sometimes things like this just couldn't be helped.

A half hour later the horses were all loaded and Casey Wells had just arrived to help watch over Ezra. There were quick farewells and the guys were on their way to bring home the wayward cattle. Ezra grinned to himself as a plan started to come together in his head. He smiled brightly at the young lady that walked through the door.

"Hey Mister Standish, how are ya doing?"

"Nevah better my dear Miss Wells. As a matter of fact I've nevah felt bettah."

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

It was late in the evening before the guys made it back to the ranch house. Tired and dirty, they slowly made their way into the house and into one of the bathrooms to clean up.

Casey had been dozing in the recliner when the guys came in and was happy to give up her place and head home.

"Hey Casey, how was Ezra for you?"

"Oh he was um, he was just fine. I'm um, gonna go before it gets too late. Merry Christmas." She called out to the others before sharing a quick kiss with JD.

"Whoooooo eeeeeeeee boy and their weren't no mistletoe around either. Guess Missus Casey gave you an early Christmas present." Buck laughed at the rosy color that spread across JD's face.

"Quiet down you fools you don't need to go waking Ezra up."

"Sorry Nate." Properly chastised Buck continued down the hall towards one of the bedrooms to change and get some much needed sleep.

The others followed suit and soon the ranch house was engulfed in the quiet sounds of snoring.

~~~~~~~7~~~~~~~

Christmas morning came and went silently for Ezra. Amazingly enough he was the first one awake this morning. He had put on the coffee and enjoyed the first of a few cups over the hours he had been awake already.

He smiled to himself thinking about the events that had led to a very successful mission. He knew the next time he was over at the Wells residence he would be treating that ornery horse to some apples and carrots. It hadn't taken much on his part to have the young Missus Wells help him with his mission; he just hoped the guys wouldn't be mad at her for his coercion.

Looking at the Christmas tree by the window, a white winter scene behind it from the late night snowfall, he smiled at the large array of gifts waiting to be opened. He surmised that the guys would be a bit bewildered with gifts under the tree from him, wondering how it was even possible with him being stuck at the ranch.

He thought about the tragedy that had brought him here. He felt awful about the people that lost their lives in the fire. He knew there was going to be a lot of work replacing everything that was lost and finding a new home, but he was thankful that he had his life. He'd be sore for a long time coming, but he would take that over the alternative.

He grinned as he thought about how happy he was to be spending the holiday with his friends; six men that had stuck by him through some trying times and dragged him into their world. He couldn't imagine his life without them in it anymore.

Josiah was his rock, a pillar of a man that easily showed his paternal feelings towards him. Ezra only protested the feelings because it was expected of him. Perhaps one day he would tell Josiah just how much it means to him that he wants to step into that role. He could think of no one he would be happier with as a father.

Nathan was his conscious. Like that silly green character from Pinocchio, Nathan was always there to guide him on the right track. He would never tell the man just how much it meant to him that he cared enough to want him to change. It was far too much fun to push the man's buttons.

JD was his innocence. He never thought he had an innocent bone in his body left, but somehow the energetic young man had uncovered some. He was able to see life with new eyes since he had meet the young man and he did everything in his power to save that innocence in his friend.

Buck was his passion. He had never met a person so passionate about life. He loved and fought with every ounce he possessed. Buck brought out the inner strength within him to enjoy life to its fullest.

Vin was his strength. They were so much alike and different it was eerie. Vin taught him to reach out to others. He helped build the inner strength that was beaten down so badly before he joined the team.

As he thought about Chris, he saw the man watching him from the hallway holding a cup of coffee. "Merry Christmas Ezra."

Yes Ezra thought, it was a good Christmas. Perhaps not the way he envisioned spending his holiday but he wouldn't trade it for the world. "Merry Christmas Chris."

And Chris, he was his hero.