Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended, this story is strictly for fun, not profit.
Author's notes: A huge thank you to Sherri, The Goddess, for beta'ing this for me. Any final mistakes are mine.
Summary: Something happens to Ezra on the way to Chris' ranch.
Only fifteen more minutes.
From the road, a lone figure watched as the Jaguar slowly sunk into the dark waters, a wide smile ghosting over its face. Once the vehicle had completely disappeared, the figure nodded with satisfaction and left.
Chris looked at his watch for the tenth time in the last five minutes. "Where the hell *is* he? It's nearly dinner time."
"Calm down, brother," Josiah chided softly. "His flight might be late, he might be caught in a traffic jam... He's only an hour late."
"Then why isn't he answerin' his cell phone?" Chris retorted. "Damnit, I knew I should've picked him up at the airport!"
"He didn't want ya to, remember?" Vin told him with a knowing grin. "He wanted ta go home first, unpack, look through his mail and all that stuff without ya breathin' down his neck. Relax, Cowboy, he'll be here; he promised."
"Fine!" Chris snapped. "I'll wait another half hour, then I'm goin' to look for him."
No matter how much Ezra enjoyed pushing his buttons, even after they had become lovers, it was not like the other man to be this late and not say anything. Chris knew there was something wrong, knew something had happened to the southerner. He would wait another thirty minutes, then he would search for his lover. It didn't matter if he had to turn the whole world upside down; he would find Ezra.
He groaned pitifully, his whole being pierced by agonizing pain, terrifying cold taking hold of his every cell. He knew there was a threat nearby, someone who wished him harm, but he couldn't remember.
A deep breath brought forth a moan as his chest seemed to burn from the inside and his head throbbed harshly, making him wish he was back in the oblivion of before.
Promise! He had made a promise... to Chris. His lover. He had to keep his promise. Never run out on Chris again. Never.
He lifted his head from the soft, moist soil, his vision blurry and unfocused. He ignored the sharp pain battering his body as he slowly, painfully rose to his feet, swaying precariously in the chilling breeze.
He was close, he knew that. But close to what? Home? Was that what it was? Would Chris be there? He stumbled hazardously through the mud, hands raised in front of him to guide his way.
He whimpered softly; his head hurt, violent tremors wracked his body and he was nauseous. He wanted nothing more than to lie down again. No! He had... to keep his promise. To Chris. He couldn't let Chris down again. Never again.
He forced himself to keep moving, step by step, slowly, ever so slowly.
Vin tilted his head, his expression an attentive one.
"What's up, Junior?" Buck asked.
"Thought I heard some noise by the front door." Vin replied. "Can't hear -- Wait, there it is again! It's like knockin', but very gentle-like."
"What the..." Chris made his way to the door, followed by the others.
He opened it wide, freezing in shock as he saw his battered and bloody lover standing on the porch.
"My God..." Nathan whispered.
"Ezra, are you okay?" Chris asked softly, taking a step closer to the injured man. "What happened?"
His eyes catalogued Ezra's injuries, heart beating faster as he noticed the dry blood on the side of his lover's head, the bruised cheek, the scrapes along the neck and hands. He could only imagine what lay hidden beneath the damp, torn clothes. Ezra was shaking visibly, whether from shock or from the wet suit he was wearing Chris didn't know, the green depths he loved so much shining with pain and confusion.
"Chris?" a weak, breathless whisper.
"Yes, love, it's me. You okay?" Chris moved closer carefully, somehow knowing any sudden gesture would upset Ezra.
"I didn't..." Ezra blinked. "I didn't..."
"Didn't what, Ez?" Chris prompted soothingly.
"Run..." was the nearly non-existent answer.
Chris felt his heart breaking. No matter how many times he told Ezra he trusted him, the shadows from their first case still seemed to haunt the other man. "Christ, Ez... I know you didn't. I *know*."
Ezra looked like he was about to say something else, but instead swayed dangerously, his knees finally giving out on him. Chris rushed forward, just in time to gather his lover within a warm embrace as Ezra lost his fight with consciousness.
The waiting room was filled to capacity. Chris knew he was driving the others crazy with his pacing, but he was unable to stop. If he did, he would either go crazy or storm the ER in search of any news regarding his lover. And neither was an option.
Before he could take another step, the door opened and a tiny, brown haired, female doctor walked in, blue eyes glancing around the small room. "Good evening, gentlemen. I'm Doctor Feelgood," she said with a playful grin. "Are you here for Mr. Ezra Standish?"
"Yes!" Chris rushed over to her. "How is he?"
"Well, he has a concussion, obviously. The nurse who admitted Mr. Standish told me he was suffering from disorientation. Considering there was some cerebral swelling, that is not unusual. We are already seeing to that, although he is still unconscious. We performed a CAT scan, there doesn't seem to be any signs of brain damage, so I expect him to make a full recovery," Feelgood said. "Adding to that, he has three cracked ribs and was also hypothermic, which could also be responsible for his confusion."
Chris felt himself relax for the first time in hours. "Can we see him?"
The doctor chuckled. "Normally, I wouldn't allow it, but the nurses have warned me about you. They seem to think you would either drive them all crazy asking about your friend every five minutes, or try to make it to his room regardless of the rules, so yes, I will allow it. I will have a nurse come and fetch you as soon as he has been taken to a room."
Buck slapped Chris on the back, a wide grin lighting up his face. "See, I told ya he was goin' to be okay, ol' dog! Our Ezra's like a cat."
JD shook his head grimly. "Yeah. But every time something like this happens, I always wonder how many lives he still has left."
Chris had no reply to that one. He had wondered about it himself, many, many times before.
Chris' eyes fell on the pale face of his lover, resting so quietly in the hospital bed. Ezra's head was bandaged, and he was hooked up to an IV and a heart monitor. The nurses had spent the night waking him up every few hours, making sure his condition was stable, but Ezra had barely been conscious for more than a few minutes each time.
He saw Ezra move his head slowly, a soft murmur escaping his lips. He waited expectantly, finally breathing easier as the green eyes fluttered open, gazing weakly at his surroundings until they settled on him and the five sleeping men spread throughout the room.
"Hey, Ez," he whispered. "You okay?"
Ezra began to nod, then winced. "Yes," he croaked.
"Want some water?" At his lover's curt nod, Chris filled a cup, helping Ezra take a few sips. "Want me to call a nurse, get you something for the headache?"
"In a minute," Ezra breathed. "Once you let them know I'm alert, they will never leave me alone." He looked up at Chris, his expression serious. "I'm sorry I missed dinner."
Chris ran his fingers tenderly over Ezra's chestnut hair. "S'okay. What happened, Ez?"
"Someone ran me off the road, not far from the ranch. I know it was a truck, but I was unable to see the driver or the license plate. But it was deliberate, Chris; whoever it was wanted me dead. The Jaguar went over the edge and I know I ended up in the river, but after that everything is a blur. I know I walked to the ranch, but I couldn't tell you how. Can't believe I lost the Jag," he bemoaned with a miserable pout.
Chris narrowed his eyes. "Could've been worse, Ez; could've been you."
Ezra must have heard the quiver in his voice, for he raised a hand and touched Chris' cheek gently. "Hey... I'm fine. We will find the bastard who did this, he won't get a second chance, I promise."
Chris nuzzled the warm palm. "I know. If nothin' else, I'm goin' to keep an eagle's eye on you for the next days, but... when I saw you collapse back at the ranch..." he took a deep breath. "I love you."
Ezra's face lit up. "I love you too, sir," he quipped.
"Aww, shucks!" Buck's voice boomed suddenly. "Come on, boys, let us have a kiss. Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!"
Chris chuckled as the others joined in the chorus, knowing the only way to shut them up was to obey the command. Resistance was futile.
He leaned down, swallowing Ezra's laughter with his lips, kissing him with incredible gentleness, pouring all the love, all the relief, all the tenderness he was feeling at that moment into their union. When he pulled back, they were both breathing hard and flushed, and the other men were wolf-whistling and clapping enthusiastically.
"Morons," he muttered, sharing an affectionate smile with Ezra.
She threw the newspaper across the room, her fury beyond control. Failed, her plan had failed. Chris' catamite was still alive, currently at the hospital recuperating from his injuries.
Well, she wasn't done yet. If at first you don't succeed...
Ella Gaines looked at her reflection in the mirror, her smile widening. Yes... She had failed the first time, and against all odds Standish had escaped. But next time... Next time she would make sure nothing went wrong. One way or another, Chris would be hers again. And no one would stand in her way.